On October 18, 2016, 7 City Council members voted to approve the project site for the new arena. They also approved the POSSIBLE use of eminent domain to acquire the land. Reps. James Tolbert, Emma Acosta, Carl Robinson, Michiel Noe, Claudia Ordaz, Lily Limon and Cortney Niland voted in favor of the site.
In the last 24 hours, a recall has been started against Rep Cortney Niland and now Rep. Lily Limon is backing away from her vote. She told the news that she is worried that people are being forced out. Um, YOU VOTED TO USE eminent domain – what, exactly, did you think that meant? Her concern prompted her to post a comment on Facebook:
As far as announcements go, this is a pretty lame way to go about it. It is a comment on a Facebook post (not even her own Facebook page). Will she now join forces with Cortney Niland push forward an alternative? Who knows. It will be interesting to see if any other City Reps start changing their votes as the threat of a recall is hanging out there.
Michael Patino, a Union Plaza resident has filed paperwork to recall City Representative Cortney Niland. According to El Paso Proud, the paperwork cites 7 reasons:
- Failure to listen to the concerns of her constituents
- Lack of respect for residents
- Failure to keep the highest ethical standards
- Failure to respond t constituents of District 8
- Failure to protect her constituents in Union Plaza from displacement and demolition
- Failure to protect her constituents in Union Plaza from the threat of eminent domain
Now Cortney Niland is walking back from the arena. According to KVIA: “So when they are saying to me they are upset and maybe there are some unintended consequences that maybe staff did not factor into the equation, we maybe need to take stop and listen,” Niland said. She is also saying that there are some alternatives: “I think we might have something pretty exciting to talk about on Tuesday. Where we can still do it in that fiscally responsible way, save the taxpayers money, not displace anyone and make everybody happy,” Niland said. If these alternatives were available, why weren’t they considered in the first place?
News reports are saying that it is possible that other City Reps could also face recall. It is incredibly difficult to recall someone in El Paso, largely because nobody votes! Here are the steps required for a recall:
- File notice of the recall effort with the City Clerk
- You have 60 days from filing to collect signatures of 20% (more than 700) of registered voters who voted in the last election for that position (in this case, the last election for District 8 representative). If you are a registered voter, upset at Cortney Niland BUT didn’t vote in that election, it doesn’t matter how many petitions you sign, your signature doesn’t count.
- Signing the petition has some pretty strict rules: signatures must be in ink, signer must enter their address, voter id number and date petition was signed.
- One signer on each paper must make an oath that each signature is that of the person who it purports to be.
- Within 10 days of filing the signed petition, the City Clerk and determine if it was signed by enough qualified voters. If the petition is insufficient, then an extra ten days to get additional signatures.
- IF the petition is adequate, then it goes to the City Council. If the person doesn’t resign, then a recall election is scheduled.
For the recall? Against the recall? Let us know!
In July, the topic of hourly wages for city and contract employees was discussed. During the meeting, Rep Lily Limon tearfully pleaded with City Council to raise the minimum wage to $10 for contract workers. Rep Noe said Limon’s plan would be bad for taxpayers. “We’re voluntarily, that is artificially, raising the price of a contract and saying ‘okay I’m not going to pay for it. The taxpayers are going to pay for this.”
Well, the topic came up again yesterday. An emotional Lily Limon tried again to “raise the minimum wage for janitorial, security and grounds maintenance contract workers to $10 an hour.” City staff reported the increase would have an estimated $3 million annual budget impact – that’s an extra $3 million that needs to come from somewhere. They had to raise property taxes to accommodate the budget for this year WITHOUT the $3 million increase, so there is no way the current (or future) budget could account for this.
The City Council has tabled the vote until they get more information. “The City will seek input from UTEP, The Hunt Institute for Global Competitiveness and its consultants in order to learn how other cities dealt with similar proposals.”
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:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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?
According to the El Paso Times, A committee of nearly 80 members has finished their “plan that would rebuild, renovate and consolidate schools in the 60,000-student district.” If the EPISD puts the $668.7 million package on the ballot, it would be the 17th largest school bond proposed in Texas and the largest bond proposal ever for El Paso County, according to the Bond Review Board.
