Bexar County is beginning to experience what Harris County has gone through for decades: Dealing with lots of growth in unincorporated areas.
In Bexar County, the population swelled by 320,000 in the past decade. Providing government services to the now 1.7 million residents has become a costly proposition — especially with one-third of new arrivals landing in unincorporated areas that rely heavily on the county.
Farms and ranches still can be found on the county’s fringes, but prime land tracts outside any city limits have been filling, leaving seas of rooftops where deer or cattle once grazed.
Last month, planners told county commissioners the population growth will further strain finances, and they’re projecting that over the next five years it’ll cost $20 million merely to sustain current levels of service in public safety, road maintenance, elections and other key areas.
Extending a full array of city-type services to county residents would add $155 million to the 2012 budget, planners estimated. That’s not going to happen, officials conceded, but the county still must reckon with rising demand for help with solid waste, noise and odor abatement, development services and other functions.
In 2000, 10 percent of the county’s population lived in unincorporated areas, said Tina Smith-Dean of the county’s Planning and Resource Management Department. “Now it’s close to 15 percent,” she said, and by 2017, it’s expected to be 18 percent.
With many of these suburban residents yearning for urban amenities, commissioners hope to manage their expectations.
“No city taxes — that’s real good, but there’s no city services either,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Paul Elizondo said.
As someone who pays the same county taxes as the folks that don’t pay city taxes, I get a little grumpy about county services being disproportionately directed to them. At least, it’s always been my perception that the bulk of county services go outside the city – I’ve never seen any accounting that breaks it down. I suppose I could be wrong about the numbers, but I don’t think anyone would argue that the current group of Harris County Commissioners aren’t particularly interested in the city of Houston. I don’t know how things have been in Bexar County, but one assumes that when San Antonio represented 90% or more of the county’s population that most of the county’s focus was on them. Clearly, things are changing as the city’s share of the population is 80% and dropping. If you live in San Antonio and are similarly disposed as I am, you might want to keep an eye on this.