After the last city election narrowly avoided a proposition seen as a police “defunding” referendum, SAPD made its way to the meeting’s center of attention.
Councilman Clayton Perry (District 10) proposed lowering the tax rate by half a cent by taking $5.7 million from VIA Metropolitan Transit, the city bus system. Perry noted that VIA received $93 million in federal COVID-19 relief and said the department could easily withstand the cut. His motion failed 10 to 1.
Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (District 2), one of the two Democratic Socialists of America ushered into the city council in the last election, said he would support a tax rate decrease if it removed the same amount from SAPD’s budget. McKee-Rodriguez explained that SAPD’s budget would still grow from last year even with a $5.7 million cut. Joined by councilors Teri Castillo (District 5) and Mario Bravo (District 1), his motion failed 3-8.
While the city voted against cuts to SAPD’s budget increase, it did approve new policing methods.
Under a new program, the city will respond to “family violence and mental health” calls with a paramedic and clinician accompanying the police officer.
The new budget also reallocates $50,000 from the city’s crime prevention program to a pair of private programs: Big Mama’s Safe House and Rising Stars San Antonio.
15 new officers will be added to the city police force under the new budget. 12 of these officers will go to the San Antonio Fear Free Environment (SAFFE) force, a unit of beat officers tasked with preventing crime. The other three officers will go to downtown bike patrol.
The proposed budget was estimated to raise more total property taxes than last year’s budget by a little over $20 million, a 3.12 percent increase from last year’s total. It does not change the current property tax rate in San Antonio, which is 55.827 cents per $100 of taxable value.
An outright “defunding” attempt would not have been legal under new state law, as councilors acknowledged. House Bill 1900, passed during the regular session of the 87th Texas legislature, punishes cities that cut their police departments without cutting the rest of the budget by freezing property taxes.
SAPD has featured prominently in area politics of late. After McKee-Rodriguez and Castillo won their races, the Democratic Socialists of America celebrated “a win over the bosses, developers, homophobia, ageism, the police union, and right-wing fear tactics.”
The two candidates won in runoff elections after the citywide May election, when the San Antonio police union clung by a thread to their collective bargaining power after a ballot proposition to strip it away failed by less than two percentage points. The proposition drew statewide attention as a referendum vote on police support.
The Bexar County Commissioners Court also voted last year to cut 19 deputy constable positions, halving the original proposal of 38. Though their duties are primarily civil, as one commissioner who voted against the budget noted, the vote was swept up in the same controversies that have roiled elsewhere in the state.
The San Antonio City Council passed the budget 10 to 0, with councilor Mario Bravo (District 1) abstaining.
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