Un poco de todo
San Antonio City Council is on vacation until August 4.
Yep. Mayor Phil Hardberger has only been in office a little more than a month, and he's due for some time off. Three council meetings, which would have been slated for July 21, 28, and August 4, are history.
Blame it on the budget. Just thinking about a billion-dollar city budget can cause extreme fatigue, especially when you have to figure in grants from the state and federal government.
A couple of weeks ago, for instance, District 4 Councilman Richard Perez told the San Antonio fire department he did not believe the City should accept $359,947 in Homeland Security grant funds to purchase video-teleconferencing equipment, which could be used in the event of terrorist attacks (ho hum), railroad accidents, or severe flooding.
"I'm not convinced of the need for teleconferencing," said Perez, who has claimed in the past that he has experience in municipal government. "I have one in the office and I don't use it. I'm not convinced that we need this equipment right now."
Fire Chief Rodney Hitzfelder patiently explained that since City fire stations are as much as 40 miles apart, their firefighters would greatly benefit from having a video-conferencing system in case of emergencies.
And besides, said Hitzfelder and Assistant City Manager Chris Brady, the money is a grant from the government. It's free.
This paranoia of accepting money from a higher power can perhaps be explained by comments made by District 10 Councilman Chip Haass at a previous meeting, which touched on the looming summer budget session. "When you put on the budget hat, it's grilling time on every issue."
Furthermore, Haass says, he is frightened of grant money. "I don't want the money to run out. We could end up with an unfunded mandate." The problem is that the government might fund something such as a job-training program for one year, then expect the City "to pick up the ball" the next year.
Despite the paralyzing fear of video-conferencing grants for the fire department, City Council broke down when confronted with a convincing argument and a PowerPoint presentation and approved accepting the grant funds.
But it's not gonna be painless. It will cost $119,256 for Southwestern Bell Communications to provide the circuits for the system, and maintenance could be as much as $29,000 per year, at least until the City converts to fiber optics or wireless connections.
Fire Chief Nim Kidd told the Council the City would save $24,000 in travel costs since fire fighters won't have to drive across town to attend training classes. They can watch them from the comfort of their own station houses.
Council members have asked for a full presentation of all the grant money it has accepted for Homeland Security programs.
In other business, motorists in San Antonio will see synchronized traffic signals in the downtown area sometime in October, says Public Works Director Thomas Wendorf. Council approved Wendorf's plan to pay Pape-Dawson Engineers $140,000 to conduct a traffic-signal study and another $496,000 to improve the signals in the central business district.
"We'll see significant improvement in the through-put," says Wendorf. "Our goal is to have green signals down the corridors." Also, because interstate highways ring the downtown area, San Antonio is working with the Texas Department of Transportation and asking the state to relinquish control of traffic lights at highway intersections to the City, which would then be incorporated into the synchronized system.
That should please future residents of 144 residential condominiums the City plans to build on top of the approximately $280 million downtown convention center headquarters hotel.
The condos (why not abbreviate them as condoms?) will range from 765- to 3,903-square-feet and sell for $300 to $400 per square foot. Total square footage of 220,546 multiplied by $400 comes out to more than $88 million, which goes toward the $130 million the City is spending in empowerment zone bonds to help finance the tourism behemoth. •
By Michael Cary