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City Council raises property taxes, budget approved

By Staff Report
Published On: Dec 24 2013 02:45:41 AM CST
Updated On: Jan 15 2014 11:09:53 PM CST

Leeser breaks deadlock. ABC-7's Maria Garcia reports.

EL PASO, Texas -

A divided El Paso City Council approved a new budget on Tuesday and property taxes.

FY 2014 Adopted Budget: 

All Funds Budget $801,421,321

General Fund Budget $351,255,869

For a resident with a home worth $124,090, which is the average valuation in El Paso, the taxpayer will owe about $841.80 in city property taxes next year. That's a $28.37 increase from last year.

City officials said the increase was due to several factors, including police and fire services.

The new budget allocated an additional $5.9 million for police pay which is dictated by collective bargaining and more police academies, plus a transport service contract for the police department.  The Fire department got a $4.4 million increase for collective bargaining, more fire code-compliance positions and emergency vehicle equipment lease.

Other costs that led to the tax increase include $3.8 million more for retiree health insurance and economic development agreements with Downtown hotels that are getting redeveloped and the City doesn't collect their taxes. Plus $5.9 million in debt, which includes the quality of life bond voters approved last November.  

The budget didn't just include increases. City Council also made cuts. Between department cuts, travel reductions, cutting discretionary funds for city representatives and scaling back on computer upgrades, the city cut about $4.1 million from the budget.

"We did cut to the bone, we did everything we possibly could but with growth comes growing pains and we've gotta move this city forward," said City Rep. Cortney Niland.

The Mayor had to break the tie to approve the budget and increase taxes. City Representatives Cortney Niland, Ann Morgan Lilly, Michiel Noe and Larry Romero voted for the budget. Representatives Emma Acosta, Eddie Holguin, Lily Limon, and Carl Robinson voted against it.

"As I look at things and I think of my own personal household and my budget and looking at this particular time in life and coming to realize we're $893 million that we owe, it's very hard for me to vote on something where we're not making as big of a dent as I would like to personally, in my own lifestyle, would like to see."

The city's property-tax backed debt is $893 million, which includes a 2000 bond approved by voters, another bond for street repair and a $473 million quality of life bond approved by voters in November.

For fiscal year 2014, the property-tax supported debt that will be serviced is $74 million, according to the city's Chief Financial Officer Carmen Arrieta Candelaria.

"Fortunately and unfortunately, we can't charge for police service, for fire service, we have to subsidize mass transit, there are the services that cities provide to their communities and citizens because they live there and so unfortunately, you have to issue debt to keep your city moving forward and not close down services," said Niland.

"I know we would like to see lots of good things but it's very hard. It's just a hard process for me to vote on it, to agree (to this budget), Limon told Council.

Council also increased the environmental fee residents are charged in their water bill every month, from $3 to $5. That revenue will be used for litter control at parks, asbestos cleanup and street sweeping.

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