CPS saves the budget (again)

Council got an introduction to City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year last week, one which, perhaps unsurprisingly, balances itself on expected revenues from San Antonio powerhouse CPS Energy and its magically* inflating natural-gas prices. The $2.3-billion budget holds property taxes steady at their current rate and keeps the SA employee ranks relatively stable (with a 2-percent, across-the-board cost-of-living adjustment), yet ekes into the black in another economically stilted year on the promise that CPS will make up the difference.

By keeping property taxes static at 56.569 percent per $100 property valuation, Sculley said she expects a dip in related revenue of about $5 million, or roughly 2 percent. Sales tax is also expected to bring in fewer pesos this year. So the pressure is on new CPS CEO Doyle Beneby to tax the city on the sly again since forecasts suggest a warmer-than-normal winter is on tap for the region. Said Sculley: “We’re counting on Doyle and his team to maintain a well-run utility.”

There are still a slew of meetings ahead for budget hawks (and doves; the QueQue was at Council’s work session on cops and firemen as the paper went to press), but Mayor Julián Castro predicted the City Manager’s handiwork will pass pretty much as-is when it comes back for a final vote September 16. While the total budget is trimmed by a neat $12 mil, Sculley is suggesting $1.5 million go to Haven for Hope (bringing, if adopted, the City’s total commitment to date to $5.5 million), while $830,000 worth of other city services would be axed. The draft budget also includes some sneaky “adjustments” (read, increases) to medical transport and parks fees. Other highlights include:

• $1.5M increase in the library budget (which will open two libraries and close one this year);

• $2.7M to stimulate downtown neighborhood development and investment;

• $1.5M for a land bank to identify, purchase, and develop vacant lots `a great way to complete the takeover of properties targeted by a renegade Dangerous Structure Determination Board; see “East Side land mine,” April 28`;

• $500,000 to Animal Care Services’ expansion at Brooks City-Base, funding for nine new positions there, and $250,000 to help maintain affordable spay-neuter programs in the city.

For the harder-to-please among you, you’ll find plenty of raisin’-hell opportunities, including community meetings this week and next for all Council districts except 3 and 6, which you already missed. Get the schedule online at sanantonio.gov, or contact your Council rep.

* Our use of the term ‘magically’ has been challenged. CPS electricity rates are modified through monthly fuel adjustments. While last winter’s high prices corresponded with warm weather (and therefore lower natural-gas usage across the city), the prices were adjusted to make up for the period’s rising natural-gas prices. A review of industry data suggests economic factors (including lower rig counts) played a greater role than blatant utility alchemy. But, for our part, we’re not ruling out sheer wizardry — of either necromantic or creative-accounting varieties.

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