City Rep Lily Limon Crying, Again, And Her Tears STILL Aren’t For You!

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.”

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

EPISD Bond $527 Million and Counting

EPISD has started determining which projects will go into the bond initiative.  So far, they have agreed on $527.3 million worth.  However, this number could go up as the Facilities Advisory Committee considers more projects on August 2 and presents their final list to the EPISD Board of Trustees on August 9th.  So far, here is what is in it:

  • Merging Bradley and Fannin elementaries at the Bradley site — $20.8 million
  • Closing Clardy Elementary and relocating students to a new prekindergarten through eighth-grade school built at the current Henderson Middle — $42.3 million
  • Closing Bond and Roberts elementaries and relocating students to a pre-K-eight school built at the current Lincoln Middle — $47.8 million
  • Consolidating Bonham Elementary and MacArthur School — $19.9 million
  • Merging Johnson Elementary and Morehead Middle into a pre-K-eight — $38.0 million
  • Merging Schuster, Crosby and Dowell elementaries into a new elementary built at the Dowell site — $30.6 million
  • Merging Collins Elementary and Terrace Hills Middle into a pre-K-eight — $38.3 million
  • Building a new Northeast middle school to replace Bassett Middle — $34.6 million

However, we have to agree with Brutus, nowhere have they stated what they are going to do with the buildings that are closed.  Will the property be sold?  Will it be renovated?  What impact would doing either of those items have on raising or lowering the bond?  It would appear that we are only getting half of the story.

Additionally, school closures are a tricky subject.  Before the meeting began Thursday, two South Central residents, Guillermo Glen and Hilda Villegas, resigned from the committee. The residents said: “With the proposal of closing Beall elementary and sending 450 children to a school that’s in an area that’s high trafficked. As well as now a proposal to include by TxDOT another highway that’s going to put our children even more at risk.” According to KFOX:  Villegas said Beall Parent Community is starting to move forward with legal council. “We went ahead and resigned, and as a community, we’ve gone ahead and consulted lawyers,” Villegas said. “They already signed a contract with us.” If this results in their school staying open, we predict that many other parents will follow suit.  This could result in a very expensive and complicated process.

Then there are the teacher’s raises.  Last month EPISD announced that they were not raising your property taxes but that they were going to give the teachers a 1.5% raise.  HOWEVER, they were hoping that they would be able to give the teachers an even higher raise with the passage of the bond:  “With a bond approval in November, the district said it can consolidate more campuses and increase salaries.”  Before we vote, are they going to tell us how much all of this consolidation will raise teacher’s salaries?

Although EPISD has reported that there is widespread support for the bond (The El Paso Times claims that “60 percent of the 350 respondents somewhat or strongly supported a $600 million bond initiative”), support for a bond decreased when voters learned of the potential tax impact.  What kind of weird survey was it that asked them if they supported the bond without telling them how much it was going to cost them?  Maybe they are going to use that $250,000 of your money that they already approved for marketing to ‘educate’ the public.

Valenti Got A Bonus And ‘Mislead’ The Commissioner’s Court

In an article about how Valenti ‘mislead’ the Commissioner’s Court regarding bonus-able employees at UMC, the El Paso Times also reported that Valenti received a bonus last year.  As you may recall, UMC almost lost its accreditation last summer and saw its bond rating decreased last fall.  Given those circumstances, how much of a bonus would you give him?  Guess it doesn’t matter how much you would have given him because: “a $46,813 incentive given to Valenti.”  Granted, that is less than half of the $120,000 that he got the year before, but you would think that patient safety would be high on the annual evaluation(you can read our blog post about UMC’s accreditation and the entire report here). Did you get a $46,813 bonus last year?

The rest of the article talks about how Valenti “misled the County Commissioners Court by stating publicly last year that many of the annual bonuses provided to hospital employees are contractual.”  Well, turns out that the only contractual bonus is for Mr. Valenti himself.  The $500,000 line item for bonuses (yes, you read that number correctly, 1/2 a million dollars), was left in the budget that was approved by the Commissioner’s Court.  Now that information has surfaced that the bonuses weren’t actually contractual, here is what 3 of the County Commissioners had to say about it:

Commissioner Perez:

“The Commissioners Court was led to believe that there was nothing that could be done about the bonus money that was set aside because they were tied to contractual obligations,” Perez said. “Now seeing the list of individuals who received the bonuses, I believe the statement made to the Commissioners Court was a misrepresentation of the facts.”

Commissioner Leon:

“How can we do business with somebody who lies to us?” Leon questioned. “He lied to us again.”  “He intentionally lied and misled the court and I have a big problem with that,” Leon said.

