“We’re Up” – San Antonio road repairs and other basic services could get a boost as the economy recovers



With the San Antonio economy recovering and hundreds of millions of federal incentive funds, city budget officials plan to restore spending on essential services such as road improvements that were cut at the height of the pandemic.

Officials also intend to use the windfall to make large investments in public and mental health programs, reduce domestic violence, prop up the city’s affordable housing and help the homeless – all issues exacerbated by the pandemic .

“We have made up a lot of ground,” said City Manager Erik Walsh during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday morning.

More than a year after COVID-19 devastated the city’s hospitality industry, restaurants and hotel rooms are filling up again. Event planners book meetings at the Alamodome and the Convention Center.

Over the past six weeks, tax revenues from retail and restaurant sales and hotel bookings have rebounded, although they are still well below pre-pandemic levels.

Officials presented the city council’s financial picture to the city council on Wednesday afternoon – thus initiating the summer process of drawing up a municipal budget for the coming financial year.

The city lost $ 248 million in revenue last year as hotels ran empty and retail and restaurant sales fell through. Just a few weeks ago, city officials were preparing for possible cuts of $ 337 million over the next five years in anticipation of a slow recovery.

Lately they have become more optimistic.

Two years ago, the city raised $ 93.5 million in hotel occupancy tax. In 2020, that dropped to $ 52.1 million. This year, officials expect it to climb to $ 57.6 million, spurred in part by travelers who flocked to town for the spring break and NCAA women’s basketball tournament, said Scott Huizenga, the city’s budget director .

The overall fund budget – which pays for police and fire protection, parks, and other basic services – is projected to be $ 1.35 billion for the coming fiscal year, up $ 70 million from last year.

However, budget officials noted some uncertainty about the pace of the city’s economic recovery.

“How long will the upswing last?” said Walsh. “Where is the ceiling? Is that a three month deal? Is it a six month contract? Will it be for the next year? “

At the same time, city officials will receive nearly $ 466 million from the US $ 1.9 trillion bailout bill signed by President Joe Biden in April. The funds are intended to help the city fill budget gaps, secure homes for families in need, and keep San Antonio International Airport running.

Given the city’s growing revenue and influx of federal dollars, city officials suggested that councilors restore some of the $ 87 million budget cuts they made last year.

That would mean, among other things, bringing back $ 16 million in road maintenance expenses, eliminating planned vacation days for city workers, and giving civil workers a 3 percent raise.

City officials also plan to use $ 97 million in stimulus dollars to offset past lost revenue.

How the remaining money will be used has yet to be determined. The city has until 2024 to figure out which projects it will fund with the stimulus dollars – and until 2026 to spend the money.

About $ 49 million is likely to go to the Housing Emergency Relief Program, which helps households in need with rent and mortgage payments.

That should keep the fund liquid through the end of the year, but Walsh said the city needs to figure out how to move from short-term housing assistance to long-term efforts to build affordable housing.

Meanwhile, the city plans to use $ 30 million of its own money to raise funding for various social services, including helping the homeless.

District 9 city council, John Courage, was skeptical about putting another $ 2 million into homeless services “because we don’t seem to be solving the problem, but we’re investing a lot of money in it.” The number of homeless has increased during the pandemic but has recently decreased.

“If we put $ 2 million more in, I’d like to know why,” said Courage.

Council members gave a preview of their priorities for the upcoming budget, which will be voted on in September.

District 5’s newly elected councilor Teri Castillo called for investments in sidewalks that are badly needed in her West Side district.

Instead of hiring more staff to meet public requests for information, District 8 city council Manny Peláez said the council should spend the money on domestic violence prevention.

A dozen women were killed by a romantic partner or family member that year, Police Chief William McManus told the council.

“I see my job as a councilor in leaving fewer carcasses behind,” said Peláez.

Also on deck: $ 5 million to improve the city’s response to emergencies like the February freeze. The money would be used to fund upgrades to backup generators at fire and police stations, some of which lost power during the storm.

Walsh came up with the idea of ​​asking voters to agree to bond sales over the next year to pay for new generators and other contingency measures.

Officials said the city’s money was unlikely to be spent on generators to support the San Antonio Water System pumping stations, some of which failed during the February storm and contributed to widespread water outages.

SAWS, which is owned by the city and funded by water users, would have to pay for its own generators, officials said.


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