The Jeffersonian: Politicks, Sports, and Culture

Thursday, August 18, 2005

City Council News

The proposed crime district presentation, a proposed property tax cut, and a proposed biennial budget is what's being talked about at City Hall.

The proposed crime district, which goes before SA voters this November, has a mission of making San Antonio the "safest large city in the United States."

With a mission of making San Antonio "the safest large city in the United States," the seven board members formulated the proposed budget by assessing the needs of law enforcement and agencies with programs designed to prevent criminal activities and behaviors.

"The one thing we found is that in some areas we're doing great, we're doing things right," board Chairman Robert Marbut said. "But there are some things we have to fix and we have to fix them fast."

The budget provides more for crime prevention than control or enforcement, while supplying extra funds to enhance or tie efforts of various agencies together, he said.

New funds would be provided to two community policing initiatives, Cellular on Patrol and Volunteers in Policing, that have lost city funding in recent years due to tight city budgets, Marbut said.

The board also allocated $3.1 million to bring the police department up to its authorized strength by adding classes to the police academy's schedule.

Several council members questioned the logic of supporting permanent positions with temporary money.

"The core of my problem with this is we're funding a lot of positions with what is the equivalent of short-term financing," Councilman Kevin Wolff said.

Assistant City Manager Chris Brady said assuming the district isn't renewed by voters after the first five years, the city would have some time before the last chunk of money comes in to decide what to do with the positions.

"Assuming you don't have any resources anywhere else in the budget, you would have to hold those positions," Brady said. "It's going to be tough. It's going to be real hard."

Funds to address family violence and safety would support the Family Justice Center, a program recently formed under the leadership of District Attorney Susan Reed, that seeks to curtail child abuse and neglect and on-line predators.

Crisis response teams would give victims of domestic abuse one place to report the crime and see it through prosecution.

Juvenile crime is a growing concern among law enforcement and social agencies, Marbut said, and funding within this proposal would beef up programs for school safety, gang prevention and recreation.

The budget also would target crimes against the elderly. One of the most alarming statistics the board heard, Marbut said, was that in the last 22 crimes on financial institutions the average yield was $4,000, while the average take from scamming one elderly person is $5,000.

"When there's a bank robbery, everyone rolls," Marbut said of police reaction to such a crime. "When it's a scam you simply don't get that sort of response."

The final initiative for the first two years would provide money to increase safety along business corridors and in tourist areas.

Marbut said the district is designed to address community needs in the first two years and then allow the City Council to have more input on the budget in the following three years.

First off, if you have a problem with funding permanent positions with temporary money Councilman Wolff, then maybe you should take some of that $13 million in proposed property tax cuts you're pushing (see below), and use it to fully fund our police department.

Secondly, while this district will be funding a litany of departments, organizations and issues, it's nice to see the district board members thinking outside the box and allocating some money to fighting those who target the elderly. Moving on.

Councilman Kevin Wolff would like to use half of this year's budget surplus to lower property taxes:

City Councilman Kevin Wolff wants to slice next year's property taxes by $13 million — relying on half of the city's budget surplus to do it — and set aside the other half for rainy days ahead.

The catch is that most of the $26 million surplus already was accounted for in the preliminary spending plan delivered to the council a week ago, and Wolff's proposal would mean wringing that amount out of the 2006 budget.

"I'm proposing what I believe is a fiscally sound plan," Wolff said. "It's city staff's job to figure out how to do it."

Wolff's plan would trim the city's proposed tax rate by 2.65 cents to 55.204 cents per $100 of taxable value, Budget Director Peter Zanoni noted.

That means the tax bill of the average homeowner — with a property worth $103,177 — would drop by $27, to $570 from $597.

The first-term North Side councilman also is pushing to put $6.5 million into the city's reserve fund and set aside another $6.5 million for the 2007 budget, which city staffers estimate will face a $22 million shortfall.

The average homeowner's gonna save $27 dollars. That won't even buy me and the girlfriend dinner and a movie. But let's also face facts here, the houses Wolff's constituents live in most likely have a much higher property value than $103k, and a whole lot of homeowners in the other nine districts will be receiving less than $27 if this cut were to be implemented. And with a predicted shortfall of $22 million for 2007, the whole $13 million would be much better served in the rainy day fund. Otherwise, odds are we're gonna have to re-raise property taxes for 2007- above and beyond what the levels they are at right now.