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Downtown ballpark a sure thing? Not everyone agrees

By Matthew Smith, Good Morning El Paso Weekend Anchor / Reporter
Published On: Oct 26 2012 04:16:03 PM CDT
Updated On: Jan 14 2014 06:47:03 PM CST

EL PASO, Texas -

Like sand falling through an hourglass, the election season is slowly fading away.  Each day more voters cast ballots. However, the city continues to battle an opposition group which cries foul when it comes to Proposition No. 3.

On Friday, El Paso Mayor John Cook called a meeting with a local journalists to discuss the issues he's seen.

According to Cook, a lot of misinformation exists.  He contends that the group trying to stop the ballpark is misguided.

"They are interpretting the law wrong, the code, completely wrong," said Cook.  "The code is confusing."

The code he refers to is Government Code 334, a 49 page document that explains how a municipality can designate a "venue project."  Opponents of the downtown ballpark believe the Proposition No. 3 vote is a direct vote for, or against, the downtown ballpark.  City officials say that's not true.

El Paso is looking to designate the downtown ballpark project as a "venue project" so that it can raise the city's hotel tax an additional 2 percent.  Without the designation as a "venue project," the city wouldn't be allowed to do so.  However, Stephanie Townsend-Allala has fought the city along the way saying that they're going about the process the wrong way.

Perhaps even more concerning for Townsend-Allala and her group is the statement by several city officials that the downtown ballpark is a "done deal."  She has written legal opinions from lawyers who say if Proposition No. 3 fails the ballpark would have to start anew.

Mayor John Cook, like representatives from the city manager's office, contends that the project wouldn't restart they would simply begin the search for a new funding source.  While it seems like semantics, it could have legal consequences depending on who is right if Proposition No. 3 is voted down by El Pasoans.  The city says regardless of the vote, the city is ready to "play ball" and build the estimated $50 million ballpark.

"I don't believe that is representative government," said Townsend-Allala.  "If the voters vote down the project and the representatives move forward with it, how is that representative?"

Mayor Cook said similar decisions have been made before, citing the art museum that was previously turned down by voters but built by the city regardless after it learned the lack of a new art museum would jeopardize its ownership of the Kress collection.  To this day, the city still has the Kress collection on display thanks to the move by the city.

The mayor didn't stop there, though.  He also warned voters that they need to think carefully about their vote, because it could potentially raise their taxes.

While property taxes can't be raised to build a downtown ballpark without voter approval, they can be raised in a roundabout way.  Cook talked about how the city could potentially use international bridge crossing money to pay for the ballpark, funding that currently is used to pave roads.  The example holds interest because it shows how the city could pay for the downtown ballpark with general funds, but it would leave the roads without funding.  Road projects can be paid for by property tax, which means an indirect tax rate could be used to fund the ballpark.

"It's like a balloon," responded the Mayor, when asked if this was a way the city could pay for the ballpark indirectly through tax hikes if Proposition No. 3 fails.  "If you squeeze (the balloon) in one place teh water must go someplace else.  This is exactly like that."

Townsend-Allala said if a "no" vote prevails for Proposition No. 3 and the city continues to move forward, it would likely spur a lawsuit from civic groups within the city.  She did not say whether she would be involved in any of those potential suits.  However, if the vote does result in a "yes" vote Townsend-Allala said there is likely no legal action moving forward that could stop the project.

Watch Cook's news conference at http://www.kvia.com/video/Watch-Oct-26-Mayor-Cook-news-conference-on-Propositions-3/-/421452/17147946/-/12t7if9z/-/index.html

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