News Budget love-in

$1.7 billion is the biggest ever

There was little animosity last week as City Council debated, communicated, commiserated, and adopted what Mayor Phil Hardberger calls the most comprehensive annual budget in the City's history.

After public hearings and Council discussions, the finished product, a $1.7 billion budget, is the largest package in the City's 274-year existence. In contrast, San Antonio's 1950 fiscal year budget was a whopping $5 million.

Councilmembers were quick to point out that the new budget was adopted without raising the City's property-tax rate of about 57 cents per $100 valuation. Property appraisals likely will increase, but that is out of Council's hands. "Tax relief has always been in the forefront of our minds, but tax appraisal is the responsibility of the Texas Legislature," District 8 Councilman Art Hall explained.

"There's clearly no deficit spending in the City of San Antonio," said District 10's Chip Haass, a veteran of three annual budget sessions. "It's a strong budget, one that I'm proud of. This budget is one that is going to make a lot of difference in the community."

"I am proud of the document.
I will sleep very well tonight."

- District 7 Councilwoman
Elena Guajardo

One of the longest debates centered on Project Quest, a controversial agency that provides job training for low-income residents. District 10's Kevin Wolff pointed out the special treatment the program has received, unlike other programs that have sought City funding. This year, Council opted for a 65-35 percent funding split, compared to a 50-50 arrangement that goes to other agencies, which amounts to $3 million for Project Quest in fiscal year 2005-06. The City will pay 65 percent of Project Quest's funding, and the agency is responsible for raising the remaining money from other sources.

"I have a problem with breaking or changing the rules," said Wolff. "I have a solution: Why don't we roll it out as an RFP (request for proposals) and find the best possible organization to spend that money."

No councilmember seconded Wolff's proposal. District 2's Sheila McNeil proposed an amendment to require that up to one-quarter of the funds for Project Quest be reserved for students who live in public housing or who are Hurricane Katrina flood victims/evacuees. She also added an amendment to require that 45 percent of the $3 million be spent on tuition and books and no more than 15 percent for personnel and funding. Council adopted the first two amendments, but dropped the 15 percent administrative funding requirement.

Project Quest Development Director Magdalena Alvarado countered that the program already includes "a number of people in public housing, and we're also working toward Katrina victims, but it is difficult for us to commit to one-quarter percent."

Mayor Hardberger agreed. "We don't know how many evacuees we have."

Another significant increase includes an additional $9 million in budget expenditures, which provides for an extra emergency medical service unit, including a new ambulance and 12 paramedics at a cost of $676,000, to serve the Stone Oak area on the North Side.

The City allocated an additional $45 million for street maintenance, both through contractors and with city street crews. It also authorized a one-time $500,000 loan to the Bexar Regional Mobility District through the recently adopted Advanced Transportation District.

The Japanese Tea Garden, the Sunken Garden Theater, the Ruiz House, and the Conservatory at the Botanical Center will benefit from $1.8 million. An additional $500,000 is slated for parks beautification, including installation and maintenance of irrigation systems and a citywide tree-planting program.

"Is this budget giving you adequate attention?" Hardberger asked former Councilwoman and parks advocate Bonnie Conner.

"I'm delighted," she replied.

"This is a very parks-minded council," said Hardberger, who advocated development of large regional parks within the City during his spring election campaign.

"I am proud of this document," said District 7's Elena Guajardo. "It's about infrastructure, employees `who received a cost of living raise, beginning October 1`, parks, and art `and also streets`. I will sleep very well tonight."

By Michael Cary


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