A controversial proposal to shift funding from aquifer protection and parks to San Antonio workforce development and then transit services is on the ballot Nov. 3 for San Antonio voters.
Meanwhile, San Antonio voters will also be asked to consider reauthorizing a 1/8-cent sales tax to maintain the Pre-K 4 SA program.
All of the initiatives revolve around funding fueled by sales-tax revenue.
San Antonio officials are asking the electorate to redirect a 1/8-cent sales tax, which currently pays for linear creekway development and Edwards Aquifer protections, to four years of workforce training in the wake of COVID-19 job displacements.
The city wants to get dibs on new yearly income to fund job and education initiatives, or about $154 million for economic recovery.
After the city takes its one-time share of funds, VIA Metropolitan Transit would then inherit a portion of the dedicated revenue stream to help support a long-range plan to enhance public-transit improvements.
A $180 million cap voters set 20 years ago on using the sales tax for aquifer and park protection expires in the spring or summer of 2021, leaving about $38.5 million annually for the city and municipal bus company.
The city would use the sales tax through December 2025 to train about 40,000 inhabitants seeking jobs with better pay, officials said.
Then, if OK’d by the electorate, a handoff from the city to VIA on Jan. 1, 2026, through the Advanced Transportation District would use its new funding to improve transportation systems.
City leaders originally worried a separate VIA sales-tax proposal would get lost on a lengthy Nov. 3 ballot and stressed that funding COVID-19 pandemic recovery must stay a top priority.
However, following discussions with VIA officials, San Antonio gave the transit service’s proposal its blessings, and opted to place on the same ballot the initiative that shares the wealth.
“With (voters’) support, we can help deliver dramatic improvements not only to the transit and mobility systems that keep San Antonio moving, but to the lives of the now over 2 million residents — and counting — who live and work here, and rely on us to move people, every day,” VIA Board Chairwoman Hope Andrade said.
That does not mean the aquifer is being left high and dry, officials said.
City Council voted 9-2 Sept. 17 to continue the aquifer-protection program instead of letting it lapse.
Over a 10-year period, the city’s Municipal Facilities Corp. will spend $100 million in debt, available cash and revenue collected from the San Antonio Water System to maintain the program. The funding mechanism begins in Fiscal Year 2023.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the pandemic has upended the city’s finances, but proceeding with this alternative would extend a program that has saved more than 160,000 acres of aquifer recharge land from development.
“Change can be disconcerting, but the realities we face force us to accept it,” he added.
District 10 councilmen Clayton Perry and District 1 Roberto Treviño dissented.
Saying the pandemic demands even more immediate action, Perry and Treviño said the city could wait until after the Nov. 3 elections to explore the issue and develop a strategic plan for future aquifer protection.
In early October, Bexar County Commissioners Court passed a resolution, pledging support to continue the financing of greenway trail development.
The resolution directs county staff to return in early 2021 and pitch a plan for funding trail development.
Meanwhile, voters are asked to give the city’s preschool program another eight years.
Since its inception in 2012, Pre-K 4 SA has provided more than 25,000 local children with access to prekindergarten education. Backers of Pre-K 4 SA say the program helps prepare young children for a quality grade-school experience, and that it will benefit local workforce development.