EPISD Bond Passes

There were so many surprises on election night:  Donald Trump won as president, 50.33% of registered voters in El Paso cast ballots, and the EPISD Bond passed.

We predict trying times for El Paso in the coming year.  Donald Trump has firm stands on immigrants and walls, both of which will have a large impact on our City.  Additionally, the citizens of El Paso just voted themselves a HUGE increase in property taxes.

“We’ve got a long way to go rebuilding trust,” Cabrera said. “This is a big step in the right direction.”  We disagree.  The rebuilding of trust should have happened BEFORE we gave EPISD the largest bond ever in El Paso County.  However, unlike the County Commissioner’s raises, we were given an opportunity to decide through our votes and the majority voted ‘yes’.

While EPISD is gleefully meeting this morning to start their plan to spend the money, we hope that they will be accountable.  We hope that they will be truthful and efficient.  The one thing they now no longer need to be is frugal.

Below is how the different parts of town voted on the bond:

episd-bond-final2

To see full election results, click here.

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EPISD – What Percentage of Your Property Taxes Do They Currently Get?

If you were to guess the percentage of your property taxes that go to EPISD, what would you guess?  10%? 20%? Given that EPISD is asking for a $669 million dollars, it might be reasonable to guess that the El Paso School District receives a relatively small percentage. For 2015 44.55% of your property taxes went to EPISD:

Taxing Unit 2015 Tax Rate % of Tax Rate Source
City of El Paso 0.729725 26.33%  Click Here
EPISD 1.235 44.55%  Click Here
County of El Paso 0.452694 16.33%  Click Here
EPCC 0.133811 4.83%  Click Here
UMC 0.220682 7.96%  Click Here
Total 2.771912 100.00%

If the bond gets passed (including the other tax increases already approved), that number jumps to 47.31% once all of the bonds have been issued.  So, almost 50% of your property taxes will be paid to EPISD:

Taxing Unit 2016 Tax Rate % of Tax Rate
City of El Paso 0.759656 25.31%
EPISD 1.42 47.31%
County of El Paso 0.452694 15.08%
EPCC 0.134909 4.49%
UMC 0.234456 7.81%
Total 3.001715 100.00%

EPISD projects that they will get $169,337,789 from property taxes for the 2016-2017 school year WITHOUT THE BOND.  Adding in other Local Revenues, State Revenues and Federal Revenues, they project that they will have $497,673,310 for the 2016 – 2017 school year.  What we can’t understand is this:  what is happening with the money that they get now?  Why has EPISD decided to put their hands out for more money from you rather than showing us that they’ve made any efforts to cut costs or be more efficient?

We’ve been told that EPISD needs such a large bond because they are “playing catch up”:  “A district of this size with aging buildings needs to have a bond every five to seven years,” EPISD Superintendent Juan Cabrera said after the meeting. “I think we’re playing catch-up.”  Does this mean that they’ll have their hands out again in another 5-7 years, before they’ve finished with this bond?

You can look at your own tax bill here: https://actweb.acttax.com/act_webdev/elpaso/showlist.jsp

 

This is How the EPISD Bond Gets Passed and It’s Easier Than You Think

$669 Million is a HUGE number.  For an average homeowner, it is going to raise property taxes by over $200.  Considering that El Paso already has high property taxes you would expect that it would be an uphill battle for EPISD to get the bond passed.  However, EPISD has several things going in their favor:

