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San Antonio City Council split on how to spend surplus of CPS Energy revenue

A proposal to turn $50 million in CPS Energy revenue into credits for customers met resistance from most City Council members, except the mayor.

SAN ANTONIO — The City of San Antonio’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year is out.

The budget blueprint includes increased pay for city employees and a rebate for all CPS Energy customers, after the utility raked in $50 million in extra revenue during south Texas's historically hot summer. 

A summer of analysis and writing by city staff went into nearly 600 pages of the $3.4 billion budget proposal. One element of it was the center of discussion during City Council's regular Thursday meeting: a plan to give back $50 million to CPS Energy customers on their October bill.

But there’s one reason many council members say they want to spend the money on a long-term solution instead of a one-time financial reprieve.

“I propose we take this additional revenue from CPS Energy, and we invest it in permanent solutions,” District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo said. 

He wants to allocate $10 million to convert local buildings into resiliency centers; spend $20 million in residential weatherization and energy efficiency upgrades; and put the last $20 million towards urban heat island reduction efforts.

Councilmembers Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, Phyllis Viagran, Teri Castillo, Melissa Cabello Havrda and Ana Sandoval say they support similar efforts to Bravo’s plan.

Councilman Manny Pelaez of District 8, however, stated he would like to see those funds directed towards resources for domestic violence victims.

Meanwhile, District 4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia and District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry said in a joint statement they would rather see that investment be spent on roads and infrastructure. However, Perry later stated during the meeting that he supported the initial plan of giving money back to customers.

Garcia said the credit to future bills would hardly make an impact.

“I have about 2,874 residents in D4 that are on the verge of disconnections… I know my colleague in D3 probably has about the same amount and my colleague (in D5) probably have the same amount as well," she said. "But I do think we need to have a more thorough conversation."

Overall, the budget has positive signs for Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who said Thursday's meeting he thought his colleagues had great ideas about the CPS Energy money, but still supports the proposal submitted by city staff.

“Could we find reasonable things to do with additional revenue, specific to what we’re experiencing with the heat wave? Absolutely. But there has to be a balance. And that’s why I think the recommendation is sound,” Nirenberg said.

The city is boasting an overall $3.4 billion budget, a deeper financial well compared to last year.

“The budget increases in large part because San Antonio continues to grow. We have more services that are required to add infrastructure to keep up with that growth,” Nirenberg said.

While producing less discussion than how to allocate CPS Energy revenue, the public safety budget currently amounts to 60.7% of the city’s general fund, well below the City Council’s priority to keep the budget below 66%. Nirenberg said back in 2014 that public safety budgets were structurally imbalanced, growing at two and a half times faster than the city revenues. 

But that has changed.

“So long as the public safety budgets are growing in proportion to the city’s budget overall, not growing out of whack, I’m happy,” Nirenberg said.

City Council will be holding several public meetings over the next few weeks to discuss the budget. You can find that schedule here.

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