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San Antonio City Council Approves Vote to Shift Aquifer Protection Money to Job Retraining


Mayor Ron Nirenberg (left) and Councilman Clayton Perry listen to a speaker at a recent council meeting. - RHYMA CASTILLO
  • Rhyma Castillo
  • Mayor Ron Nirenberg (left) and Councilman Clayton Perry listen to a speaker at a recent council meeting.
Council on Thursday approved a plan to let voters decide whether to use the 1/8-cent sales tax that now funds aquifer protection for retraining workers displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 9-2 vote will put the proposal on the November 3 ballot, the same election where local voters will decide whether to renew a separate 1/8-cent sales tax to fund Pre-K 4 SA.

Under the jobs plan, up to 10,000 residents annually would be able to enroll in college degree or workforce training programs so they can land better-paying work and break free of generational poverty. The tax would provide $38.5 million annually to the program.

"We can re-litigate the past until we’re blue in the face,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who championed the proposal. “But over 150,000 San Antonio residents — our neighbors — have filed for unemployment in the wake of this pandemic. A quarter of those jobs won’t be available ever again. We need action now.”

The effort is intended to build on the $75 million program council approved in June as part of the city's federal coronavirus bailout package.

City Manager Erik Walsh said the city is hashing out details on how to fund protection of the Edwards Aquifer, San Antonio's primary source of groundwater. The city will need to borrow $100 million over the next 10 years for those efforts, he added. A linear creeks program funded by the tax would need to be funded by Bexar County going forward.

Environmental groups have warned that the new funding mechanism may not adequately fund protection of the aquifer after the sales tax expires in spring of next year.

Annalisa Peace, executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, said she's concerned that the city is moving ahead without fully ironing out how to fund the protection of its drinking water.

"We hope you will start taking aquifer protection more seriously going forward," she said.

Thursday's vote comes after Nirenberg and VIA Metropolitan Transit hashed out an agreement in which the city would be able to use revenues from the 1/8-cent sales tax for the first four years. Voters would then decide whether to shift its use to VIA, which says it needs more funding to keep up with the city's growth.

During the same meeting, council also voted unanimously to formalize the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue from its namesake downtown park and rename the public space Piazza Italia Park.

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