  1. Last week the EPISD Board of trustees guaranteed that the $9 million “excess” they get from the school consolidations would go back to the teachers and EPISD employees.  This means that teachers are going to follow the County Commissioner’s example and vote themselves a raise.
  2. Once you hit age 65 your property taxes are frozen as far as payments to EPISD as long as you apply for the exemption.  That means that anyone over the age of 65 who has applied for the exemption WON’T HAVE TO PAY the additional money for the bond.  This group of people consistently votes and, since they don’t think it impacts them, of course they are going to vote to spend more money on EPISD to “help the children”. In reality, those who have not already applied for the 65+ exemption are going to think that they will not see an increase in their property taxes and may vote the bond through only to be hit with a HUGE tax increase.
  3. Last year State Senator Jose Rodriguez started an initiative to get eligible high school kids registered to vote.  This year that initiative is in full swing at EPISD.  “As of Sept. 19, volunteers and members with the student registration program spoke to nearly 2,000 high school students and registered more than 200 eligible students.”  Between Oct. 24 and Nov. 4, EPISD will be have several mobiles sites to make it more convenient for voters. This is another group that has nothing to lose by voting the bond in; they don’t pay property taxes.  Even though this group is not a large voting block, every vote counts.
  4. Voter turnout in El Paso is AWFUL.  In the primaries this year, 21% of registered voters actually voted and that was quite a bit higher than the previous primaries in 2012 (8.9%) and 2008 (16.55%).  Few people vote, so they actually need a very small number of people to vote “Yes” and the bond wins.

So, here is your chance.  If you heard that someone was going to charge you $200 (or more) a year and all you had to do was show up and tell them “No”, wouldn’t you do it?  Because that is what you need to do here.  If you don’t like this bond, if you don’t trust the people who are going to be managing over 1/2 billion dollars, then you need to respectfully decline.  And, don’t wait until the last minute.  Do it during early voting, get it out of your way, check it off your list.

There is still time to register to vote, you have until October 11, 2016.  Not sure if you’re registered, click here to find out.  If you are not registered, you can register to vote by clicking here (English) or here (Spanish), downloading and filling out the application, and mailing it in (they don NOT accept emailed applications).

Early voting period will be from Monday, October 24, 2016 through Friday, November 04, 2016.

Election Day will be Tuesday, November 8, 2016 from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Find an early voting station by clicking here or a mobile voting station by clicking here.

 

EPISD Needs More Buses Because the Penny Swap Didn’t Buy Enough

Last November voters passed an initiative that gave EPISD the ability to do a “Penny Swap”. Basically, they moved three cents from debt services (money used to pay down existing debt like bonds) over to maintenance and operations (money used for day-to-day activities).  According to EPISD, “Penny Swap would give the District access to $14 million in matching state funds and local revenue that would be used to address funding priorities like instruction enrichment, teacher salaries, school buses and academic technology.”  Do these items sound familiar?  They should, many of them are ALSO included in the $669 million bond they want you to vote on this year.

According to KVIA, EPISD has a “fleet of new buses is already in use to take students to school everyday.”  We’re not told what a “fleet” is, but we are told that they currently have 315 buses in service and they want to use the bond to replace 81 of them at $100,000 per bus. These new buses will run on propane, which EPISD Transportation Director Oscar Anchondo said should save the district money.  Of course those savings are not documented anywhere, so we have no idea if we’re actually getting a good deal.  A study done by the US Department of Energy in 2014 indicated that propane “…fleets have saved between $400 and $3,000 per propane bus per year, with the range of savings dependent on the fuel prices and the maintenance cost savings realized.”  The EPISD bond information was quick to tell you how much they could save annually from school consolidations but have included NO information about savings from converting these buses to propane. If we believe the US Department of Energy, they would be saving between $32,000 and $243,000 annually on these new 81 buses.

So, we have voted in the penny swap that helped pay for buses (that, apparently, were NOT propane buses) and now we’re going to pay for more buses. But the EPISD has given us no information on how much money they are going to save with these new buses or what they plan to do with that money.  They aren’t going to use it for teacher raises, they’ve already committed to using the ‘excess’ $9 million a year for that.  They aren’t going to use it to off-set other programs (like laptops for students and teachers), they’re going to finance that through the bond. Are they going to use it for maintenance on the older buses?  We don’t know because we weren’t told.  All they did was throw out a HUGE number attached to their wish list and then try to stick their hands into your pocket.

Should we have new school buses?  Sure.  Propane looks to be a good and cost-effective choice.  But that isn’t how it was presented to the voters.  In fact, this entire bond includes little to no information on how EPISD is going to be fiscally responsible or even use this money to cover costs and maintenance in other areas.

 

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?

