Home Zone 2-3 Pandemic leaves mark on north SA

Pandemic leaves mark on north SA

Sales taxes are down, elections moved, schools stay closed

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Attempting to slow the spread of COVID-19, local officials closed Hardberger Park and other Bexar County public spaces to the public during Easter weekend. Photo by Edmond Ortiz

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many disruptions, including the postponement of May’s local elections until the fall, and the closure of all Texas schools for the rest of the academic year.

Communities, however, are responding to the outbreak with restraint, resilience and ingenuity.

Following the state’s instructions and Bexar County’s public-gathering restrictions, San Antonio’s Pre-K 4 SA renewal election is now delayed until the Nov. 3 general election.

The same goes for five contested board races in the North East Independent School District.

The ways the outbreak has changed daily life vary from city to city, school district to school district.

Neither NEISD nor the Northside Independent School District reports any changes in bond-funded construction projects. The state has deemed construction an essential business activity.

“(The outbreak) hasn’t impacted any projects at this point,” NEISD spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor said.

School districts are doing what they can to care for employees while teachers conduct classes remotely. NEISD and NISD are paying all employees their existing salaries and hourly rates.

Leaders of area communities say it will take a while to determine the pandemic’s long-range impact on their finances, given the number of layoffs, business closures and event cancellations.

After stay-at-home declarations in March that also shuttered nonessential businesses, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered a partial reopening of many shops and other sites starting May 1, so long as they operate at 25 percent capacity inside the establishment. Online orders and shopping by phone for takeout, third-party or regular delivery and curbside pickup is still permissible.

“We’re taking a hit on sales taxes,” Hill Country Village Mayor Gabriel Durand-Hollis said. “Sales-tax numbers were fine in early March, but there weren’t closures yet.”

Otherwise, after closing City Hall to the public and canceling community activities, Hill Country Village saw fewer people on the road and reduced police service calls, according to Durand-Hollis.

Shavano Park had closed its municipal facilities to the public, and the number of evening police patrols increased, City Manager Bill Hill said.

Shavano Park businesses and offices adjusted work schedules and services, too. Mayor Bob Werner commended residents, merchants and schools for taking the disruptions in stride.

“Finally, we commend our younger families for their adaptations to both educate and entertain our community’s children,” he added.

Castle Hills facilities were closed to the public prior to the governor’s reopening declaration, with 95 percent of city business being done online, via phone or with minimal interaction for city staff.

Mayor JR Trevino thanked local residents and business owners for practicing social distancing and abiding by restrictions.

“People seem to grasp the severity of the situation and are considerate to being in people’s personal space,” Trevino added.

Hollywood Park closed its municipal facilities and parks to the public, and temporarily suspended court proceedings.

Bulky-item collections continued, and the city’s Facebook page has informed residents about how local businesses have been operating and keeping customers safe.

Meanwhile, San Antonio is taking measures to offset an estimated $100 million loss in revenues, primarily through diminished hospitality taxes, and furloughed nearly 300 employees in select city departments.

Officials suspended arts funding, announced cutbacks in scheduled road maintenance, and delayed new bicycle lanes. VIA Metropolitan Transit ridership also took a hit, and the city dropped $3 million of $10 million in funding to the bus agency.

San Antonio International Airport, which has upgraded safety protocols but is seeing fewer passengers, did receive $39.7 million from the $2.2 trillion aid package passed by Congress. The money will help offset safety-measure costs, and fund scheduled projects.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg and County Judge Nelson Wolff appointed local officials and business and civic leaders to groups to help develop long-range solutions on issues affected by the pandemic, including food security, housing, social services and business.

The city was also considering a multimillion-dollar assistance package to help mainly local residents in need.

The city secured extra shelter spaces for homeless individuals, and hotel rooms as isolation spaces for people who test positive for COVID-19 but don’t need hospitalization.

“I don’t think any of us have the answers on how we’re going to fill the gaps in these needs, but I can tell you our approach up here is will be ‘people first’,” Nirenberg said at a recent City Council meeting.

By focusing on recovery efforts, San Antonio city leaders have put some neighborhood initiatives on the back burner.

District 9 Councilman John Courage postponed the annual participatory budget, where district constituents propose small-scale projects and vote on which ones they would like to see funded.

“Every state, city, and district will inevitably have to make hard choices about services and budgets for the foreseeable future,” Courage said. “Postponing our District 9 people’s budget was not an easy decision, but it was appropriate given the circumstances.”

Despite challenges posed by the outbreak, neighbors are helping neighbors.

Shavano Park-based Lynd, a real estate firm, is donating $5 from every rent payment it receives to local hospitals in metropolitan areas where the company manages apartments.

At NorthRock Church, Cruising Kitchens provided free meals to local first responders during the pandemic.

Stone Oak restaurant Toro Kitchen + Bar launched the WAITT — We’re All In This Together — campaign, raising funds to provide free meals to health care workers each Wednesday, and to hospitality workers each Friday.

“Many people have reached out asking how to donate and we are extremely thankful for everyone’s support,” Toro representatives said on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

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