County Commissioners Not “Raising” Your Taxes for Their Raises, But…

Image courtesy of epcounty.com

Several weeks ago the County Commissioners and County Judge voted themselves a raise:  Escobar saw a $14,422 pay increase with her salary going from $87,578 to $102,000. County Commissioners saw a $26,569 pay increase from $62,681 to $89,250.  Outrage ensued and many of you emailed, called, tweeted and facebooked the County Commissioners.  In response to the outrage, Veronica Escobar wrote a letter where she stated:  “Finally, you should know that we will be adopting either the effective tax rate or be going below the current tax rate (for a tax decrease) this year again. If we do the latter, many El Pasoans will again this year see a reduction on their tax bill from the County.”  See, it doesn’t matter that they gave themselves HUGE raises, your taxes are going to go down!  Sure, that may be true, but:

  1.  On September 15th they removed the cost-of-living adjustments for retired county employees. “Haggerty told KFOX14 the decision to cut COLAs for retired county employees will save the county’s retirement fund upwards of $30 million over a 15-year-span.” (You can read the KFOX story here).
  2. Also on September 15th the County Commissioners started considering lowering the number of paid time-off days employees receive annually.  Haggerty was in favor of reducing the days. Stout stated that “We are in the public sector, and so part of our recruiting ability comes with the fact that we offer benefits. The private sector, they can attract people with money, and so we don’t want to lose that recruiting tool.” (You can read the KFOX story here).  Interesting that they raised their own salaries to attract better candidates but are looking to REDUCE vacation days while at the same time acknowledging that the County does not pay as much.
  3. On Monday, the County Commissioners approved a tax increase for UMC.  The court approved a 1.4 cent property tax increase for UMC, which amounts to approximately $17 more a year on a $123,000 home.  We find this one to be the MOST disingenuous of all of the things the County Commissioners have done.  Veronica Escobar has repeatedly stated that the County is not raising taxes.  In fact, the article announcing the UMC tax increase even reiterated that the County isn’t raising your taxes.  However, the UMC budget is approved by the County Commissioners; the UMC budget is part of the County Budget.  So, YES, the County Commissioners did just raise your taxes.

We are incredibly disappointed and concerned with the way the County Commissioners have gone about giving themselves these raises.  They keep reminding us that their raises are not going to increase our property taxes while, at the same time, cutting money and incentives for others in the county.  They pat themselves on the back that THEY didn’t raise property taxes while they approve the highest property tax rate they can for UMC. Finally, as we stated in a previous article, the County Commissioners MUST advertise the raises.  Under pressure, Veronica Escobar stated that the notice would be published in El Paso Inc.  We have checked every week since then and STILL have not seen the raises posted. Have you?

 

 

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Were The Proposed Raises Posted Anywhere? We Can’t Find Them.

We had a discussion last week with a follower about what kind of notice the County Commissioners are required to give to the County BEFORE they approve a raise.  From the Local Government Code, Sec. 152.013. PROCEDURE FOR SETTING AMOUNTS FOR ELECTED OFFICERS, here is what we have:

Before the 10th day before the date of the meeting, the commissioners court must publish in a newspaper of general circulation in the county a notice of: (1) any salaries, expenses, or allowances that are proposed to be increased; and (2) the amount of the proposed increases. (c) Before filing the annual budget with the county clerk, the commissioners court shall give written notice to each elected county and precinct officer of the officer’s salary and personal expenses to be included in the budget.

Both Escobar and Perez acknowledged this in story published by KFOX on the 12th with Escobar stating: “In in this day and age, it’s on Twitter. It’s on Facebook.”.  But, as KFOX pointed out, neither Escobar or Perez had posted anything on Facebook or Twitter about the proposed pay raises and we’re pretty sure Twitter and Facebook do not count as “a newspaper of general circulation.”  In fact, the only reference to publishing in any agenda is from August 1st and it was for publishing notice about the Effective and Rollback Tax Rate Notices. In case you are wondering, click here to see what it SHOULD have looked like (this one is from Waller County).

