Commissioners discuss possible tax increase, sidewalks

County starting with high tax ceiling for budget talks

EL PASO, Texas -      Hold onto your wallet - El Paso County's tax rate could be on the verge of a sharp hike. That was the message Monday when commissioners discussed a proposed tax rate ceiling for this year's budget talks.     

     As commissioners work towards finalizing a budget for next year, their starting point will now be a tax rate about 12 percent higher than last year, which would be another 50 bucks for every $100,000 in home value.  

     By state law, taxpayers can ask for a tax rollback election if a new effective tax rate is 8 percent higher than it currently spends on maintenance and operations. Commissioners say they're looking at needing pretty close to the full 8 percent.

     That new rate of about 48 cents per $100 in home valuation would result in a county tax bill of about $485 for a $100,000 home, up from last year's bill of $433. The basic math on those numbers shows a hike of more than 8 percent, but fluctuating property values can affect final percentages. ABC-7 has asked for their precise calculation, and will bring it to you as soon as we receive it.      
     Commissioners say they're still looking for places to make further cuts. County Judge Veronica Escobar said that they will be looking at cuts across the board to bring the proposed rate down, but a couple of county-funded agencies are making them start at the higher rate.

     "So the vast majority of our departments haven't grown," said Escobar. "Where we're seeing the growth is law enforcement and justice. That;s where the big ticket items are, and that's where the growth is, and that's where the cuts are going to come."

     The county expects the final rate to be set no later than Sept. 22.

     In addition, county commissioners took action to work to address some of the many areas in El Paso county that are lacking in basic amenities like sidewalks.

     Residents in Westway and Sparks on opposite sides of the county could be getting sidewalks as the county moves to get grant funding for the projects.

     Currently, there's not much sidewalk to be seen in many areas of the two communities. What little there is stops abruptly and doesn't connect.

     The county's proposal would put sidewalks along major stretches of road if federal funding is approved through the Metropolitan Planning Authority.

     Commissioners said that it's important to improve quality of life and safety in those communities.

     "We have may of these pockets, many of these subdivisions that don't have sidewalks, that don't have parks," said Vince Perez, county commissioner for Precinct 3. "Then we've got to figure out what we're going to do about these. Unfortunately, this is why that development from the past is very costly."

     Residents said sidewalks are sorely needed.

     "I think it would help a lot," said Westway resident Rene Pinon. "There's a lot of people walking. Like, all the afternoons people come by and walk. And especially with the rains, it makes a mess with the water."

     While commissioners work toward putting these sidewalks into place without extra cost to those communities, they also said they're trying to prevent the need to do this in the future. The county doesn't have the authority to require things like sidewalks, but they can make it a condition for modifying lots in new developments.

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