Firefighter Labor Union

We are disappointed that the Firefighter Labor Union has sued the City of San Antonio today for the third time attempting to stop the dependent healthcare verification of fire personnel and their dependents.  My responsibility is to ensure that any person receiving healthcare benefits from the City is qualified to receive such benefits funded by San Antonio taxpayers.

Dependent healthcare verifications are a nation-wide best practice of private and public employers and have already been completed for City civilian employees and police officers.

Annual dependent healthcare verifications were also recommended in February by the Retiree and Healthcare Benefits Task Force appointed by Mayor Castro and City Council last fall.

We fail to understand why the Firefighter Labor Union will not cooperate with the healthcare verification process.  What do they have to hide?

Solid Waste Management Update – Recycling Partnership

The Solid Waste Management Department has partnered with the San Antonio Spurs to promote recycling to San Antonio residents.  The partnership includes a new commercial featuring Danny Green from the Spurs explaining it easy being green

The commercial is currently running during all Spurs games playing on KENS 5, Fox Sports Southwest and the CW 35.  In addition, the commercial ran several times during the upcoming March Madness and will run during the NBA Playoffs

Also, as part of the partnership SWMD and the Spurs are promoting a recycling contest as part of the NBA Green Week. Residents and schools are asked to provide a one minute video or photo and essay explaining how they are San Antonio’s best recyclers. The winner will receive a VIP Spurs Experience and will be recognized at the Spurs game tomorrow night April 11, 2014.

Individuals interested in the contest can visit http://www.nba.come/spurs/scorewithrecycling.

Center City Development Office Update

Center City Development & Operations Department (CCDO) creates a monthly newsletter, Focus Downtown, which goes out to over 1,500 downtown workers, organizations, businesses, stakeholders, and residents, as well as community members throughout the city. The newsletter, which is transmitted electronically, highlights downtown events, development projects, and provides overall updates on downtown activity.

For example, last month’s newsletter highlighted the grand re-opening of Travis Park. the park, located in the heart of our downtown, was closed for several months to allow for the installation of significant improvements, including: electrical upgrades, irrigation system repairs, landscaping, re-sodding, a new dog park and the addition of new tables and chairs.

The Grand Re-opening attracted hundreds of people to the park as attendees participated in free family-friendly activities such as fitness classes and historic tours. Several events were held in the park on its opening weekend, drawing over a thousand people to the newly renovated park. This year, the park will host Movies by moonlight, fitness in the park, public art installations, and free cultural performances.

Other recent events covered by the newsletter include the annual book festival, the maverick music festival and Siclovia. The newsletter is also used to feature a new housing project each month, demonstrating the city’s commitment to meeting the SA2020 goal of increasing the supply of housing in our center city.  In addition finally, a list of upcoming downtown events is also included in each month’s issue, which demonstrates to the community the variety of activities we have downtown.

The newsletter was created over 6 years ago under the Downtown Operations Department and continues to be an informative resource on downtown information for the community.  CCDO also sends out a weekly street closure notice to downtown stakeholders, alerting them of upcoming street and lane closures associated with downtown construction projects and special events.  Community members can sign up to receive the monthly newsletter or the weekly street closure notice on the CCDO website at www.sanantonio.gov/ccdo.

Texas Week

Recently, I had the opportunity to serve as a guest on Texas Week, hosted by Rick Casey, on KLRN-TV. My discussion with Rick Casey focused on public safety services as a priority, the increase of healthcare costs and how to ensure public safety expenses are sustainable.

For more information regarding Healthcare & Retirement Benefits Facts please visit this website: http://www.sanantonio.gov/info

Healthcare and Retiree Benefits Task Force

Today the Express News stated in a column, the City Commissioned projections that Public Safety benefits will consume the entire General Fund budget by 2040.  The accurate fact is that the projections developed by the independent actuary retained by the Task Force indicated that if public safety costs in total continue to grow faster than General Fund revenues, they could consume 100% of the General Fund by 2040, or as early as 2024.

The Task Force was formed to study pension and healthcare costs and develop short and long-term recommendations to manage current and future expense. The Task Force recognized that Public Safety Expenses have grown faster than General Fund revenues. It has recommended that the City Council establish policies that assure Public Safety budgets are managed in balance with other City services and General Fund Revenues. Personnel costs and benefits make up 85% of the Public Safety Budget.