Does the fact that they didn’t follow the local government code invalidate the raises?  We honestly don’t know, maybe some of you out there do and can let us know.  In our opinion it should, that code was created to ensure that the public gets a chance to know about the raises and weigh-in BEFORE the raises are approved, not after the fact.

Also, Refuse the Juice has some interesting ideas on how the County Commissioners could have sent this out for a vote.

 

Let the County Commissioner’s Know What You Think of Their Raises

Per the (great) request of one of our followers, we are posting contact information (phone numbers, emails and social media accounts that we could find) for all of the County Commissioners and the Count Judge.  Please take a moment before their next meeting on Monday to let them know what YOU think about the raise they just gave themselves with YOUR money:

Veronica Escobar, County Judge:  CountyJudge@epcounty.com, (915) 546-2098, Twitter: @vgescobar, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/veronica.escobar.3998?fref=ts (Personal), https://www.facebook.com/Veronica-Escobar-for-County-Judge-261548845154/?fref=ts

Carlos Leon, Precinct 1:  Commissioner1@epcounty.com, (915) 546-2014, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/County-Commissioner-Carlos-Leon-155827997861915/?fref=ts

David Stout, Precinct 2:  Commissioner2@epcounty.com, (915) 546-2111, Twitter: @CommStout, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CommissionerDavidStout/?fref=ts

Vincent Perez, Precinct 3:  commissioner3@epcounty.com, (915) 546-2144, Twitter: @VinceMPerez, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vincentmperez?fref=ts

Andrew Haggerty, Precinct 4commissioner4@epcounty.com, (915) 546-2044, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/countycommissioner4/?fref=ts

After all, as we stated in our article, You’re the Boss, they work for you, not the other way around.

In the Best Interest of the Community, County Commissioners Give Themselves a Raise

KVIA reported yesterday that the El Paso County Commissioners voted to give themselves a raise.  The County Commissioners went from $62,000 to $90,000 and the County Judge went from $90,000 to $102,000.  Looks like Brutus at elpasospeak was right when he said they commissioned a study in order to justify raising their pay.

Here is how Commissioner Perez justified the decision:

  1. “We are the lowest paid in Texas, even along border counties”
  2. If salaries don’t rise for elected officials, it will get to a point that the only people who run for office are those who can afford to.
  3. Do we want to limit public service to those individuals who have some source of supplemental income?  We need to encourage a broader group of people to run, not just those who are retired or is individually wealthy.
  4. The rise in salary will also help attract more qualified individuals.
  5. Commissioners deal with a $350 million budget.
  6. The raise is still 70 percent below the market value of the state.

The raise goes into effect on October 1, 2016.  So, you see, the County Commissioners didn’t do it for themselves, they did it for YOU, so that YOU can attract more qualified individuals to run.  Of course, the raise goes into effect before any of the current commissioners leave office, so his reasoning is disingenuous at best.  Perhaps their logic was that, since property taxes are going to go up anyway this year, they might as well get as much money as they can.

The median household income in El Paso is $40,133.  The median for Texas is $53,035. Per Commission Perez’s logic, in order to attract more qualified individuals to El Paso, we must all immediately give ourselves raises, it’s the only logical thing to do.

 

County Commissioners “Save” You $6 Million

On July 3rd, KVIA joyfully announced that the county had “found a way to get some money back – without taxes.”  The County Commissioners have been refinancing debt and was able to save YOU $6 million, “an additional $6 million that can now be put towards major county projects.”  According to Escobar:  “We are going to be able to address some pretty chronic infrastructure issues that we’ve had and make some improvements and it will not impact the tax rate,” Escobar said

In May of this year, the County Commissioners started talking about issuing $7 million in certificates, specifically to cover infrastructure.  The County Commissioners were proud of themselves because issuing this debt won’t raise the tax rate because it is “equivalent to what the county refinanced and paid off earlier this year.”  However, as we pointed out, this was the County taking money that they had managed to pay down and reissuing it so that they could spend it again.

