Should San Antonio Voters Support the $850 Million Bond Program?

The re-election of the Mayor and City Council members (with some open seats) will be put  before the voters of  San Antonio on the May 6, 2017 General Election ballot. This general election will also include the current Mayor and City Council members’ proposed $850 million bond program. The municipal bond will cover over 170 projects encompassing city work on streets, sidewalks, bridges, drainage, parks as well as a new category, “affordable housing”. Read the city’s summary of the 2017 bond proposal projects .

We recently talked with Mr.  Carlton Soules, former Councilman for District 10, concerning the size of debt this bond represents and the distribution of expenditures proposed at taxpayer expense. His consulting firm, Strategic Market Services, developed an analysis and critique of the bond a few months ago.

According to Mr. Soules, this proposed $850 million municipal bond (debt financed by the taxpayers of San Antonio) is the largest in San Antonio’s history. On Julian Castro’s watch, in 2012, borrowed bond funding amounted to $590 million and, in 2007, Mayor Phil Hardberger and his council oversaw city-guaranteed debt of $550 million.

Other than the huge increase in the 2017 bond amounting to an 44% increase or $260 million over the last bond issue in 2012, I asked Mr. Soules what he saw were the problems with the bond program. To summarize, he wrote:

The 2017 bond takes a record percentage of the total dollars away from individual council districts and transfers these dollars to “City Wide” projects. City Wide projects are consuming $382 million or 45% of the total $850 million. This does not include the City Wide portion of $8 million in Public Art. Within City wide projects, a record $231 million is going to “Urban Core” projects, defined as downtown and the near downtown Broadway corridor.”

Mayor Taylor’s bond, according to Soules, allocates 45% of the bond to spending in the urban core and city. Castro allocated 21% and Hardberger 16%. Downtown and District 1 get a substantially disproportionate portion of  the funding while Districts 7, 6, 10, 9, 5, and 4 are allocated a much smaller piece of the “pie”. If you are in these districts, you should be asking your councilman why he or she is not fighting for your district’s fair share of the funding and why this Mayor and council members are, in the words of some critics of the 2017 bond, “maxing out the city’s credit card. While City Manager Sheryl Sculley repeatedly calls attention to the city’s AAA bond rating, this significantly increased spending planned in the 2017 bond program (44% over the last bond program in 2012) could result in the downgrading of the city’s bond rating.” To summarize Soules’ critique of the 2017 bond program:

Based on historical fair share from previous bonds, each council district is giving up an average of $21.3 million dollars in the 2017 bond proposal. Many critical district projects such as senior centers will be put on the back burner at least another 5 years.

“Districts rely on bonds as the major source of funding for capital projects. In contrast, Urban Core projects have access to a greater number of funding sources: Hotel Motel Tax, Tax Increment Finance Zones, Tax Abatements, Grants, Matching Funds, Certificate of Obligation Bonds. As proposed, the 2017 bond sets dramatic new precedents.

For more detailed analysis on the 2017 San Antonio Bond program go to:

Mr. Soules’ final word of advice to the Mayor and City Council members:

“This bond needs a reallocation of resources back to historical levels before it is brought to voters, or a public discussion should take place as to why this new direction is being taken.”

Before casting a vote for this bloated $850 million, disproportionately allocated, municipal debt program, voters should consider if their current councilman is competently representing their district’s constituents. If not, consider voting for someone who will speak up for you, who understands the city budget and this complex bond program.

There are currently, as of February 16th,  63 candidates who have declared their candidacy for a Mayoral or City Council office. Ask your candidate what his or her position is on the $840 million bond proposal on the ballot. According to Carlton Soules,  the mayor and your councilman should consider a major reset on the 2017 municipal bond program and because the mayoral and district council election is on the same ballot, more deliberation and study of the huge bond program is warranted.

The Alamo Torch staff will be vetting candidates during the election season, representing your interests in this city and the city elections. Tune in to future newsletters to help guide you through the crowded field of candidates. Please help us continue to represent your interests in San Antonio. We appreciate your support.

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