 

 

Either The EPISD Or The El Paso Times Fails At Math

An eagle-eyed reader pointed out a discrepancy in the El Paso Times Article “EPISD sends $668.7 million bond to ballot“.  In the article they state the following about the increase in Property Taxes if the EPISD bond passes:

“If voters pass the EPISD measure on Nov. 8, the property tax rate would rise by 18.8 cents to $1.42 per $100 property valuation. Taxpayers with a $138,000 home, the average in the district, would pay an additional $213 annually.”

See the problem?

$138,000/$100 = 1380 (this is to calculate per $100 valuation)

1380 x $1.42 = $1,959.60 (this is how much the property taxes would go up by, not $213)

Even if you adjust it to be 18.8 cents to $1.42 per $1000, the math STILL doesn’t make sense!  In that case, the $138,000 home would be paying an extra $195.96 per year.

We suspect that there is a typo and that it should be per $1000 property valuation.  However, we have NO IDEA how they got to their final number of $213 annually. If these numbers came from the EPISD, quake in fear as they try to manage over 1/2 billion in bond money.

 

 

The Facts About The EPISD Bond – Adding It Up

We’re not going to tell you which way to vote on the EPISD $668,695,577 bond (If voters pass the EPISD measure on Nov. 8, the property tax rate would rise by 18.8 cents to $1.42 per $100 property valuation).  Instead, we’re going to give you the FACTS about the bond, what is included and the $$ associated with those items.  That way, YOU can decide whether or not the EPISD bond is worth it.  We pullled all of this information from the Facilities Advisory Board Committee Presentation to Board of Trustees:

Athletics (Total $32,059,000):

  • Turf replace (all high schools), track and tennis courts (8 HS), court/field lighting: $26,059,000
  • Playgrounds, shading, court renovations (outdoor learning environment): $6,000,000.

Safety & Security (Total $750,400):

  • Perimeter Security (fencing/lighting/sensors): $750,400

Technology (Total $16,605,000):

  • Student laptops, Middle School PowerUp Rollout 2017: $4,065,000
  • Teacher laptop refresh through 2019: $2,500,000
  • Neighborhood WiFi: $500,000
  • Network Infrastructure (cabling, controllers, routers, switches, access points): $9,540,000

Transportation (Total $8,472,295):

  • 24 regular and 23 special needs buses (2016- 17): $4,831,061
  • 12 special needs buses (2017-18): $1,268,260
  • 12 regular buses (2018-19): $1,273,386
  • 10 special needs buses (2019-20): $1,099,588

Elementary Schools (Total $24,262,029):

  • Hughey (partial rebuild): $13,160,886
  • Crockett (major renovation): $11,101,143

Middle Schools (Total $74,150,970):

  • Northeast Middle School replacing Bassett: $34,628,127
  • Ross (rebuild): $39,522,843

High Schools (Total $274,623,805):

  • Austin (major renovation): $32,082,302
  • El Paso (major renovation, fine arts addition): $21,084,597
  • Andress (major renovation): $23,307,049
  • Coronado (partial rebuild): $73,885,792
  • Irvin (rebuild Phase 2): $27,849,309
  • Burges (partial rebuild): $56,783,048
  • Jefferson (partial rebuild), Silva (major renovation): $39,631,708

Consolidations (Total $237,772,078):

  • Bradley ES consolidating Fannin ES: $20,761,215
  • Henderson MS PK-8 consolidating Clardy ES: $42,344,101
  • Lincoln PK-8 consolidating Bond ES and Roberts ES: $47,822,384
  • MacArthur PK-8 consolidating Bonham ES: $19,874,484
  • Morehead PK-8 consolidating Johnson ES: $38,043,366
  • Terrace Hills PK-8 consolidating Collins ES: $38,291,809
  • Dowell ES consolidating Schuster ES and Crosby ES: $30,634,719

The bonds would be issued in three phases, EPISD Chief Financial Officer Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria said. This bond is the largest that El Paso has ever voted on, nearly $200 million higher than the $473 million quality of life measure passed in 2012.

 

 

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.