El Paso

Council Work Session: Reps divided over certificates of obligation, mayor's veto; budget forecast

EL PASO, Texas - Council members had a heated debate over certificates of obligation during Monday morning's work session.

The debate comes on the heels of Mayor Oscar Leeser's veto of a move to publish a notice of intent to issue $44 million in certificates of obligation to pay for projects involving streets, a police parking garage, parks, libraries and public art. "These are projects we identified as priority projects for the city of El Paso," District 6 Rep. Claudia Ordaz said. "I am concerned I do not want to put any more delays."

Ordaz said during the session that she was fearful for the future, because the council has made promises to its constituents and wants to ensure there are no delays on projects.

"I want to make sure that we are an entity that knows what it is doing," Ordaz said. "And that we will get the job done and execute jobs that we told the public we would."

Ordaz continuously asked the mayor for a solution.

The mayor responded by saying certificates of obligation are not the answer to the problem, but putting items on the agenda is. "Bringing it forward right now is not the proper things to do," Leeser said, adding the focus should be on making a commitment to council's budget plans, and that relying on issuing debt means they are failing to stay in budget. 

District 5 Rep. Michael Noe, is also against the mayor's veto. Noe says he's concerned with the city's reputation if they don't complete projects they've promised but still lack funding. "No one likes COs" he said of certificates of obligation, and later he clarified he is more concerned with making false promises.

"Making sure that we fund our budget properly and fund the projects is the proper way we need to approach it," Leeser said.

Leeser said the decisions the council makes won't affect him since he won't be in office, but by issuing certificates of obligation, he believes they are going against the public and have to find an answer for asking for more money without staying within the budget.

Another item in todays meeting was the overview of the city's five-year budget forecast.

Trends shows that the future revenues do not match the expenditures. Each year, the city estimates their budget will increase by about $20 million. By 2022, the city expects its funds to be around $472 million. Big contributors to the increase include public safety, quality of life projects and personnel costs. But for every dollar that is budgeted, more is being spent.

Each year, the city plans to spend around $20 million more than their budget allows, which is a concern for Leeser, since he says the city should not be spending money it does not have. "That's why you have a budget every year and you live within your means," he said. " I am very concerned and I made a commitment to taxpayers when I ran for office and that I would operate the city the best way possible, and with the veto, we don't saddle future council."

 

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