EL PASO, Texas -

     After weeks of workshops and negotiations, the city has finally settled on a budget for next year. But in the process of balancing it, city council had to weigh some options: to cut services and positions, or increase fees across the board.

     The final general fund budget tops out at $359 million. But city council first had to address a $3.5 million revenue shortfall before it could be approved for the next fiscal year.

     The city ended up voting 6 to 2 to approve the budget with amendments. Council kept the effective tax rate of .699 cents per $100 home valuation, which means about $26 extra dollars for the average homeowner. They also put into place a variety of fees on businesses and residents depending on how they use city services.

     There will be an 20% increase in fees for parks and an up to $2 entry fee increase for the zoo, and a $.25 increase at parking meters and a dollar per month increase in trash pickup rates.
     City Rep. Emma Acosta wanted to accept the proposed cut police programs and city services, with instructions to staff to find new revenue to cover them later.
     Bu City Rep. Dr. Michiel Noe proposed to close the gap without taking away services or placing more fee increases on residents.

     "I don't think that's fair to the homeowners," Noe said. "I don't think we need to balance our budgets on the backs of the homeowners, and that's what's traditionally been done. And again, this year, they did it again, by putting it substantially on the homeowners."

     Addressing that concern, a flat water franchise fee for non-residential properties throughout the city was approved. A final rate will be determined after looking for savings in the water utility budget, but was discussed at around $190 per year during the meeting. That was much more favorable to council over an across the board electric rate hike.

     "I didn't want the residents to have to bear the burden of all these additional fees," Acosta said of her original proposal. "And just the fees that were being proposed were about $27 dollars a year. That was more than the actual taxes that we were implementing for the whole year."

     So all of these fee increases will be going into place starting with the city's fiscal year on Sept. 1, and the city is considering looking into a private trash hauler franchise fee for the future as well.