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Council approves projects to be included in proposed $68.75 million non-voter approved debt

El Paso City Counci voted to approve the projects that would be funded in the proposed $68.75 million in certificates of obligation, debt not approved by voters, during a meeting Tuesday.

The non-voter approved debt was broken down into four categories.

$25.1 million would be allocated for public safety. $19.8 million would be used for additions to the police fleet and $2.3 million for fire equipment and other departments.

$2.5 million would be used toward a parking garage that suffered a partial collapse. Another half-a-million dollars would go toward fire station restrooms.

The second category, infrastructure, would receive $2.65 million. That money would be spread out over three projects:

$1 million will go toward Northgate Transfer Center $700,000 will be used to build restrooms at San Jacinto Plaza $950,000 will be used to make repairs at Cohen Stadium.

$13.3 million was earmarked for the third category: streets. That amount includes $7.7 million in funding the City needs to match for Metropolitan Planning Organization street projects. Another $800,000 would be used for a pavement index study and another $4.8 million to fund intersection signs.

The last category includes Quality of Life projects, which would receive $22.9 million. $10.1 million would be used for three aquatic facilities. $6.7 million would fund two 50 meter pools. $1.8 million would be used to pay for a design for two aquatic facilities. $1.3 million will be used to pay for spray park amenities and $3 million will be allocated for the Eastside Complex.

Newly-elected City Representative Alexsandra Annello had some concerns.

“Our sales tax has gone down. Our property values have stayed (flat). So, it’s really hard, with all of these emergencies, you now, specifically for things like police vehicles. Our previous councils didn’t really look towards these things in the future and so now we are sort of having to deal with them all at once. So we are trying to proactively work with that and deal with them,” Annello said.

Council must still approve the non-voter approved debt.

Voters approved borrowing more than $473 million for the Quality of Life projects when they approved the bonds back in 2012.

The city recently voted to allow issuing non-voter approved debt, or certificates of obligation, to pay for the projects officials say are underfunded.

“So these would be new projects that maybe need a little extra funding to complete them,” said Mark Sutter, the City’s chief financial officer, “For instance, the west side pool is one those that needs a little bit extra to complete it and this would give the city council the authority to include in certificates of obligation that little bit of extra funding that is needed.”

Back in March 2017, then mayor Oscar Leeser, vetoed the use of certificates of obligation to pay for quality of life projects.

Leeser, who believed any extra funds should be approved by voters, said the move would be reversing a long standing policy.

City Manager Tommy Gonzalez has said the original budget of about $8 million for the west side pool project was off target. After delays and a budget that almost doubled over the last four years, construction on the west side pool is underway.

“We can go within budget. There is funding available in the quality of life bonds. We can go out and do three rectangular pools, But based on what we have seen historically, we don’t see a lot of attendance or participation at regular pools,” said Robert Cortinas, with the City’s Office of Management and Budget. “So the city manager has had a good experience doing a regional aquatic facility. Really giving the public something they have never seen before.”

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