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North Central smaller cities dodge COVID-19 budget cuts

Despite protests, San Antonio approves pay increase for police officers

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While the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact forced San Antonio to cut spending in Fiscal Year 2021, smaller North Central cities’ budgets remain stable.

San Antonio’s new $2.9 billion budget, however, includes reinstated money for road fixes, bolsters community services and features more funds for police. The latter measure has drawn fire from law-enforcement reform advocates.

No layoffs are in the financial plan. Police get a 5% raise, as mandated by a union contract with the city. The budget went into effect Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, Alamo Heights and Olmos Park both project increased revenues due to rising property appraisals.

Terrell Hills’ fiscal year runs Jan. 1-Dec. 31. The city will adopt its 2021 budget later this fall.

SAN ANTONIO

Reductions were made in various departments to accommodate COVID-19 response and recovery initiatives, and shortfalls in tourist- and convention-related revenue streams damaged by the coronavirus outbreak.

Three components comprise the budget — the general fund, restricted funds and the capital budget.

The $1.28 billion general-operating fund for FY 2021 is 0.4% greater than last year’s counterpart.

However, the overall budget is $4.4 million less than FY 2020, with the city facing a revenue shortfall of $127 million primarily due to the pandemic.

Officials stressed no city workers are losing their jobs, but a hiring freeze is in place, with no raises coming. Community services including libraries, youth programs and senior services won’t see any significant alterations.

The city is returning more than $40 million in street maintenance deferred in the 2020 budget when it addressed shrinking revenues.

Altogether, San Antonio is allocating $102 million on street repairs and $18 million on sidewalk upgrades citywide.

Some budgeted North Central projects include:

  • West Russell Place from West Ashby Place to Breeden Street
  • Shannon Lee Street from McCullough Avenue to East Skipper Drive
  • Edison Drive sidewalks from Blanco Road to North Audubon Drive
  • San Antonio’s 2021 balance sheet also has a combined $61 million for affordable housing, mental health care and drug treatment, and homelessness initiatives, including creating 11 outreach teams — one for each council district and downtown.

Aid for renters struggling in the crisis is key, District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño said.

“Our priority needs to be about keeping people in their homes.”

The budget also expands a program where eligible homeowners can replace their worn or damaged roof with new, energy-efficient coverings for free.

District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales commended city staff for crafting a balanced budget without a “negative impact on the services that the community always expects.”

District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry lauded restoring money for roads.

“(The previous cuts added) to our backlog that continuously builds up every year and it’s critical we don’t fall too far behind,” he said.

Funding to the Police Department disappointed residents who sought to reduce its allocation following protests against racial inequality and use-of-force policies.

The department’s slice of the pie increased 1.7%, including more money for family-violence prevention.

Regarding cries to defund police, City Manager Erik Walsh proposed a lengthy review to be undertaken by the council, staff, Police Chief William McManus and the community “to define what we want the police to engage in the future.”

He said many calls to police, such as mental-health care checks, need more nuance.

“We need to think about what kind of encounters we want to put our police officers in. Some of them are completely appropriate,” Walsh said.

District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan said if the city cannot redirect police funding elsewhere in the budget, officials must find other ways to boost Police Department accountability.

Andrews-Sullivan suggested voters could consider repealing two chapters in Texas’ local-government code, which require collective bargaining agreements, and control officer misconduct.

“We have to make sure this goes back into citizens of San Antonio’s hands and ask them when do you want to see this take place and how do you want this to shape up,” she said.

Perry defended the police budget.

“As far as the number of officers on the street, we don’t want a reduction. In fact, what I’m hearing is that we need more,” he said.

ALAMO HEIGHTS

The city’s $10.8 million general-fund budget is a 3.4% decrease from the FY 2020 version.

Alamo Heights has a 2% salary adjustment for employees, more than $354,800 to replace public-safety equipment, and $75,000 for swimming-pool complex renovations.

The new budget also contains $75,000 to an engineer consultant for the proposed Broadway revamp, and $25,000 to develop a commercial corridor master plan.

Local taxable values have risen 2.3%. Revenues for FY 2021 total $11 million — a 1.3% increase. The total property-tax rate is staying at 38.6 cents per $100 valuation.

Neither the pandemic nor the resulting economic downturn had an impact on funding, but City Manager Buddy Kuhn added, “a prolonged economic recession or depression will eventually affect these revenue streams.”

OLMOS PARK

The town adopted a $3.72 million general-fund budget with $3.8 million in operating revenues.

Police, Fire and Public Works departments are all getting more money. The capital project and equipment fund includes $50,000 for City Hall repairs, $180,000 for road maintenance, and $50,000 for McCullough Avenue enhancements.

Olmos Park is dropping its total tax rate from 43.4 cents per $100 valuation to 41.9 cents. The town’s average homestead taxable value has increased 1.5%.

Find this story and more at www.localcommunitynews.com.

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