Home Alamo Heights New budgets seek to address growth challenges

New budgets seek to address growth challenges

Property-tax relief by state will affect local towns, schools

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Area cities and school districts have adopted new fiscal year 2020 budgets that attempt to focus on basic priorities.

But San Antonio, the Alamo Heights and San Antonio independent school districts, Alamo Heights and Olmos Park are looking out for how new state legislation will affect future budgets.

San Antonio’s new $2.9 billion budget (with a general fund of $1.27 billion), while 1.2 percent larger than the fiscal year 2019 budget, does not raise the property-tax rate. But it does include a new $5,000 homestead exemption for all homeowners.

“Months of deliberations and work have been poured into a more equitable document that will serve as a declaration of our service to San Antonio,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg in a prepared release.

He added, “We’ve provided homeowners additional tax relief through a general homestead exemption, preserved our tax rate, maintained our infrastructure spending, increased our public-safety spending and dedicated millions of dollars to combat domestic violence and homelessness.”

Municipal leaders said the city had to get creative to balance out funding because the Legislature imposed property-tax revenue caps and changed the way cities collect franchise fees.

While property-tax limits do not become effective until fiscal year 2021, San Antonio already projects an annual $7.3 million loss in telecommunication and cable franchise fees.

In addition, the city projects a 2.6 percent drop in payment from CPS Energy revenues due to lower natural gas prices and last winter’s mild weather.

There’s also projected lower interest earnings because of a recent Federal Reserve interest-rate reduction.

With direction from elected leaders, city departments sought to reduce spending in some areas to concentrate on basic needs and priorities in council districts.

Even with the homestead exemption, San Antonio projects 5.4 percent more income from property taxes due to rising appraisals.

The budget went into effect Oct. 1.

The Alamo City’s new budget also features $110 million for street maintenance, $17 million for sidewalk construction and repairs, and $1.3 million for police to add six new crisis response sergeants and 10 new officers in the San Antonio Fear Free Environment program, part of the San Antonio Police Department.

Some employees are getting a 3 percent pay increase. There will also be salary hikes for all police officers. The capital project budget will send $10 million to City Council district infrastructure projects.

District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño applauded the funding for more police, sidewalk repairs and affordable housing initiatives.

“Residents near the (North) St. Mary’s Strip should feel proud their work with SAPD over the last year will help make popular nightlife destinations across San Antonio safer for everyone,” Treviño said in a Sept. 12 statement, describing extra policing of the Midtown entertainment district.

In a Sept. 12 statement, District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry called the budget adequate, but said that it needed more efficiencies and tax relief.

“Property taxes, public safety, infrastructure and public facilities have always been at the top of the list for San Antonians,” Perry said. “These concerns are often stressed by our neighbors here in District 10 and remain the focus of my attention.”

Perry was one of the council members who pushed for the homestead exemption.

Meanwhile, because of a mandate in the state’s new public school finance law, AHISD’s new $77 million budget contains a 3 percent raise for teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians with five years experience or less.

There’s also a 3.5 percent salary hike for those same positions with more than five years of experience.

Lawmakers’ school finance package also revamped the so-called Robin Hood redistribution of revenue from property-rich districts to poorer districts.

As a result, AHISD will pay $39.8 million this year instead of an expected $42 million. The district will pay $37.2 million next year.

In addition, new state law forced AHISD to drop its property tax rate from $1.25 per $100 valuation to $1.19.

Trustees at a recent board meeting voiced gratitude for the ability to give employees raises a year after the district froze salaries.

But they were frustrated about adopting a deficit budget with a $1 million-plus shortfall. Officials also said, for now, the state’s public school infusion appears to be temporary.

“We’re not seeing all of the benefit of the reduction of Robin Hood money because property tax has been reduced and we’re adopting a deficit budget,” trustee Bonnie Giddens said.

Alamo Heights’ $10.6 million general fund budget includes money for records and technology upgrades at City Hall, and for a public parking study.

Specific funds have money for public-safety replacement equipment, a sewer line upgrade on Harrigan Court, swimming pool, pocket park and City Hall common area improvements, Olmos Basin clean-ups, and lighting upgrades on La Jara Boulevard.

Another governmental fund includes money for police and fire department upgrades. The city is keeping its property tax rate at 38.6 cents.

Olmos Park’s $3.6 million operational budget contains a 3 percent cost of living adjustment for employees. The capital replacement fund includes $175,000 for repairs and maintenance at City Hall, and $189,000 for road maintenance and fixes.

SAISD approved a $485.7 million general fund budget that includes salary increases for all permanent full-time employees, and a higher minimum entry hourly pay rate for non-exempt full-time employees.

Terrell Hills is working to adopt its 2020 budget by the end of the year.

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