The EPISD Trustees will decide next week how much of the bond to approve and whether or not it should be voted on in November. So far, many of the trustees have indicated that they will support the bond in its entirety: “The committee has decided that this is the size of the bond that needs to go through,” Trustee Al Velarde said. “For me to change that, I think, would bring into question why we started the committee in the first place.”
How does this affect your property taxes? Well, first of all, “the bonds would be issued in three phases, EPISD Chief Financial Officer Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria said.” So, your property taxes would go up gradually (because that has worked so well for what the City and County have been doing with their bonds). Ultimately, this would raise property taxes by 18.8 cents to $1.42 per $100 valuation. A family owning a $138,000 home would pay an additional $17.72 per month (around $212.64 a year).
So, there you have it. Most likely the Trustees are going to approve the entire bond next week and then you will get an opportunity to vote on it. Now we just have to wait and see how much the City is going to raise our property taxes, how UMC is going to cover their projected $15.8 million in losses, and what the County is going to include in their budget.
Did you know that there are currently twenty-eight (28) taxing entities (i.e. 28 entities that can impact your property taxes) in the County of El Paso? Here they are:
- City of El Paso
- Homestead M.U.D. – located in the unincorporated eastside area in the County of El Paso’s regional water and wastewater plan. The Homestead MUD water distribution system is approximately a square mile and lies within a low density, economically depressed area that is just over a square mile.
- El Paso I.S.D. – El Paso Independent School District
- City of Socorro
- Ysleta I.S.D. – Ysleta Independent School District
- County of El Paso
- EP Community College
- RE Thomason Hospital – Now Named University Medical Center (UMC)
- Socorro I.S.D. – Socorro Independent School District
- Clint I.S.D. – Clint Independent School District
- Fabens I.S.D. – Fabens Independent School District
- Town of Clint
- Horizon Regional M.U.D. – Located in east El Paso County, Texas, HRMUD currently serves approximately 9,183 customers over 100,000 acres, primarily in the Horizon City area. As of 2013, El Paso County Water Authority is now Horizon Regional M.U.D.
- Emergency Services Dist. #1 – The EPCESD#1 is responsible for emergency services, in conjunction with the county contracted ambulance service, for Horizon City, Agua Dulce, Ascension, Lakeway, and other surrounding communities.
- Anthony I.S.D. – Anthony Independent School District
- Town of Anthony
- Canutillo I.S.D. – Canutillo Independent School District
- San Elizario I.S.D. – San Elizario Independent School District
- Tornillo I.S.D. – Tornillo Independent School District
- Westway Water Dist – Westway is a census-designated place (CDP) in El Paso county, Texas, United States. The population was 4,188 at the 2010 census. It is part of the El PasoMetropolitan Statistical Area. It is located east of Interstate 10 about 2 miles (3 km) from the New Mexico – Texas state line. The ZIP Code encompassing the CDP area is 79835.
- Hacienda Del Norte Water Dist
- Lower Valley Water Authority – The Lower Valley Water District, a MUD in El Paso County, provides water and wastewater services to approximately 8,000 customers.
- Emergency Services Dist #2 – The El Paso County Emergency Services District #2 has six fire departments and a Fire Marshal Division:
- Clint Fire Department
- Fabens Fire and Rescue
- Fire Marshal Division
- Montana Vista Fire and Rescue
- San Elizario Fire and Rescue
- Socorro Fire Department
- West Valley Fire Department
- Tornillo Water Dist
- City of Horizon
- Downtown Mgt. Dist – The El Paso Downtown Management District (DMD) seeks to make DWNTWN El Paso the center of commercial, civic and cultural activity. It is funded by assessment revenue from property within the district and through collaboration on specific projects and programs with the City of El Paso.
- EPCMUD #1
- EPCWCI #4
Obviously you aren’t going to being paying to ALL 28 of these entities. Depending on where you live, you will pay to only one I.S.D, a water district, one Emergency Services District and, presumably, only one City tax. However, as you have noticed, when these entities are talking about issuing bonds or raising your property taxes to support their initiatives, they ONLY talk about how what THEY are doing is going to impact you. Nowhere do any of them tell you the total amount your property taxes are going to go up. Each entities stresses how little they are asking you for: “your property taxes are only going to go up by $56 a year, that’s nothing!” But, adding it all together and it really does become something. We’re not telling you to vote for or against any particular bond project, but we are asking you to be an informed voter. Look at the property taxes you are paying now (you can check by clicking here) and be an informed voter.