On the topic of healthcare, the Task Force conclusions are that uniformed healthcare benefits are richer by a large margin than civilian employees, as compared to peer cities in Texas, and compared to private employers in San Antonio. Last year, Uniform employees paid approximately 9% of their total healthcare expenses and Civilian employees paid 30%.  In Austin, both Uniform and Civilian employees paid 36% of total healthcare expenses.  The national average for employee expense is 43%.  Cities and States across the nation are addressing employee benefit costs to manage the rising cost of healthcare expenses.

Addressing the large gap in the richness of uniformed healthcare benefits as compared to others along with a policy to manage the growth of Public Safety costs as recommended by the Task Force will allow the City to maintain a healthy balance of services within the General Fund.

Healthcare and Retiree Benefits Task Force

Over the past 15 years, the City’s total Public Safety costs have grown faster than the City’s General Fund revenues.  This is a critical financial problem that needs to be addressed now to balance future budgets and to secure the City’s long-term financial stability.

Public Safety is a priority city service.  We highly respect and are grateful for our public safety officers.  Since 2006, the City has added 477 new police officer and fire fighter positions, 2 new fire stations, 7 replacement fire stations, a new public safety headquarters, a new computer aided dispatch system, and replaced more than 30 EMS units, over 30 fire engines, and more than 10 fire ladder trucks.  Since 2006, the City has eliminated a net 1,242 civilian positions resulting in fewer City positions today than in 2005.

City Budget The City’s consolidated budget of $2.3 billion is comprised of an operating budget of $1.68 billion and a capital budget of $570 million. Of the total operating budget, the General Fund is $988 million, 67% of which is allocated to police and fire expense.

A 13-member Healthcare and Retirement Benefits Task Force was appointed by the Mayor and Council in the fall of 2013 to study healthcare and pension and provide short term and long term recommendations to reduce cost. Findings and recommendations from the Task Force include:

Public Safety Expenses The Task Force recognizes that Public Safety Expenses have grown faster than the General Fund revenues. It recommends that the City Council establish policies that assure Public Safety budgets are managed in balance with other City services and General Fund Revenues.

  • According to an independent actuary, if public safety costs continue to grow at a faster pace than general fund revenues, they could consume 100% of the total general fund by 2040 or as soon as 2024, just 10 years from now. One alternative is to increase the City’s property tax rate.  However, the needed increase would almost double the City property tax rate by 2040 from 56 cents today to over 1 dollar. The City property tax rate has not been increased in more than 20 years.

Healthcare The Task Force conclusions are that uniformed healthcare benefits are richer by a large margin than civilian employees, as compared to peer cities in Texas, and compared to private employers in San Antonio. The Task Force recommends that the uniform healthcare benefit and contribution levels be more closely aligned with civilians, other peer cities, and public and private employers.

  • San Antonio spends $19,122 per uniform employee to provide healthcare benefits. This is 2 ½ times higher than the cost of a civilian employee; and it is the highest among all major Texas cities.
  • Austin, Houston, Ft Worth and Dallas provide the same or similar healthcare plans to Uniform and Civilian employees.
  • San Antonio is the only major Texas City where Uniform employees pay no healthcare premiums for dependents and families, and deductibles and out-of-pocket costs are among the lowest.
  • Last year, Uniform employees paid approximately 9% of their total healthcare expenses and Civilian employees paid 30%.  In Austin, both Uniform and Civilian employees paid 36% of total healthcare expenses.  The national average for employee expense is 43%.

Pre-Paid Uniform Retiree Healthcare and Pension The Task Force recommends that the City continue to study Pension and Pre-paid healthcare to develop alternatives that will save the City money in the long term.

  • San Antonio is the only major Texas City that pre-funds the cost of retiree healthcare for current active employees. The City spends $27 million annually in pre-funding retiree healthcare and $75 Million annually in Pension.

Conclusion  Public Safety is a top priority of the City of San Antonio. Maintaining a reasonable healthy financial balance between public safety services and other important city services is our responsibility.

  • Uniform wages in San Antonio are highly competitive among major Texas cities; however, uniform healthcare benefits are richer by a large margin than civilian employees, peer cities in Texas and private employers in San Antonio.
  • Cities and states across the nation are addressing employee benefit costs to manage the rising cost of healthcare expenses.
  • To keep the City of San Antonio fiscally strong for the long term, change is needed.

