The Village of Vinton is setting a precedent and it's not a good one. They're the first government in Texas not to have a budget on October 1, the first day of the fiscal year.
It all has to do with the way the Village disposes of its waste since it doesn't have a sewer system. Most residents have septic tanks. For about a year, the Village of Vinton has been studying how to get a water and a sewer system.
Counting on later grants from the state, the Village acquired about $545,000 in debt to pay for the initial assessments for the project. The state and federal government are offering the small Village to not only pay the debt but supply them with $38,,000,000 to construct a sewer and water system.
Three of the city council members are rejecting that grant money. Alderpersons Martha Garcia, Maria Medina and Juvencia Rios-Ontiveros voted not to accept the grants. Rios-Ontiveros said she did not accept the millions because the town would have to use about $1.2 million in certificates of obligation to pay back a portion of the grant. "I'll never raise my peoples taxes. I was elected to not put them in debt," she said Monday.
The Village's Mayor, Madeleine Praino, said the $1.2 million can be paid back at a reasonable rate. She said the certificates of obligation would most likely only raise the property tax rate an additional .06 cents from .28 cents per $100 home valuation. Praino added that more than half of Vinton's tax base comes from commercial tax-payers so individual home owners would not be paying for the majority of the project. She added the Village already has more than half a million dollars in debt the grants would pay off and if they don't accept the grants, residents would have to pay more in taxes to pay for the debt anyway.
Rios-Ontiveros has suggested salary pay cuts. Praino said that's unnecessary and counter-productive. "With all of this at the table, and (for the council members) to refuse to admit or to see the need for these (sewage and water) projects, I don't understand it, I'm speechless, I'm baffled," Praino said on Monday.
Rios-Ontiveros said she is more concerned with what she calls discrepencies in the budget of recent years. The council woman showed ABC-7 binders filled with what she identified as budget documents from previous years. She spent much of the interview blaming the Mayor for the budget woes. "Let her figure it out. She put is in the hole, let her get us out with that deficit she started. I was elected not to put my people in debt. People here have roots. She doesn't. She is dictating to us like they do in South America, where she's from. From Colombia."
Just a few homes away from Rios-Ontiveros' home, neighbors have signs on their yards and fences that read "We support the sewer system."
Praino said the council's refusal to accept the grants for the major infrastructure projects is "an injustice."
The Council is slated to meet Tuesday at 6:30pm at the City Hall at 436 East Vinton Road. They plan to discuss and attempt to approve a budget.
If the city does not set a budget or ratify a tax rate, they may have to send their property taxes to the Tax Assessor later than other villages in El Paso County. That may cost them up to $10,000, said Village Clerk Jessiva Garza.