The Jeffersonian: Politicks, Sports, and Culture

Monday, August 22, 2005

More ProjectQuest

Project Quest is still trying to up its allocation from San Antonio from $1.5 million to $3 million:

Project Quest came up short early in the city's budget season.

The job-training program, which has relied on city money since its 1992 inception, wanted $3 million in city funding next year. What it got in the preliminary budget handed to council Aug. 11 was $1 million.

But Communities Organized for Public Service and Metro Alliance, the agency's staunchest supporters, say a majority of council members agreed during last spring's campaigns to try to increase funding in 2006 to $3 million.

"Not only does COPS and the Metro Alliance expect them to keep their commitments to their constituents, frankly we don't understand why all council members don't support this," spokesman Mike Phillips said in a written statement.

Mayor Phil Hardberger and council members Elena Guajardo, Roland Gutierrez, Art Hall, Patti Radle and Delicia Herrera say they took the pledge to seek the money during "accountability sessions" organized by the community activist groups.

Hardberger said he refused to make the vow during a session early in his campaign, but later relented after studying the proposal.

"I'm going to try to get $3 million" for Project Quest, Hardberger said. "We have such a great need for trained, skilled workers in San Antonio. You seldom waste money on training."

Still, he said, "The question is where does the money come from?"

Hardberger said he doesn't want to add new spending to the city's proposed $1.72 billion budget, which increases general fund spending on basic services by 7.5 percent.

The council is working with a $26 million surplus, but it's also facing a projected $22 million deficit in 2007.

In the meantime, Radle won the backing of seven colleagues to discuss in an upcoming meeting granting the program $3 million.

The council also will talk about moving Project Quest from the Department of Community Initiatives to the Economic Development Department. That would free it from a funding formula requiring it to secure at least half of its budget from sources other than the city.

Radle said the shift — which COPS and Metro Alliance is calling for — is warranted because Project Quest, which customizes training programs for companies, helps retain and add jobs in San Antonio.

Mary Peña, executive director of Project Quest, said the agency deserves the designation because the city includes it as one of its lures when recruiting out-of-town companies.

"I can't say this company came to San Antonio because of Quest," Peña said. "But Quest is part of the package that sells San Antonio" to relocating firms.

Economic Development Director Ramiro Cavazos said the program is clearly related to recruitment. But he also said his department doesn't have the staff to oversee the agency.

"(A transfer) is a political decision that the mayor and council need to make," Cavazos said.

The reality of the situation is that Project Quest is looking to triple its allocation from last year- $500k of the $1.5 Project Quest was given last year was agreed by both sides as a one-time shot- at a time when budget projections are showing us to be $22 million in the red next year. Secondly, this Council has already shown where there priorities are- Infrastructure and Safety.

I don't think that anyone is questioning the success of Project Quest's programming, but at this point and time it's going to be pretty tough to find that extra money for them.

In a related article, local curmudgeon Roddy Stinson writes that City Council approved a $1.8 million allocation to help Antioch Baptist Church pay for a new sports complex:

"An ordinance authorizing the execution of a public use agreement between the City of San Antonio, the Antioch Community Transformation Network and the Board of Directors for Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) No. 11 ... for public use rights to the Eastside Sports Complex in City Council District 2."

In December 2000, at the urging of then-District 2 City Councilman Mario Salas, the City Council created TIRZ No. 11 on the near East Side.

Under guidelines of the 15-year TIRZ, all city property taxes from new developments in the zone would be placed in a "reinvestment fund" overseen by a council-appointed board of directors, which included Salas. The money would then be spent on projects that improved infrastructure, boosted economic development and revitalized the inner-city area.

To date, the TIRZ, which was recently enlarged to include the new convention center hotel, has produced $491,000 for said projects.

But don't waste your time trying to figure out how many miles of sidewalks or blocks of street repairs or small-business incubators the money will buy because the City Council just approved $1,832,992 in payments "for the use by the public" of a sports complex owned by the Antioch Community Transformation Network, a nonprofit formed in 2000 and controlled by Antioch Baptist Church.

Payments will begin in FY 2008 and end in FY 2015.

During that period "this facility will offer positive alternatives for neighborhood youth," the approval document enthused.

It didn't mention — as Kathy Clay-Little pointed out in an Express-News commentary — that the East Side area already has eight youth-service/recreation facilities, including "four community centers, three of which are literally next door to each other."

In the same piece, Clay-Little, publisher of African-American Reflections, pleaded for the TIRZ money to be used for "economic development" that would help East Siders "find gainful employment."

Her plea was ignored, and the council opted to help a politically important Baptist congregation and an influential pastor, the Rev. E. Thurman Walker, pay for a sports complex that includes "an NCAA regulation basketball court with seating for 250 people; Aerobics/Fitness Room; Ballet & Dance Studio; Walking Track; Weight Training Equipment, Men's and Women's Health Club; Team Locker and Training Room (and) Concession Stand."

Popcorn ... peanuts, anyone?
Anyone else wondering if the TIRZ could've been used for some Project Quest funding?