Commissioner Haggerty:

“I don’t think it was a flat out lie. I think it was a misunderstanding in a lot of ways as far as how much it was contracted obligated and how those contract obligations work,” he said.  Haggerty said a lot of the bonuses are contractually obligated through the hospital program, not through personal contracts for each employee. However, that’s not exactly what was said at the September meeting, he added.

Interesting that the two most vocal members of the Commissioner’s Court, Judge Escobar and Commissioner Stout, are not quoted anywhere in the article.  For the past year, if there was anything having to do with either UMC or El Paso Children’s Hospital, they have been front and center.  Where is the outrage? If Valenti did ‘mislead’ the court and he’s already leaving in May, why isn’t Veronica writing to the board and asking them to let him run out the remainder of his contract at home?  If you can’t trust him, why continue to let him poke around in daily operations?

The Sound of Your Money Being Spent

El Paso Times is reporting that El Paso Children’s Hospital’s revenue jumped in December:  “After losing an average of $1.85 million in each of the first six months of the hospital’s controversial bankruptcy, Children’s reported to U.S. Bankruptcy Court that it had earned $650,000 in December. Revenue that month increased $3.9 million, or 62 percent, over November.”  That’s good news, right?  At least for the tax payers that is good news, the El Paso Children’s Hospital did well.  Granted, part of that was due to the fact that “Children’s received a $3.1 million payment under the disproportionate share program — which benefits hospitals with a high percentage of low-income patients.” But still, EPCH earned that money because it took care of low-income patients and, honestly, do we care where the money comes from as long as it doesn’t come from us?

HOWEVER, if you’re trying to paint a picture that the consulting company that was helping to run the hospital at that time was incompetent and that they shouldn’t be paid, then this is bad news.  If, for example, you are the El Paso County Commissioners and are using tax payer dollars on lawyers to fight these fees, this ruins the story you’ve been spreading:  “County Judge Veronica Escobar has said the firm did little to restructure the hospital’s operations and finances. She also has said that the hospital went through the expense of a bankruptcy only to end up with a settlement that was similar to one that was on the table in 2014.”

We’ve already spoken about how the two plans are WILDLY different (you can read our post here), assuming that they are talking about the plan that was being considered in early 2015, we’re not sure which plan they are talking about from 2014.  Now we’re hearing that the El Paso Children’s Hospital is doing better.  Yet, Veronica Escobar will continue to spend your money fighting against AlixPartners’ fees.  Is she being a good steward of our money or is she using our money to pursue her own personal vendetta?

 

You’re The Boss

We found this org chart on the El Paso County Web Site.  If you’re at a restaurant and you don’t get what you want, you complain to the waiter.  If their answer is unsatisfactory, you complain to their manager, and so on.  If you want something fixed, you don’t turn to the people sitting at the table next to you and complaint to them and hope that they will do something about it, you don’t pay the bill if you didn’t get what you wanted.  It is the same with what is happening with the county.  Many of us are upset over what is happening and how our money is being spent.  But, instead of complaining to the County Commissioners, we complain about them.  We lean over to each other’s tables and whisper and shout and hope that something will get done.  We continue to watch them waste and spend our money and we think that there isn’t a thing we can do about it.  But, there is.  The County reports to us, the tax payers.  If you don’t like what is happening, send them a letter, go tell them during their meetings, do something.

Right now they ignore blogs like ours and others because they believe that we are on the fringe; a bunch of disgruntled people with agendas.  But, if more people were to speak up directly to them, then we could affect change. So here it is, our challenge to you:  don’t like what is happening with your money?  Upset with how your employee is behaving? Write them an email.  It only takes a minute and what’s the worst that can happen, they’ll be upset with you?  Well, you’re already upset with them and they work for YOU, not the other way around.

Veronica Escobar, County Judge:  CountyJudge@epcounty.com

Carlos Leon, Precinct 1:  Commissioner1@epcounty.com

David Stout, Precinct 2:  Commissioner2@epcounty.com

Vincent Perez, Precinct 3:  commissioner3@epcounty.com

Andrew Haggerty, Precinct 4: commissioner4@epcounty.com

 

How Fast is UMC Paying Down the EPCH Bond?

UMC has finally posted their audited financials for 2015 and we thought we would take a look at how quickly the El Paso Children’s Hospital Bond was being paid down.  The bond was issued in 2008 for $120.1 million dollars.  Seven years later, care to guess how much money is still owned?   $114.3 million!  That means that UMC has paid down $5.8 million or $.83 million,less than 1 million a year.  At this rate, it will take UMC 145 years to pay off the Children’s Hospital.  Why aren’t they paying this down faster?  Why aren’t they using the rent money from Children’s to help YOU get out of debt?  Next time you see Jim Valenti, why don’t you ask him.