So, does this new $6 million mean that they won’t have to issue the certificates of obligation?  Is this the $6 million the same as those certificates that they were talking about in May?  Or, are they issuing the certificates of obligation AND refinancing the debt?  All the while lauding that they didn’t raise your property taxes…yet.

Change In the Wind for UMC

Two interesting things happened at the end of last week and you may have missed them.  First, Jim Valenti’s weekly Friday letter had the tone of someone who is saying goodbye. Is it possible that we’ll get an announcement on a new UMC CEO soon?  If Steve DeGroat (UMC Chair) is to be believed in the El Paso Times Story, “He’ll stay some days of the month of June — whether that’s a week, or two, or three or four. But I would say no longer than July 1.”

Secondly, Commissioner Stout wrote an opinion piece in the El Paso Times entitled “Building Relationships key for UMC“.  In his piece he says “I urge the new CEO to spend time rebuilding relationships with key community partners and the Commissioners Court that have been stressed.” We agree, the new CEO (with his board of directors) needs to rebuild old and establish new relationships.  Odd that Commissioner Stout felt it was important to run an opinion piece in the El Paso Times rather than just saying these things directly to the new CEO.  Commissioner Stout is on the search committee for the new CEO so he would not only know who the person is but also would have the opportunity to speak with them. Is Commissioner Stout worried about the new CEO already and he is trying to publicly put pressure on them?

Waiting for the announcement for the new CEO is starting to feel like waiting for the birth of a baby; everybody knows that it is coming but nobody knows when.  So, start marking up your calendars or just shout out the date you think the announcement will be made.

County Commissioners to Issue More Debt for the County

Last week the County Commissioners met to discuss issuing $7 million in certificates to cover aging infrastructure.  Just to be clear, the certificates of obligation issues in 2012 were specifically to cover infrastructure and, according to the El Paso Times, “Escobar said the money left over from the 2012 certificates of obligation will help address some of the needs.” However, this left-over money isn’t enough.  So, the County Commissioners are looking to issue a certificate of obligation, ” A certificate of obligation is debt issued without voters’ approval.”  The County Commissioners are patting themselves on the back because issuing this debt won’t raise the tax rate because it is “equivalent to what the county refinanced and paid off earlier this year.”  Doesn’t that make you feel better?  They managed to pay down some of the BILLION dollars in debt burdening the  El Paso taxpayers and now want to take that money out again so that they could spend it.

The County Commissioners are going to spin this as a good thing – they are able to fix and improve things without raising your property taxes!  Yeah, you’re still paying and, as they issue more debt, you’ll be paying for a long time to come.

Claudia Ordaz Claims “Personal attacks and dysfunction at City Hall” When Police Report About Her Is Leaked

There is a storm brewing that is going to jump from blog to blog and news outlet to news outlet.  In case you missed it, Martin Paredes at elpasonews.org has been talking about an incident that happened with Claudia Ordaz and Vince Perez at a fast food restaurant last year.  He originally uncovered the incident through a Freedom of Information request and had been trying to get the full report with no success.  Yesterday, someone leaked the full report to him and he, in turn, shared it with the El Paso Times.

This is the basic story:  Ordaz, Perez and another individual (it is unclear what this individual’s name is since Perez claims that the police report is wrong) were at a Whataburger on the east side where they “were becoming aggressive and causing disturbance in the parking lot” of the restaurant.”  Additionally, “Perez became verbally uncooperative by repeatedly questioning the officers regarding what penal code statue gave them authority to do that.”  Ordaz identified herself as a city representative and a supervisor was called. In the end, Perez and Ordaz were given the opportunity to file a citizens complaint and they declined, no police report was created, just a report for informational purposes.

In the El Paso Times story, both Perez and Ordaz were given an opportunity to respond.  Ordaz has classified this as a political attack against her:  “Each of these attempts to undermine my integrity have failed and will not intimidate me from standing up for the people who elected me to represent them. This latest attempt is an underhanded tactic that demonstrates the type of personal attacks and dysfunction at City Hall that only hinders the city’s ability to address pressing issues facing our community.”  Perez has just stated that Ordaz never identified herself as a city representative and that the police report is incorrect – it even got the name of their friend wrong.  Yeah, that could show how inept the police are OR, it could show that your friend lied about his name to the police.

