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Advocacy group seeks cost-sharing partner for municipal ID program

The Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) is working to find private or public partners who will share the cost of starting a Municipal I.D. program with the City of El Paso.

BNHR members presented a petition to the City Council in January asking the City to implement a municipal I.D. program aimed at helping individuals who often struggle to obtain identifiable documents, such as undocumented immigrants.

Then Deputy City Manager David Almonte was spearheading the research on the topic but has since retired. The City did not return emails and phone calls inquiring why the exploration phase of the program has taken longer than initially expected.

In January, Almonte told ABC-7 the City did not have a definitive date to finish the research but said it would probably be out of a Legislative Review Committee by the end of February.

Meanwhile, BNHR members have met with banks and other organizations seeking fiscal and community support for the program, which requires City Council approval. Robert Heyman, BNHR member, said City officials have told the BNHR the program would cost about $800,000 to start and $200,000 a year to maintain.

Heyman said the annual costs could be covered by user fees but the BNHR is looking for cost-sharing sponsors to help with the up-front costs. “I don’t think we have a firm commitment yet. We’ve been talking to people and we have some distinct interest in helping to do that. Obviously we see this issue of the upfront cost as a hurdle and that’s why we’ve been working on it,” said Heyman.

Critics of the program have said it’s a costly and unnecessary effort at a time when the City is struggling financially. Earlier this month, City Manager Tommy Gonzalez told the City Council city revenue was not keeping up with city expenses.

“I’m optimistic that we can minimize the expense, minimize the impact on taxpayers but I mean at a certain point government exists to provide services to the public and it takes money to do that. We’re not talking about a business. People who would benefit from these ID cards, they are taxpayers who are spending money and paying sales tax and paying property taxes through property they won or rent. They are taxpayers and have a right to city services as much as any taxpayers.”

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