San Antonio City Council on Aug. 11 got its first full look at the city’s proposed fiscal year 2022-23 budget, a document that features $1.51 billion for daily city operations and $50 million in surplus CPS Energy revenue being returned to the utility’s customers.

Some council members said they are pleased the CPS Energy revenue surplus gives a chance to briefly aid customers who faced high energy bills after a historic 2021 winter storm and even higher bills amid scorching summer temperatures.

But other council members voiced worry that the $50 million utility giveback may not offer much aid to low-income customers and proposed using some of the surplus revenue to help such residents to weatherize their homes, among other things.

The daily operations—or general fund—portion of the proposed FY 2022-23 city budget marks a 7.2% increase in operating expenses over FY2021-22, City Manager Erik Walsh said.

Some of the key proposed expenditures are:

  • $904.8 million combined for fire and police;

  • $116.5 million for public works;

  • $61.7 million for parks and recreation;

  • $24.9 million for neighborhood and housing services;

  • $16.5 million for code enforcement;

  • $21.4 million for animal care;

  • $49.1 million for libraries;

  • $34.7 million for public health; and

  • $33.1 million for human services.

Walsh said the new budget contains $95 million total in property tax relief measures passed by the council earlier this summer, including increasing the city’s homestead exemption from 0.1% to 10%, and expanding exemptions for disabled residents and residents age 65 and over. The proposed budget also reflects a reduction in the city’s property tax rate from $0.558 per $100 valuation to $0.541, Walsh said.

CPS Energy surplus

Additionally, the proposed budget features a surplus of $50 million in CPS Energy revenue. According to Walsh, the adopted FY 2021-22 budget contained $361 million in CPS Energy revenue, but the city actually received $436.3 million. The city projects receiving $391.8 million in revenue from the city-owned utility in the upcoming fiscal year.

Walsh said the city proposes using $5 million from the surplus to help eligible low-income residential CPS Energy customers, and the remaining $45 million as credit to all utility ratepayers. Walsh said the credit will be recorded based on energy usage in July 2022 and that the average residential customer should see a $31 credit on their October bill.

Walsh said CPS Energy has seen a surge in energy consumption this summer, which has seen a number of record high temperatures. Walsh also said many CPS Energy residents took a financial hit with high energy bills following Winter Storm Uri in February 2021.

Walsh said the city is in a position to give utility ratepayers a bit of help with their bill given the recent pattern of weather extremes as well as inflation.

“While this $50 million will not solve the problem of soaring temperatures and high fuel costs, as the owners of CPS Energy, the city of San Antonio understands the challenges of paying the monthly electric bill, and we want to do our part to help our residents,” Walsh said.

District 1 Council Member Mario Bravo said he felt the one-time credit will not make much difference for many residents who face increasingly high energy bills.

Bravo instead suggested the city use the surplus CPS Energy revenue to develop long-term measures and enable community members to better adjust to long-lasting and increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

Bravo said such measures could include helping low-income residents to weatherize their home, converting vacant buildings into public cooling or warming centers, and finding ways to reduce the heat island effect in San Antonio’s urban core.

“This is the new normal, and the question is are we going to pivot? Are we going to adapt?” Bravo said.

District 2 Council Member Jalen McKee-Rodriguez and District 3 Council Member Phyllis Viagan agreed with Bravo in that CPS Energy customers will not significantly benefit from the proposed $50 million giveback, and that many financially strapped or low-income residents need more long-lasting aid.

Some fellow city leaders advanced the notion of redirecting the CPS Energy surplus toward other city priorities.

District 8 Council Member Manny Pelaez endorsed spending more money on serving domestic violence victims and on family violence prevention.

“I’m asking that we use this money to help the most vulnerable women and children in San Antonio,” he said.

Pelaez also advocated a push for more bicycle tracks such as the one being developed in the South Texas Medical Center.

District 9 Council Member John Courage recommended adding $50,000 for every existing city senior center to improve services at those locations. He said San Antonio’s city-controlled senior centers, especially the comprehensive centers, have a history of under-utilization.

“I would like to see the city better utilize those facilities,” Courage said.

Courage also said he is eager to explore the proposed budget and dig more into priorities pitched by more than 11,000 residents who answered a city survey in June about community services. According to Walsh, property tax relief, public safety, streets and parks were the top five priorities for most survey respondents.

“I think it’s important to understand what those asks and comments are and how they should impact this budget going forward,” Courage said of the survey results.

District 10 Council Member Clayton Perry said his biggest budget priorities continue to be further property tax relief and providing greater concentration on infrastructure and public safety issues.

“I’m glad to see we’re focusing on that, and we could focus a little more,” Perry said.

Perry also said be backs giving back money to CPS Energy customers, adding that suggestions of redirecting those surplus funds to other initiatives put utility ratepayers “in the back seat.”

The proposed FY 2022-23 budget also features $53 million in wage and benefit improvements for city employees, including a 5% pay increase for all workers, a minimum 2% cost-of-living adjustment, raising the entry hourly wage to $17.50 and a 20% reduction in health insurance premiums.

Walsh said it is important that the city emphasize appreciation of city staff, adding that the overall job market is experiencing large numbers of people leaving their jobs.

Walsh said nearly 10% of the city’s existing positions are vacant, adding there has been a 57% decline in the average number of applications received per city job posting. Walsh and some council members lamented losing staff members in recent months, including homelessness outreach coordinators.

“It’s an employees’ market. [The city] is doing things I don’t think we’ve ever done in order to get people in a lot quicker,” Walsh said of the city’s recruitment and retention efforts.

According to Walsh, the council will have budget work sessions between Aug. 17 and Sept. 14, and the city will solicit public input through 10 in-person town halls, including 7 p.m. Aug. 15 at the Northeast Service Center, 10303 Tool Yard Drive, and 6:30 p.m. Aug. 17 at the Igo Public Library, 13330 Kyle Seale Parkway.

There will be two other telephone-only town halls regarding the budget process Aug. 18 and 22. There will also be two council hearings on the budget between Aug. 31 and Sept. 8, with the council slated to adopt a final FY 2022-23 budget Sept. 15, Walsh said.