As for Ordaz and these ‘political attacks’, you were at the Whataburger and the police felt they had to intervene.  You weren’t upset enough to follow through with a citizen’s complaint and you wanted the whole thing to go away.  Now it is back and you are making this about your constituents and how their issues aren’t being addressed when this is really about how YOU conduct yourself as a private citizen.

We were going to say something about Freedom of Information requests not being answered and how Paredes only got this information because it was leaked to him – but we feel confident that he is going to cover that in great detail himself.

Ask What El Paso Is Doing For You

In his January 20, 1961 inaugural speech JFK stated “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”  While we don’t disagree with this sentiment, at some point you do need to ask what your country can do for you.  Or, more specifically, what your elected officials are doing for you.  Between the City and the Hospital District, El Paso has over a BILLION dollars in Outstanding Tax Supported Debt. $22 million dollars disappears out of Tax Payer pockets and Joyce Wilson STILL hasn’t told us who is responsible and, other than a ‘pretty please’ letter, City Council isn’t doing anything to compel her to do so. Water and Electric bills are going up this year AND El Paso wages are, according to the El Paso times, “ranked 331st out of 342 large counties in the United States, and ranked well below the national weekly average of $974”.  El Pasoans are groaning under the burden.  Is it any wonder our children are leaving El Paso to find jobs?

We think that it is time to REALLY start asking what our elected officials are doing for us. Instead of spending their time talking about the price of Chihuahua tickets, trying to block FOI requests, squabbling among themselves or allowing contract extensions for CEO’s who have lied, maybe they should focus on improving the quality of life for their constituents.  Maybe they should be trying to attract new businesses and new jobs to the area.  Maybe they should actually be repaving roads, finishing plazas and fixing and building pools. Maybe they should be doing the job we elected them to do.

Maybe they just need to be reminded.  So, write them a note or give them a call, they are probably waiting to hear from you:

Mayor Oscar Leeser: 915-212-0021, mayorleeser@elpasotexas.gov

District 1 Rep. Peter Svarzbein: 915-212-0001, district1@elpasotexas.gov

District 3 Rep. Emma Acosta: 915-212-0003, district3@elpasotexas.gov

District 4 Rep. Carl Robinson: 915-212-0004, district4@elpasotexas.gov

District 5 Rep. Michiel Noe: 915-212-0005, district5@elpasotexas.gov

District 6 Rep. Claudia Ordaz: 915-212-0006, district6@elpasotexas.gov

District 7 Rep. Lily Limon: 915-212-0007, district7@elpasotexas.gov

District 8 Rep. Cortney Niland: 915-212-0008, district8@elpasotexas.gov

Veronica Escobar, County Judge:  (915) 546-2098, CountyJudge@epcounty.com

Carlos Leon, Precinct 1:  (915) 546-2014, Commissioner1@epcounty.com

David Stout, Precinct 2:  (915) 546-2111, Commissioner2@epcounty.com

Vincent Perez, Precinct 3:  (915) 546-2144, commissioner3@epcounty.com

Andrew Haggerty, Precinct 4: (915) 546-2044, commissioner4@epcounty.com

 

 

 

County Commissioners Looking For UMC Board Members

There are three open spots on the UMC Board that the County Commissioners are looking to fill.  Haggerty, who is looking for a replacement for Brothet Nick Gonzalez, is still accepting applications.  Stout, who will appoint a replacement for Monica Salaiz-Navarez, has said he has already made his decision and is awaiting confirmation from the individual.  Finally, Escobar, who will appoint someone to replace Tracy Yellen, is also accepting applications. 

Not happy with how the UMC board handled things?  Want a larger say in how your tax dollars are spent? Well, consider applying to be on the board!  Click here to access the application.

You can read the entire El Paso News story here.