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2012 Bond Issue Sparks Discussion

Tensions were high when El Paso County Commissioners discussed $110 million of proposed bonds to improve infrastructure throughout the county.

Two separate issues were on Monday’s agenda surrounding the bonds including determining what financial institutions would underwrite the bonds, an action that was tabled last week because some commissioners didn’t feel enough information was made available.

Commissioner Sergio Lewis, one of the people who was in favor of tabling the discussion last week, was on the fence again. Lewis told county JudgeVeronica Escobar he didn’t think there was an ethical violation but explained he thought some issues weren’t addressed, which seemed to upset Escobar who took time discussing the issue with Lewis during the vote.

Lewis ultimately voted against the choosing of the group which would underwrite the bonds, but the resolution still passed 4-to-1.

However, the fireworks weren’t over.

Following the selection of the bond underwriting team, Wallace Hardgrove, a county employee, explained to the commissioners the preliminary numbers for the 15 projects to be included for the $110 million bond.

He explained that the 2012 bond would include $27 million for the Tornillo-Guadalupe port of entry, $44 million for the Eastside jail annex, and several other multi-million-dollar projects.

Commissioner Dan Haggerty said he didn’t like the way the proposal worked because the total for the 15 projects cost a little more than $107 million, leaving $2.5 million on the table.

“I’m not going to stand there and argue with everybody because they’re all pro-bond, but they’ll find something to spend the money for,” said Haggerty.

According to Escobar, that money would be earmarked for equipment needs of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department which is under-funded. Escobar said the Sheriff’s Department is only receiving 30 percent of the money they’ve requested for improvements and upkeep of their equipment.

While Haggerty and two members of the public who spoke against the bonds don’t like the idea of spending so much money, Escobar said it’s a necessity at this point.

Escobar referenced a provision passed by the federal government following 9/11, that required all law-enforcement officials be on the same P25 radio frequency. That project is listed at costing $1.5 million. If it were not executed, Escobar said the fine for not being P25-compliant beginning next year will cost $10,000 every day.

“Should we not fund that, where are we going to get the money to fund $10,000 a day? How are we going to make up for the loss of tens of thousands of dollars?” Escobar asked.

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