The El Paso City Council on Tuesday directed the city manager to reduce the proposed property tax rate which, if left intact, could increase the average city tax bill by 14%.

Citing a need to help the community cope with rising grocery and fuel prices, the council unanimously approved the request, which was put on the agenda by city Reps. Claudia Rodriguez, Henry Rivera, Isabel Salcido and Cassandra Hernandez. City Rep. Joe Molinar was not at the meeting.

“I think that we can look for more savings as we continue to do this budget session,” Salcido said.

The city’s proposed tax rate of 90 cents per $100 in property valuation is three-fourths of a penny lower than the current rate, but thousands of homeowners will still see an increase in the city’s portion of their tax bills because the proposed tax rate does not offset the increase in property values.

“It’s balancing, providing relief to the homeowners (and) at same time it’s showing that we’re not being irresponsible and not investing in things that need to be invested in,” said Chief Financial Officer Robert Cortinas in an interview with El Paso Matters.

The proposed tax rate will fund the city’s total preliminary budget of about $1.2 billion — a 9% increase over last year. That includes $21.4 million more in revenue collected from property owners over last year.

Cortinas said they are looking at all options to reduce the proposed tax rate, but will not have more firm proposals until the El Paso County Central Appraisal District releases certified property values on July 25.

That will help guide the recommendations staff presents to the City Council during the Aug. 1 meeting, when the proposed tax rate will be officially introduced. A public hearing will be held on Aug. 16 before the budget and tax rate are adopted Aug. 23.

Cortinas said recent revenue projections for sales taxes and franchise payments are performing better than initially anticipated, which could make up for a lower tax rate. He said the city can also delay issuing bonds.

At Tuesday’s meeting, city representatives emphasized that the city has not raised its tax rate the past three years — a claim that misleads the public because it doesn’t translate into lower property tax bills.

“Everybody’s seeing the results of their taxes increasing due to the valuations of their properties,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said the lower rate is needed because the community is coping with rising inflation, grocery and fuel costs. She wants the city to find ways to ease the burden.

The city has raised significantly more property tax revenue in recent years because it has not reduced rates to offset increasing property valuations — which is considered a tax increase despite adopting an equal or lower tax rate.

That’s resulted in a 20% increase in the city property tax bill on an average-value home between 2019 and 2021. The city’s proposed tax rate would mean the city tax bill on an average-value home would increase another 14% in 2023.

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...