Monday afternoon city council voted 4 to 4 on approving a budget that would require tax increase costing residents an additional $2.49 per month, or a $29.93 increase, to the city's yearly tax bill.
Representatives Peter Svarzbein, Jim Tolbert, Emma Acosta and Carl Robinson voted Yes. Representatives Cortney Niland, Lily Limon, Claudia Ordaz and Michiel Noe voted No.
Mayor Oscar Leeser, who said he opposed a budget with any tax increase, ended up breaking the tie in favor of the latest budget.
Niland said she voted against the revised budget because it was very similar to the previous one, just with some budgetary tactics included. They had previously rejected financing vehicle purchases and changing gas allotments.
"This is an exercise in futility up here. I feel like I'm banging my head against the wall. We're either going to cut taxes or were not going to cut taxes. But we're not going to sugarcoat everything and make it seem like we just went and found $3 million when we didn't," Niland said. "We found that $3 million 3 weeks ago, and none of us were more than uncomfortable with it. So I gotta tell you, I'm as frustrated as all frustrated gets."
The budget included some new savings proposed by city staff after Mayor Oscar Leeser vetoed the budget last week saying he would not support a budget that contained a tax hike.
At the mayor's urging, city staff reviewed the budget and came up with some additional savings. The City's Director of Management and Budget, Robert Cortinas, proposed financing emergency and police vehicles instead of buying them. They also proposed reducing the fuel budget by $200,000 given that prices are low.
Initially, city staff recommended increasing taxes by $3.22 per month, or and additional $38.59 per year. The savings proposed Tuesday translate into $8.66 less per year than what council had previously approved. That means the owner of a home worth $100,000 in El Paso will now pay $759.66 compared to last year's $729.73.
At Tuesday's meeting, the mayor said he was satisfied with the staff's efforts and the resulting lower tax rate, but is still not happy because it contains an increase.
With the budget in place, city representatives also had to approve an ordinance to levy taxes. The vote was 7 to 1 with Rep. Limon voting against.
Limon said she was disappointed council decided to allocate funds to the Animal Services department and did not approve a requirement for businesses that contract with the city to pay their employees a $10 minimum wage.
"We are spending $400,000 on animals when we could've looked at contracted workers for $120,000," she said.
"Once you euthanize an animal you don't have a second chance," replied Mayor Leeser saying the community supported a proposal to spend more money to save animals. He then asked city staff to be on the lookout for savings in the budget to allow Limon's proposal.
Rep. Michiel Noe reminded Leeser the proposal had already been considered by the council but had not been approved.
Rep. Cortney Niland criticized Limon's efforts to advocate for the allocation of funding for a program council hadn't approved. "It's hypocrisy," she said
The vote to override the mayor's budget didn't happen. Rep. Niland, who had placed the item on the agenda, asked for it to be deleted early in the day as council was expected to discuss the overall budget proposal later in the meeting and the veto would be addressed then.