Death and Taxes in El Paso

Guest column for the El Paso Times Sunday issue.

Death and Taxes in El Paso  © Jud Burgess

Death by a thousand cuts.

That is what the average El Pasoan faces living here on the Southwest border.

I’m talking about relentless taxation.

We are among the highest taxed citizens in America when you consider the amount of property taxes we pay in respect to the average income per person which sits at $20,000, a full $8,500 less than the average Texan.

“The average homeowner in El Paso county pays $2,336 annually in property taxes, only slightly higher than the U.S. average. However, the average home value in El Paso County is significantly lower than the U.S. average, which means county residents in fact pay higher property tax rates than most Americans.”

El Paso County has one of the highest median property taxes in the United States. The average yearly property tax paid by El Paso County residents amounts to about 4.52% of their yearly income . El Paso County is ranked 134th of the 3143 counties for property taxes as a percentage of median income. (Top 4%)

Remember Mayor Margo’s campaign promise to “hold the line on taxes”? Now that he’s in office it has changed to ‘hold your breath, here come the taxes’.

He is currently talking about issuing $62,400,000 in additional taxes via Certificates of Obligation (COs) to cover a 2018 budget shortfall, several underfunded 2012 Quality of Life bond projects, street paving, restrooms in San Jacinto Plaza and other items.

To our detriment, most El Pasoans haven’t a clue as to what COs are.

COs were originally designed to be used only in emergency situations such as floods and earthquakes when access to money was required immediately. Today’s city governments use them as a financial gimmick to issue tens of millions of dollars in additional taxes to their citizens because they are not required to get public input or approval.

Simply put, mayors and city councils exploit them to get us on the hook for major tax increases WITHOUT OUR PERMISSION.

COs have been regularly abused by city governments throughout Texas, with El Paso—where we have egregiously racked up over half a billion dollars in CO debt over the years—being in the top three. This doesn’t include the $62,400,000 they are currently trying to wrap around our necks if we sit back and complacently allow it.

Former mayor Oscar Leeser understood the fiscal irresponsibility of this when he vetoed city reps Michiel Noe and Claudia Ordaz’s attempt to set us up for $44,000,000 in CO debt a few months ago. City council members back then had the good sense to side with Leeser and voted against this cheap tactic to fund projects.

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City government shrewdly tells us the 62 million in COs will only add $50 to the average El Pasoan’s yearly tax bill.

What they don’t mention is it that it will be in addition to EPISD’s average $250 property tax increase to cover the record-setting bond, skyrocketing EP Electric rate increases among other utility hikes, and the $180 million dollar arena which will more than likely double in price and cost millions to operate.

Our current city representatives must show political and moral backbone and resist the pressure to issue these Certificates of Obligation as an easy fix to funding projects and shortfalls.

If they cave, it all adds up to suffocating financial hardship, especially for tens of thousands of citizens who live on fixed incomes already under threat by a Trump administration looking to make further cuts in social programs.

And nothing hurts worse than a slow death by a thousand cuts inflicted by our own public servants.

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