We realize that there were some of the 28 entities that we did not provide explanations for. We felt that the cities were self explanatory. As for the others, it was difficult to determine what they were or what areas they served. If you happen to know, let us know and provide a source we can reference.
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.
Every summer El Paso government officials start planning how they are going to spend your money and how much more of it they are going to take away from you. This past week the City Council began their budgeting process with a series of meetings. On Thursday, the topic of the minimum hourly wage of both city and contract employees was discussed. During the meeting, Rep Lily Limon tearfully plead with City Council to raise the minimum wage to $10 for contract workers. Rep Noe said Limon’s plan would be bad for taxpayers. “We’re voluntarily, that is artificially, raising the price of a contract and saying ‘okay I’m not going to pay for it. The taxpayers are going to pay for this.’
On the surface, Limon’s plea to raise contract worker’s wages seems like it would be a good thing. However, by artificially raising their wages (as opposed to letting the free market determine wages), she is going to be spending your money in more than one way. First, this increase would require the money to come from somewhere. The Council is already arguing over the budget (with the Mayor vowing to not allow passage of a budget that includes a property tax increase), so we know that there is no excess in the budget to cover these new wages, that means that property taxes WOULD go up.
Secondly, those quality of life projects and road resurfacing would no longer be able to be completed under their current budgets. Assumptions were built into those estimates, assumptions about materials and labor. We agree with refusethejuice: if the contract worker’s rate goes up, down goes the amount of money available to complete the projects. That means that either some of the projects would need to be dropped from the list OR another round of property tax hikes would have to take place to cover them.
El Paso has the third highest residential property tax rate of America’s 50 largest cities. Water and electricity rates went up this year. EPISD has stated that they aren’t going to raise taxes but they’ll be asking you to vote on a bond that would. Roads are clogged due to construction. Where are Limon’s tears for you? She’s too busy worrying that the $260,000 light display for San Jancinto plaza approved by City Council be just right: “Niland and city Rep. Líly Limón stressed that the contractor will have to create a festive display that’s representative of El Paso’s culture and community.” How is the contractor going to capture ‘broke’ in lights?
Refusethejuice makes some good points in his article “Never let a tragedy go to waste” – If the Orlando shooting had happened in El Paso, we could understand having local and state politicians speaking about it. But it didn’t, it happened in Orlando. We agree that people should stand in solidarity when a tragedy occurs. But we can’t help but wonder if those same politicians would have been ‘standing’ if the cameras weren’t there.
This is a HUGE tragedy for our Nation but an even larger one for those families who lost loved ones. Using their loss as a chance for personal gain is tacky, to say the least.
The City Council met on Tuesday to discuss, among other things, what they should do about the recent Ethics Commission’s rulings against Gonzalez. If you’ll recall, the Chairman of the Ethics committee, Stuart Schwartz, stated that “Because the sanctions are not a recommendation for removal from office, the commission is not required to make a presentation to council.” Basically, the case was over and there was nothing for the City Council to do. The Mayor reiterated that on Tuesday in an El Paso Times story: “The only time council would take any type of action would be if the ethics commission would (have) recommended termination,” Mayor Oscar Leeser said. Furthermore, there was nothing for the City Council to do as “Once those rulings are made we cannot go back and change those rulings.”
Apparently that didn’t sit well with City Rep. Líly Limón who decided to add a discussion to the agenda regarding the ethics commission’s ruling. “It is not my goal or idea to prolong this, but we can’t slip it under the rug. We need to confront it face front and then go from there,” Limón said. “I just want to make very, very sure that everything is covered and that we’ve don’t the right thing and everything is covered.” So, they discussed it and, as was stated both before the ethic commission’s review and after their ruling, there was nothing for the City Council to do.
Way to go, City Council! You managed, again, to spend time talking about things you can’t do anything about rather than actually doing something for the people who elected you!