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City Of El Paso Considers Creating Park Authority

El Paso City Council Tuesday voted to start the process to establish a regional park authority – an entity that could eventually set up its own tax rate, and increase how much residents pay to upkeep parks.

In a 5-to-3 vote, City Counil accepted the recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Committee, a group formed by the city last year in an effort to explore possibilities to consolidate the county and park systems.

Council members Rachel Quintana, Carl Robinson and Eddie Holguin voted no. The rest of council accepted the measure that will allow City Manager Joyce Wilson to begin talks with the County of El Paso about starting a park authority.

Currently, the County loses millions of tax dollars each year on their two biggest parks – the Sportspark on the far east side, and Ascarate Park in Central El Paso. Even though they belong to the county, both of those are within city limits.

Eventually, the park authority would incorporate Ascarate and the Sportspark. But the road to get there is still long. After Tuesday’s move by City Council, the County has to get on board. Then the two pitch the idea to El Paso state representatives and senators.

The city and county need state approval to start a park authority. The legislative session begins in January 2011. If the move is approved at the state level, then the issue comes to El Paso voters in a local election in May 2012.

If approved by voters, the park authority could set up its own tax rate to maintain and create parks. Currently, the city has 216 sites, some developed, others not, that it consider park space.

The committee estimates the city has underfunded its parks by $16 million. They say the county has done the same by $4 million. That means, if approved, the committee would have to find ways to come up with more than $20 million, that’s on top of the $26,030,507 the city spends on parks annually.

Representative Eddie Holguin said he was wary of the park authority taking over the “money pits” – Ascarate and the Sportspark, and argued this would eventually raise taxes for both county and city residents.

Representative Beto O’Rourke said he voted for the measure because residents have a right to choose how they pay for their parks, and at this point, this is just exploring the possibility.

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