It’s time to cut back

April 15, 2020

Here’s what city staff is telling us they are predicting the budget effect of COVID-19 will be:

The are expecting a revenue shortfall of over $26 million.

These are preliminary numbers.  Many of us would expect that number to get worse.

Employee expense is far and away the largest portion of the city budget.

It is time for layoffs.

We deserve better

Brutus

 


Another burden

April 14, 2020

It’s time to pay the piper.

We were told that our ballpark would be paid for with hotel occupancy taxes.  The city raised our hotel occupancy tax to the highest in the state to make that possible.

The state legislature reacted by putting a cap on how much a city can charge–they set the maximum rate at El Paso’s.

As a result the city cannot raise the rate.

When hotel occupancy taxes are not sufficient to pay the debt payments on the ballpark the money has to be taken from the city’s general fund.

Take a look at this:

Don’t expect travelers on Interstate 10 to stop in El Paso when they can go to another city where they will pay less.

Sales tax revenue, franchise tax revenue, property tax revenue–actually all revenue sources for the city are expected to drop as a result of the current COVID situation.

The ballpark will become a larger expense to the general fund at the same time that revenues are dropping.

In Over our navels in debt  we pointed out that 57% of our property taxes in 2019 were used to pay for debt.

We need to stop building luxuries until we get our financing in order.

We deserve better

Brutus


Why not pay police and fire fairly?

April 13, 2020

This is another bad idea in my opinion:

Note that they want to remove the cap, not the bottom.

Our fire and police employees deserve to be paid fairly.  Avoiding fair payment and pushing it down the road into pension plans is a bad idea–one that costs money.

We deserve better

Brutus


Why not standardize?

April 12, 2020

The city is about to sign a contract with an out of town architecture firm to design one of our new fire stations.

The initial contract will be for over $540 thousand dollars.

Why do we need to spend so much money designing a new fire station?  Don’t we have others that have recently been built?

State law does require that an architect be used on such buildings but couldn’t we have them start with plans from one we already have built?

The school districts are doing the same thing.  Why does each new school have to be of a different design from previous ones?

The city manager tells us that he is teaching city staff how to be less inefficient.  Isn’t this inefficient?

Couldn’t we save some money here?

We deserve better

Brutus


City blackout

April 9, 2020

This came in from Max Grossman:

Dear Friends and Media:
Yesterday evening Aaron Montes of the El Paso Times alerted the public on his Facebook newsfeed that the City Attorney’s Office, which claims to be operating with a “skeleton crew,” has ceased to process open records requests! I just couldn’t believe it, so I visited the City’s Public Information Center webpage; and when I tried to file my own open records request, sure enough, this notification appeared in bold red type:
In light of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), as of March 16, 2020, the City Attorney’s Office will be operating with a skeleton crew. Under the Texas Public Information Act, skeleton crew days are not considered business days when calculating deadlines under the Act. Any public information requests submitted during this time will be deemed received once the City Attorney’s Office resumes normal scheduling. The City Attorney’s Office is currently scheduled for skeleton crew days through April 17, 2020. Notice of changes to this date will be posted on this website, and notification will be sent on any open requests.
 
Mr. Montes, whose job it is to report on City issues for the El Paso Times, notes: “In plain language: open records requests won’t begin to be processed until the attorney’s office says they are on normal operating hours. So, until that happens, if you request public documents or public information from the city, you may not see it until that happens.”
It is hard to imagine a more blatant violation of the Texas Public Information Act, which states under Texas Government Code § 552.221(a): “An officer for public information of a governmental body shall promptly produce public information for inspection, duplication, or both on application by any person to the officer. In this subsection, “promptly” means as soon as possible under the circumstances, that is, within a reasonable time, without delay.” Apparently the City is loosely interpreting the definition of “promptly.”
According to page 238 of the City of El Paso FY 2020 Budget Book, the Office of the City Attorney will cost the taxpayers $4,400,030 this fiscal year, including $2,557,363 for salaries and wages and $750,793 for employee benefits. On page 242 we learn that there are 42 staff in that office, including 16 individuals who hold the title “Assistant City Attorney” and 7 paralegals. In 2019, City Attorney Attorney Karla Nieman earned $253,750, just a hair less than a US Supreme Court Justice.
In spite of all this legal muscle and taxpayer expenditure, major litigation is outsourced to outside firms, including in San Antonio and Dallas, at an average cost of at least $1 million per year.
And evidently our City attorneys and their staff have made open records requests a low priority at time when government has assumed sweeping powers and transparency has never been more critical. Our media and the general public must have access to City records, even under these circumstances, and someone in that “skeleton crew” should be processing all ORRs promptly.
El Pasoans deserve better.
Max

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