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Welcome Back, Council: Now Get to Work

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After a month-long hiatus, city council comes back to the dais this Thursday to confront two major issues—a sizable budget deficit and a surely divisive vote on a measure that would grant LGBT residents equal protection under a non-discrimination ordinance.

Facing a budget shortfall of $35-$50 million, major financial challenges are ahead for San Antonio city officials. In May, budget director Maria Villagomez and city manger Sheryl Sculley laid out a gloomy forecast for fiscal year 2014 (which begins Oct.1).

They attributed the gap to a few issues. Expenditures—set to grow 3.5 percent—are outpacing revenue, the beginning balance in the municipal checkbook is less than last year, and those fun-to-say but painful to enact national sequestration budget cuts made earlier this year have hit home. Of the $150 million SA receives from the federal government, 17 grants totaling $140 million may be affected by the 2013 sequester. That could take a bite out of human services programs (up to $4 million), public safety (up to $1.5 million) as well as health services (up to $900,000) and neighborhood service programs.

On August 8, Sculley plans to present the proposed budget to council. But that’s not where it ends. After five citywide community input meetings scheduled across the city, two hearings at City Hall chambers and a few repetitive work sessions, council will then adopt the budget on Sept. 12. They better get cracking because by law, they’re required to pass a balanced budget.

While members prioritize spending, they’ll also be settling the fate of a contentious ordinance.

The long-awaited vote to determine whether or not the city will allow LGBT residents to be discriminated against is slated for August. The non-discrimination ordinance, proposed by District 1 Councilmember Diego Bernal, prevents gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents from discrimination in hiring and firing, public accommodations, fair housing, city employment, contracts and board appointments by adding sexual orientation and gender identity (and veteran status, regardless of sexual orientation) to the city code. If passed, the measure would put San Antonio on par with other major metro cities in the state like Houston, Dallas and Austin.

Bernal is expected to split the protections, leaving veteran status to one vote and gender identity and sexual orientation in another. Some LGBT activists aren’t thrilled about the split vote, but remain confident the measure they’ve championed is strong enough to win out on its own.

“It concerns us because there are LGBT veterans here and also those serving in the military that would want to be included with the veterans as well,” Dee Dee Belmares, co-chair of the Community Alliance for a Greater San Antonio (CAUSA) told the Current. “But I don’t think [the split vote] will change the protections for LGBT citizens in Texas in the end.”

Bernal hears CAUSA’s trepidation but says the split vote shouldn’t affect the outcome.

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