San Antonio City Council voted Sept. 14 to approve a $3.7 billion budget—the city’s biggest budget to date—as city leaders said they are committed to a larger focus on public safety and infrastructure.

The budget also includes a $500,000 allocation for local organizations that provide women’s reproductive health services—a move that divided some council members and spurred criticism from some residents.

The background

The total budget contains $1.6 billion for daily operations with $963.9 million—60.8% of the general fund budget—going to police and fire services.

According to local officials, the budget includes 105 new police officer positions, 32 new firefighter and paramedic positions, 15 new animal care services positions, and a new EMS unit for Fire Station No. 40 on the northeast side. The new budget also adds overtime resources for Fire Station No. 21 on the south side to enhance emergency medical coverage following the closure of Texas Vista Hospital.

Additionally, the new budget will expand resources for addressing and cleaning up homeless encampments, help homeless individuals find shelter, and increase incentives for animal rescue partners.

Dig deeper

The budget also directs:

  • $43.6 million to bolster public health initiatives,
  • More than $5 million to upgrade eight public libraries
  • $37 million for parks and recreation-related capital projects
  • $157 million for road, drainage, traffic signal and alley improvements

The latter infrastructure allocation includes $1 million to fix 230 existing school zone flashing lights, install 15 flashing beacons, upgrade 210 school zone signs and add 729 school zone markings for crosswalks. The city will also begin a three-year assessment of sidewalks citywide.

The budget will be based on a property tax rate of $0.54159 per $100 valuation, a slight drop from $0.54161. But with rising appraisals, the city projects collecting $466 million in property tax revenue for maintenance and operation in FY 2023-24, an increase from $435 million in FY 2022-23.

The city is proceeding with an increased homestead property tax exemption to 20% of assessed value.

The budget includes several last-minute funding amendments, such as a $1 million allocation allowing the local housing agency Opportunity Home to repair, rehabilitate and modernize more than 70 housing communities citywide, affecting more than 60,000 families.

But a $500,000 allocation for what city officials and backers called a “reproductive justice fund” garnered extra debate.

Fund advocates said $500,000 would be set aside for local groups that offer reproductive health care, but detractors, including District 10 Council Member Marc Whyte, said they feel the organizations could use the money to aid women who are seeking an abortion.

Whyte moved to restrict abortion providers from accessing the funds, but council voted against his motion. He then moved for a separate vote on the fund but was defeated by his colleagues.

In response to Whyte’s request for legal advice, City Attorney Andy Segovia said council’s action to include the fund in the budget does not conflict with prevailing state law regarding abortion.

What they’re saying

Whyte chose to abstain from voting on the entire budget. While he voiced support for women’s health, Whyte said he could not consciously support a document that included taxpayer money that could be used to support abortion.

“I don’t think [taxpayers] want us to use their money on abortion,” Whyte said.

Other council members said they support wider access for women seeking reproductive health services.

“What we’re saying is our intent to support nonprofits that provide women’s reproductive health care,” District 7 Council Member Marina Aldrete Gavito said.

City leaders also said the new budget demonstrates a renewed commitment to boosting public safety and infrastructure.

“This is a budget where we make a historic investment,” District 8 Council Member Manny Pelaez said.

What’s next

The new budget will become effective Oct. 1. City officials said council could have an in-depth public discussion about the reproductive health care fund this fall.