Taxes already raised, county discovers huge savings for IT project

Estimates proven wrong for county

EL PASO, Texas - Typically, being under budget is a good thing. However, in the case of a recently discovered over budgeted project in El Paso County, there will be no tax relief.

The over budgeted project was part of the $110 million certificates of obligation passed September 2012. The move raised taxes in the county.

With taxes already raised for the bond issuance, money can't be returned. The leftover money from the ERP (Enterprise resource planning) software purchase, estimated to be around $4 million, would be transferred to other projects.

The IT project was meant to purchase new software for the county auditor's office. It hadn't been updated since 1986, according to County Judge Veronica Escobar.

While upgrades were needed, Escobar has her own questions about how estimates were so far off.

"Sometimes they come in a bit over, a little under, you do your best to estimate because without going out to bid, it's a bit of a guessing game," said Escobar.

Construction costs are often the hardest to estimate.

"On something like software, I don't know why it came in that way," said Escobar.

Commissioner Vince Perez said after six months on the job he has had questions on several budget items.

In addition to the over budgeted IT project, the El Paso County sheriff has brought a project forward that is more than $5.8 million above the budgeted price. Sheriff Richard Wiles is asking for $10.3 million. The project was slated for $4.5 million as part of the 2012 certificates of obligation.

This week Perez brought concerns forward. The Sheriff has been unwilling to bring any alternatives forward.  Perez believes that in cases where a multi-million dollar shortfall occurs, the county should be prepared with a list of alternative projects list to fund.

The misjudged budget items have brought forward other questions. Perez has made statements implying that a county assistant position should be created in the county. The position would be moved from the county judge's office to investigate items highlighted by commissioners.

In the past, there has been a pushback against such a position. The argument against such a move has been tied to concerns that such a position would be similar to the current city manager for El Paso. Commissioners have not always agreed whether a position of that type is needed; Commissioner Perez believes it would only reinforce commissioners.

"I personally believe in order for the court to be more engaged, they need more tools to do so," said Perez.

He has also questioned why the budget department for the county doesn't answer to county commissioners. Instead, they answer to the auditor's office the department that is supposed to audit the moves made by county leaders.

A move for a change may be on the horizon. Whether it passes remains to be seen. However, it is assumed questions surrounding how estimates tied to tax increases could be so grossly miscalculated will be discussed during the upcoming Monday meeting. 

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