7th Annual City Manager’s Step Up To Wellness 5K Run/Walk

The City Manager’s 5K will again take place at SeaWorld on Saturday, March 1.  We introduced this event seven years ago as a way for City of San Antonio employees to join together for a family-oriented fitness event.

As a result of the City’s focus on wellness, last year we expanded the City Manager’s 5K to the entire community.  This year we will continue this new tradition and invite residents and their families to participate.

This race has grown from 561 participants in its first year to more than 2,000 last year. We are very excited to have extensive employee and community participation.  You may register online with Athlete Guild, our race partner, at athleteguild.com.

The race begins at 8 a.m. and awards will be presented to the top overall male and female finishers, and the top three males and females in each age category of five-year increments up to 65 and older.

We encourage everyone to join us for a day of fitness and fun on March 1st and look forward to seeing you at SeaWorld. For more event day information, visit the City’s website at sanantonio.gov.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program

The 2014 VITA season kicked off on January 22 and will run through April 15.  The VITA program is an IRS-sponsored program, which provides free income tax return preparation assistance to taxpayers earning up to $60,000.

VITA San Antonio is a coalition of more than 30 organizations including the Department of Human Services, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), United Way, Catholic Charities, financial institutions, and local businesses.  The goal of VITA is to increase awareness of federal tax credits to low and moderate income taxpayers, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the Child Care Tax Credit.

Additionally, VITA assists taxpayers by eliminating expensive tax preparation fees, promoting electronic filing of returns, and encouraging direct deposit of refunds.  The Department of Human Services operates 16 of the 20 VITA sites across the community.  In addition, two mobile teams travel to assist taxpayers. To find a VITA location, taxpayers can call 2-1-1 or visit vitasa.org for more information

This year, the program will again offer SaveUSA for eligible taxpayers to enroll in a matched savings account during the tax preparation process. Through SaveUSA, participants receive a 50 percent match, up to $500, if they deposit at least $200 of their tax refund into a SaveUSA account and maintain the initial deposit for one year

The VITA program assists more than 34,000 San Antonio taxpayers each year. The success of the program is largely dependent on volunteers from the community. Recruitment of volunteers is continuing, and individuals can still sign up by calling the United Way 2-1-1 call center

Police Resource Allocation Model

On January 3, 2014, the San Antonio Police Department implemented the Police Allocation Resource Model (PRAM) within the department.  The prior personnel deployment model was developed in the late 1980’s and had changed little over time despite cities’ population growth.

The model was developed in partnership with Department’s Command Staff, Strategic Intelligence and Analytics Office, Development Services Department, Dr. Corey Sparks with the Demography Department of UTSA, representatives from each of the six service areas and the San Antonio Police Officers Association.  The new deployment model better balances the demands of the service areas with the existing personnel.

The model will lower response times and improve officer safety by “right sizing” service areas and having more officers available during peak call periods.  The service areas were adjusted to meet current demands and the staffing for “T-Shift” which operates 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. was increased from 226 officers to 299 officers to meet service demands.

The new deployment model will improve service delivery by balancing calls for service and staffing throughout the City of San Antonio.  I would like to thank Chief McManus and all involved in the planning and implementation of the new model and look forward to continued success.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. DAY EVENTS

Monday January 20th, The City of San Antonio commemorates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with an annual series of events that culminates with one of the nation’s largest Martin Luther King, Jr. marches with more than 100,000 participants expected.

This year the march celebrates its 27th anniversary.  In addition to the March and Commemorative program, there are about a dozen official events that the community is invited to attend including the Youth Empowerment Summit, the Wreath-laying Ceremony, the Commemorative Lecture series at Trinity University, the City Year Day of Service, Interfaith Worship Service and others.

This year we are proud to welcome guest speakers Dr. Michael Eric Dyson a professor of sociology at Georgetown University; Dr. Julianne Malveaux economist and former president of Bennett College.

Gospel-recording artist Wess Morgan will be performing at the Commemorative Program that follows the March and international superstar Sean Paul will perform at the Youth Empowerment Summit.

As a part of the celebration and focus on youth, the MLK Commission administers the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Program. These scholarships help to fund a portion of the college tuition of Local students, regardless of race or ethnicity. This scholarship award ceremony will be held in spring 2014. The deadline to apply is February 21, 2014.

Information and the application are available at www.sanantonio.gov/mlk or you can call 207-0950.

Our thanks to the MLK Commission and the City Departments helping to lead this effort.   We look forward continuing to celebrating life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.