“The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”
–Plato, The Republic, circa 375 BC.
El Paso is now at a financial turning point, and decisions that are made today by our elected representatives will determine whether the City will be able to pay its bills in the future and avoid Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Thankfully, most of our leaders are not the “evil men” whom Plato feared, but we should remain alert and pay close attention to how things are being run.
Many thousands of El Paso homeowners have seen their property values reassessed upwards by more than 10%, yet City CFO Robert Cortinas told Anthony Jackson of the El Paso Times that there will be no adjustment of the City property tax rate of $0.91 per $100 of valuation. If that is true, the City will enjoy increased revenue because of the higher property valuations while taxpayers suffer even more under the burden of the second highest homestead tax rate among the 50 largest cities in the Unites States.
Even in the age of Covid, the City continues to push, directly or through incentives, a galaxy of projects that lie beyond the proper role and scope of government. These projects include the half-billion dollar “Arena” that we did not vote for and cannot afford, TIRZes for private owners of open space, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of 380 agreements for developers, and so much more.
I, for one, do not trust our local media to keep us informed about financial matters. They consistently fail to report critically important financial information, such as the fact that under this City Manager, El Paso now holds the Texas record for outstanding non-voter-approved debt in the form certificates of obligation, more than $600M; or the fact that City spending is set to outpace available revenue for at least the next decade; or the fact that the “quality of life” bond projects are scores of millions over budget.
Case and point: Less than three weeks ago, Vic Kolenc of the El Paso Times published a report on Paul Foster’s development in Northeast El Paso. His sources were limited to the developers in question and Jessica Herrera of the “El Paso Economic and International Development Department,” now located in a building owned by Foster, at the same address as The Borderplex Alliance. The report made no mention of the fact that City Attorney Karla Nieman promised City Council and the public that if the Great Wolf Lodge Deal died, the land swap with Paul Foster would die with it; nor did it cite the gigantic boondoggle that is TIRZ 13, which will cost the City and County hundreds of millions in lost revenue. Kolenc’s report gives the strong impression that the development is all sugar and roses…
In the meantime, we are all waiting for Mayor Leeser to implement the mandates he promised during his election campaign. He has the power to promote legislation and advocate for it. He should begin by making an effort to cut unnecessary spending and taxes along with it. Yes, I know, he only has the power to cast tie-breaking votes. But he also has the power to put items on the agenda and push for them, and he is the titular head of our City.
As many of you know, more than a year ago I ceased my political activities and advocacy for the El Paso taxpayer, focusing instead on historic preservation and my two non-profit boards. While I will no longer be involved in elections, I do plan to return to criticizing the City and the other local taxing entities for reckless borrowing and spending, so you are going to hear quite a bit more from me.
Enjoy your evening,