County votes to increase taxes 3 to 2

Tax increase tied to UMC, county

Matthew Smith, Good Morning El Paso Weekend Anchor / Reporter
POSTED: 06:14 AM MST Dec 24, 2013    UPDATED: 01:05 PM MST Jan 16, 2014 
Taxes, 1040EZ
EL PASO, Texas -

Taxes in El Paso County are going up again.

Commissioners bit the bullet Monday, with multiple elected-officials stating that it was an unfavorable decision, but a necessary one.

Commissioner Sergio Lewis voted against the increase for the University Medical Center tax increase. County Judge Veronica Escobar along with Commissioners Vince Perez, Carlos Leon and Patrick Abeln voted to increase taxes tied to the UMC hospital district. The vote to raise taxes in El Paso County passed with a vote of 3 to 2.  Commissioners Lewis and Leon voted against that proposal.

The increase for El Paso County will come at a cost of $20.47 per $100,000 value of your home. The increase for the UMC hospital district will come at a cost of $22 per $100,000 value of your home.  The average home in El Paso county is worth more than $100,000 meaning most will be paying in excess of $45 extra in taxes per year moving forward.

“I just keep seeing the taxes go up, and up, and up but I don’t know what I’m getting for that money,” said Lisa Turner, a resident who typically speaks at city meetings.

Turner raised questions about county taxes that benefit the areas outside the city, but relies on taxes from people like her that live within the city. Another member of the public came out attacking the commissioners calling them communists for pushing for taxes to go up time, and time again. A third public speaker questioned the common sense of raising taxes in a community that ranks among the most poor in the country.

A lot of talk centered on the tax hike tied to the University Medical Center. Earlier this year more than $150 million worth of bonds were passed to help UMC build clinics throughout El Paso.

UMC CEO Jim Valenti defended the request for more money then, and the call for increased taxes stating that they had only asked for more money via taxes once during his time in El Paso, before that he said it had been 22 years.

“We have a community plan,” said Valenti. “This is not Jim’s plan, this is a community plan.”

Valenti told commissioners to trust his nine years of service at UMC when he said that the clinics will not run on taxpayer money once they’re up and running next year.

Abeln commented in defense of UMC later when talks continued a second time pointing out the poverty situation El Paso County faces. He pointed out that while it was a good argument to be made, people were making it on both sides.

“How do you reconcile the ability to recognize the poverty, but still say I don’t want to pay for their health care?” said Abeln.

As for the increase in taxes tied to the county, Escobar said there will continue to be needs in the county.

The County Auditor’s Office put together a slideshow highlighting an increase in $13.1 million in the county’s operating budget.

According to their presentation the biggest rise in costs are tied to salaries from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office that are mandatory and administrative costs tied to county management.  

There was talk about a smaller raise in taxes tied to the county raise backed by Commissioners Leon and Lewis.  It was called to a vote but failed before the county ultimately backed the higher tax rate.