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City proposes funding libraries, parks and other quality of life services below pre-pandemic levels

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While the El Paso City Council moves forward with discussions ahead of adopting next year’s proposed $473 million budget, it’s clear some departments will see funding increases above 2020’s pre-pandemic levels while others will fall short.

The city’s first official budget workshop June 6 gave the mayor and council a more detailed idea of how city staff are proposing to allocate a $33 million budget increase compared to the current spending cycle. The city’s budget year runs from September through August.

The budget proposal keep’s last year’s tax rate, which will trigger huge property tax increases for many El Pasoans after a spike in home valuations during the pandemic. 

Staff presented the budget with the city’s eight strategic goals that include spending on economic development, public safety, visual image, quality of life, information technology/communication, sound governance, infrastructure and community health.

City departments that saw budget increases over pre-pandemic levels from 2020 include police, fire, municipal courts, economic development, museums and cultural affairs, offices of the city attorney and city manager, mayor and council, purchasing and strategic sourcing, human resources and the zoo.

But as more services reopen, some departments are not being funded to the pre-pandemic levels of fiscal year 2020.

West Side city Rep. Peter Svarzbein said he is concerned that those departments won’t be fully funded and wants more details.

Departments that did not see funds restored to pre-pandemic levels include capital improvements, streets and maintenance, community and human development, public health, planning and inspections, libraries, parks and recreation and animal services.

City crews work Monday on repairs at the intersection of Fort Boulevard and Copia Street. (Julián Aguilar/El Paso Matters)

“I understand it looks like an increase from our 2021 (fiscal) year, but I think we can all accept that 2021 was an anomaly in terms of our funding,” Svarzbein said during the budget workshop last week. “I would really want to understand where we are with those decreases.”

Chief Financial Officer Robert Cortinas said the decreases are based on the city’s plans to  continue to phase in services and not fund some vacant positions for several departments.

“(We’re) looking again at prioritizing phasing things back while at the same time working tightly to ensure that we’re maintaining that overall tax rate,” Cortinas said.

By the numbers

The budget for public safety, which includes the police and fire departments, was about $270 million in 2020 and $277 for the current 2021 fiscal year. The 2022 proposal is about $291 million. 

The budget for economic development was about  $1.9 million in 2020 and  about $1.8 million for the current 2021 fiscal year. The city is proposing $1.96 million for 2022.

The budget for visual image, which includes planning and inspections, was funded at about $7.7 million in 2020 and $7.3 million in 2021. The proposed 2022 budget is about  $6.9 million.

The quality of life budget, which includes libraries, museums and parks, was $55 million in 2020 and $43 million in 2021.  About $53 million has been proposed for 2022.

The budget for information technology/communication was about $19.8 million in 2020. Current funding for 2021 is about $19 million. About $21 million is being proposed for 2022.

The budget for sound governance, which includes human resources, city clerks and the offices of the city attorney and city manager, was $44 million in 2020. Current funding for 2021 is about $45 million and the city is proposing about $42 million for 2022.

Infrastructure, which includes streets and maintenance and capital improvements, was funded at about $50 million in 2020. Current funding for 2021 is about $42 million and the city has proposed about $49.5 million for 2022.

Community health, which includes public health and community and human development, was funded at $8 million in 2020. Current funding for 2021 is about $7.5 million. The city is proposing about $7.7 million for 2022.

The budget process will continue through the end of August when the city will adopt the budget and tax rate.

The city is tentatively scheduled to receive the certified tax roll from Central Appraisal District July 25. On July 29 the city will present the certified tax roll and ordinance introducing tax rate. A public hearing on the tax rate will be held Aug. 10 and the council will adopt the budget and tax rate on Aug. 24.

Cover photo: Families cool down at Camp Cohen in Northeast El Paso on June 1. It’s one of three city-funded water parks that opened in June. (Andrea Valdez-Rivas/KTEP)

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Elida S. Perez

Elida S. Perez is a longtime community and investigative reporter. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities reporter with the Salem, Oregon, Statesman Journal.

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