The hospital district’s nearly $346 million bond request will be decided by the voters and not by the El Paso County Commissioners Court as a petition asking for a referendum on the matter had enough signatures to stop Monday’s vote.

University Medical Center of El Paso CEO Jacob Cintron said the hospital district will now talk to its board to see what the next step is.

Jacob Cintron

“We will respect the process. I want to assure you all that the things we had asked for in our bond are necessary for us to continue to provide great care for our community and we will continue that fight,” Cintron said during Monday’s meeting.

The Commissioners Court was originally set to vote on UMC’s request on Sept. 12, but that vote was postponed when a petition submitted on Sept. 9 by the LIBRE Initiative had enough signatures to delay the decision. El Paso County Clerk Delia Briones was given until Monday to verify the signatures.

On Monday, Briones told the Commissioners Court that the petition had 32,311 valid signatures, which is more than the 25,164 signatures required to put the matter on the May 3, 2023, ballot – if UMC decides to do so. 

Karla Sierra, the director of the LIBRE Initiative, said the group knocked on 19,000 doors and held community events to collect more than 35,000 signatures.

“El Pasoans are struggling to make ends meet because of inflation and high gas prices, yet our taxing entities and elected officials continue to overspend and force us to incur debt, some debt without voter approval,” she said. “Constituents of El Paso are not a blank check. LIBRE will continue to protect the well-being of the El Paso community.”

The LIBRE Initiative is a national conservative Hispanic advocacy organization with ties to the Koch brothers funding network.

Since June, UMC has been seeking authorization from the Commissioners Court to issue $345.7 million in certificates of obligation – debt that doesn’t require voter approval – for projects such as an intensive care unit, nine additional operating rooms, a new Central El Paso clinic, a burn treatment center, a 26-bed expansion of El Paso Children’s Hospital and a new cancer treatment center.

UMC officials presented the plan for the first time in June, but the Commissioners Court at that point had reservations about final approval because of the short notice and lack of public participation.

Commissioners Court at the time voted 3-2 to start the process for issuing the debt, but asked UMC to begin informing the public ahead of the final vote scheduled for Sept. 12. County Judge Ricardo Samaniego and Commissioners Carlos Leon and Carl Robinson voted in favor, while David Stout and Iliana Holguin voted against.

UMC officials have said the repayment of the bond issue would add about 5.7 cents per $100 of property valuation to the hospital’s tax rate between 2023 and 2033. For the average value home in El Paso, now at $168,000, that would add $96 a year to the hospital’s portion of the tax bill.

From 2034 to 2045, that increase would drop to 2.9 cents per $100 of valuation, reducing the increase to about $49.

Ramon Bracamontes

Ramon Bracamontes is editor of El Paso Matters.