The Bexar Budget Must Hold the Line
by
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
July 15, 2004

Bexar County can and should discipline its budget sufficiently to retain its existing tax rate.  No stone should be left unturned nor should any effort be spared to examine and rethink ways that we can do more with less.  I am not speaking of false economies that mislead the public and ourselves, I am speaking to the need to do business differently than we have in the past.

We are a County on the grow so nothing less than the wisdom of Solomon will suffice as we approach the annual process of setting the County's just under $500 million annual budget.  An additional $700 million is approved by Commissioner's Court for the University Health System (UHS).  This article deals however, with the County only.

Last Thursday, we were given a beginning list of budgetary considerations we must make.  Specifically, these are areas where investments or expenses must be made.  Importantly, the budget process provides us with opportunities to spend well, the monies that we do allocate.

Major Budgetary Considerations

The following areas were identified as priorities appropriate for beginning this process:

  1. Retain our 10% reserve fund policy.
  2. Provide Senior Citizens/Disabled Tax Relief.
  3. Decrease the Cost of Indigent Defense
  4. Right-size our jail staff.
  5. Contain health care costs
  6. Steward the growing workforce and county
  7. Manage the Juvenile Justice System
  8. Provide technology adequate to the County
  9. Provide new equipment and bond-mandated buildings

Major Expense Reduction Opportunities

Short-Term

  1. Squeeze $1,000,000 to $2,000,000 from the indigent defense fund
  2. Bear down on the jail population and keep it at a maximum 3,600 and save $1.5 million annually with a responsibly less jail population
  3. Implement at least a partial hiring freeze and defer expending about $1,000,000
  4. Save $500,000, by supplementing our workforce where appropriate with qualified retired senior contract employees

Intermediate Term

  1. Accelerate energy savings
  2. Develop enterprise fund approach to County parking that will allow the County to achieve more adequate revenue from our new parking while achieving equity among downtown County employees
  3. Save $750,000 annually by owning, not renting certain buildings

Just an example of the kind of challenges we will meet is the need for a good bond rating which allows us to obtain favorable interest rates on our bonds.  We did not attain a Standard & Poors bond rating of Double A Plus and a Moody's bond rating of Double A Plus for nothing.  These bond rating agencies acknowledge that the finances of our County are soundly managed.  And, part of that includes being prudent and disciplined enough to maintain a 10% reserve fund.

It is early in the budget process, yet it is never too early to focus on the basics of building a balanced budget that is both responsive and responsible to Bexar County.  Your thoughts on this are always welcome.

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