The City of El Paso has furloughed 400 employees and cut the salaries of thousands more. There is a budget shortfall of $86.4 million between now and the end of the 2021 fiscal year, and the City pension system has a $58 million hole. There are plans to cut funding for street repair, the police academies, and dozens of other core services.
Our community is hurting. KTSM announced today that 31,609 people have filed for unemployment in the El Paso area since March 29. Other networks have reported that the food lines in our community extend for as long as two miles.
Today, under City Council agenda item 19.1, Reps. Annello and Rodriguez attempted to ease the strain on our budget by suspending the construction of the “Arena” and Cultural Heritage Center, which could have saved the taxpayers as much as $500 million, reduced our future debt load, and safeguarded the City’s credit rating.
The item was backed by City Manager Tommy Gonzalez, who understands that the City is straining under more than $2 million per year in bond interest from the projects authorized by Proposition 2 of the 2012 QOL bond election, plus $1 million per year in ongoing litigation costs.
Sadly, six members of City Council, including three who had previously supported preserving Duranguito—Reps. Svarzbein, Morgan and Lizarraga—today voted against suspending these two projects even though they are in favor of putting most of the other QOL bond projects on hold.
They support furloughs and pay cuts but will not support suspending the non-essential multipurpose basketball arena and cultural heritage center, and they have made clear that the interests of their powerful donors are more important than the well-being of City employees and of the taxpayers of El Paso at large.
They have squandered the opportunity to place our City on a sounder financial footing and chosen a path that will significantly increase the strain on our budget, raise property taxes even higher, and potentially lead to more furloughs.
There is, however, one good thing that came out of today’s vote.
Six City Council representatives who opposed the action are on the record and will have to defend their votes if they wish to continue their political careers in the future, especially Reps. Hernandez, Morgan and Rivera, who must face the voters in November.
Grossman is a member of the Board of Directors at Preservation Texas; Director of Operations at El Paso History Alliance; Vice-Chair at The Trost Society and an Associate Professor of Art History at UTEP – The University of Texas at El Paso