The El Paso City Council on Tuesday approved two key items that will have an impact on El Pasoans.
These include the new voting boundaries for city representatives that will stay in place for the next decade, and an item to have the city manager develop a budget with a lower tax rate.
New voting boundaries
The council voted 5-3 to approve City Council Draft 7B as the new voting boundaries for the eight representative districts.
City Reps. Alexsandra Annello, Joe Molinar, Claudia Rodriguez, Henry Rivera and Cissy Lizarraga voted in favor of the map. City Reps. Peter Svarzbein, Cassandra Hernandez and Isabel Salcido voted against it.
The move to approve the map came after a last-ditch attempt by Lizarraga to make adjustments to the draft version that council finalized at its Monday work session, during which she was absent. Her motion to move precincts in Central El Paso failed.
“I’m pleased with the map the way it came out,” said Sylvia Carreon, a member of the Mission Valley Civic Association who attended all of the Districting Commission and City Council meetings regarding the maps.
The council’s citizens-led Districting Commission started meeting in September to create a map that the council would approve. Ultimately, the council made significant changes to Commissioner Draft 7, which was submitted by commission member Bob Burns, who was appointed by Mayor Oscar Leeser.
Key changes to City Council districts
District 1, currently represented by Svarzbein, no longer extends into the University of Texas at El Paso, Kern Place and Sunset Heights neighborhoods. Those areas are now in District 8. District 1 now includes the Willows and most of the Upper Valley, which were previously in District 8.
District 2, currently represented by Annello, still includes most of the Austin High School and lower Dyer Street areas. However, it now extends from that area south to Ascarate Park, Delta and the Jefferson High School area. Those were previously in District 8. The airport area is no longer in District 2, which is more vertical than before.
District 3, currently represented by Hernandez, now includes the airport and surrounding area, and parts of the Eastwood High School area. The Eastwood area was mostly in District 7 previously.
District 4, currently represented by Molinar, did not change much. The district lost some neighborhoods near Magnetic Street and the former Beaumont hospital area. Those areas are now in District 2.
District 5, currently represented by Salcido, is now more compact and limited to the El Dorado-Pebble Hills high school areas. District 5 no longer goes west of Loop 375.
District 6, currently represented by Rodriguez, is now vertical, stretching from Americas High School to the Montwood High School area and up to Montana Avenue. District 6 no longer represents the area around Del Valle High School. That area is now in District 7.
District 7, currently represented by Rivera, was changed the most. It now stretches from the Eastwood-Burges area to the Ysleta-Del Valle area, including the Ysleta Del Sur del Pueblo area — some areas which were previously in District 6.
District 8, currently represented by Lizarraga, no longer stretches from the Upper Valley to the University Medical Center area. The Upper Valley is now mostly in District 1. However, the UTEP area, along with Kern Place, Sunset Heights, Mission Hills and Mesa Hills areas are now in District 8.
Residents can look up which district they live in here.
The changes take effect immediately and will be the basis of the upcoming November city elections, when the District 1, 5, 6 and 8 seats will be up for election.
Cities in Texas must adopt new political boundaries prior to the candidate filing deadline established by the Elections Code — July 23, 2022. Council decided to adopt the map this month to account for the 6-month residency requirement listed in the City Charter for candidates running to be city representatives.
The council voted unanimously to approve an item asking the city manager to develop a budget for the next fiscal year that includes a decrease in the overall property tax rate. Because of sharply higher property valuations, state law requires a steep cut in the property tax rate unless the city decided to seek voter approval.
City Manager Tommy Gonzalez said he would return to council with various budget options that will not impact city services.
“This is clear; we understand the assignment and we will come back with different options,” Gonzalez said of the upcoming budget cycle.
Council must adopt the city’s 2023 fiscal year budget by the end of August.
The city has repeatedly passed tax increases in recent years, though City Council members and staff will often say they didn’t raise tax rates the past two years. However, state law says the amount of a tax increase or decrease is based on a combination of rates and property valuation, not the rate alone. Las year, most El Paso home owners saw an increase in tax bills because of tax rates set by local governments after property valuations rose.
State law will protect most homeowners from large increases in their property tax bill, but rental properties — and renters — don’t have protections and could be facing tax increases of 20% or more, an El Paso Matters analysis showed.
The city is asking for feedback from El Pasoans through its Chime In! budget priority survey. The survey can be found on the banner on the city’s website and will be available through May 31.