This November, voters could cast their ballot for as many as four proposals during the general election; all the referendum measures call for a slight increase in sales tax to fund them.
The sales tax increase would provide additional funding for VIA, allow the City to purchase land over the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, allocate money to the Better Jobs program, and establish a Crime Control and Prevention District.
The Texas legislature allows cities to increase the local and state sales tax rate to a maximum of 8.25 percent. San Antonio currently has a 7.75 percent sales tax rate, leaving room for a half-cent increase, which would be divided among the winning proposals. Already, VIA has asked for its portion to be 3/8-cent, which, if approved, would leave just 1/8-cent for other approved projects.
"We know from the recent Charter election that when you have several issues on the ballot it starts to cloud the voters' analysis on individual items," said Mayor Ed Garza at a June 9 City Council meeting. "I don't think any of these are slam dunks. The individual groups should develop grassroots support to make these projects successful. There needs to be collaboration between the groups. This chamber should be full of people supporting the resolutions. If there isn't, I will have strong reservations about them."
Texas law allows VIA to call independently for its own November referendum on its proposal; Council plans to further discuss the referendum on June 24.
This week, the Current looks at the Better Jobs and Crime Control initiatives. Last week, the Current reviewed VIA and the land purchases over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone `See: November general election — Ballot proposals, Part I`.
SAPD looks to take a bite out of the sales tax with a Crime Control District
If the San Antonio Police Department can get City Council approval, local voters will be deciding this November on a proposed 1/8-cent tax increase for the creation of a Crime Control Taxing District.
Such tax districts have been a popular trend among Texas municipalities in recent years, with 26 cities in the state currently using them, including Fort Worth, Corpus Christi, and Castle Hills, which approved its plan in May and is still putting its district into effect.
SAPD Assistant Chief Tyrone Powers presented the police department's plan at the June 9 Council meeting. Powers said the purpose of a Crime Control District is "to enhance the city's law enforcement agencies and the enhancement of crime prevention programs."
According to Powers, the tax increase would impact a family of four by $26 a year, and would provide the SAPD with an additional $15-18 million. He says it would allow the department to increase staffing by 132 positions, including 102 additional patrolmen in the first year of the plan. It would also provide for enhanced public safety monitoring around downtown and the city's tourist attractions. The plan also calls for new equipment and a stronger effort at citizen participation in crime prevention.
Castle Hills Police Chief Donny Davis says the Crime Control Tax District concept has grown in popularity because it gives police departments an essential source of revenue on which they can depend - unlike the City budget. "What you're looking at is a piece of the pie," Davis says. "All the departments are screaming for a piece of that pie. We make our funding requests, and out come the razorblades. But this `tax district` money is specifically earmarked for law enforcement."
Davis says his department probably will not begin receiving money until late this year, but says that Castle Hills' 1/4-cent tax increase will provide between $150,000 and $200,000. While Castle Hills does not expect to add staff positions, Davis says it will upgrade its infrastructure, including the creation of an emergency operations center.
At the San Antonio City Council meeting, Ray Hamilton of the city's Crime Prevention Commission said that a Crime Control District "would actually increase our capability, bring them up to the levels that they need. Right now, the city is growing at a fast rate, but the forces and other programs are not growing in comparison." Hamilton added that, "it has been a godsend for many of the cities," noting that Fort Worth and Corpus Christi twice have gone back to their voters and gained approval for the plan.
Mayor Ed Garza raised concerns that if voters abandon the plan in a few years, SAPD may lack funding to preserve the new staffing positions it has created. Powers and Hamilton suggested that by that point, the department's inevitable increases in city funding might absorb these additional positions, but Garza appeared unconvinced. •
Get to work
City to lobby for proposed sales tax increase for Better Jobs program
By Jodie Briggs
In the battle for revenue under the proposed sales tax referendum, another contender has emerged. The City's Economic Development Department hopes to supplement funding for its Better Jobs initiatives through a portion of the available 1/2-cent tax.
Under Texas Senate Bill 607, known as the Better Jobs Bill, cities may call for a referendum to increase sales taxes that would finance job training and education projects.
Better Jobs sponsors programs in Early Childhood Education, K-12 and higher education programs, and after-school activities. It also focuses on job training and economic development.
Created in 2002, Better Jobs recently merged under the workforce development division of the Economic Development Department. The merger, said Director Ramiro Cavazos, helped bring continuity to the city's economic development efforts. "The concept was to start from the time of birth with the pre-kindergarten programs and continue through school with after-school programs and beyond high school efforts to scholarships and workforce development."
Since Better Jobs began, the department has expanded workforce training to include aerospace and manufacturing workforce academies. According to Cavazos, those expansions will continue if voters approve the the sales tax increase for Better Jobs. "We can expand upon the original categories as people realize we can provide services to make a better workforce."
This summer, City Council will decide which projects, including Better Jobs, could be on the referendum ballot. VIA is independently calling a referendum and asking voters to approve a 3/8-cent increase for the public transportation system. This leaves the other three projects to battle for the remaining 1/8-cent.
Cavazos says the first step in securing a spot on the referendum is to gather background information for the Council. As an example, he cited the San Antonio Education Partnership, which awards college scholarships to students who maintain good grades and pledge to finish high school. Currently, SAEP is available in only 15 schools, but new funding for Better Jobs could help it expand to all San Antonio schools.
Without new funding, existing Better Jobs initiatives won't be canceled, according to Dianne Quaglia, senior special projects manager at the Economic Development Department. The sales tax increase, she said, "is an effort to give an additional development stream." Current funding comes from a diverse group of sources, including the City, Alamo Workforce Development, and the Alamo Community College District, in addition to contributions from the private sector.
Although the Better Jobs Bill allows any Texas city or municipality to call for a public referendum, few have taken advantage of the provision. The only other city to use public funding authorized through the Better Jobs Bill is Coppell, which uses the additional money to supplement public schools for literacy and technology development.
Yet, under the bill, funding isn't limited to public school projects, says Quaglia. City officials say they will specify uses for the money once Council approves their spot on the sales tax referendum.
An improved workforce would not only benefit city residents who receive additional training, Cavazos says it would also strengthen the city's economic development. "It's another incentive for companies if we can provide a stronger, better educated workforce." •
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