5 p.m. March 29: This story has been updated with comment from Sunrise El Paso.

Adoption of the Climate Charter by city voters this May could increase the city’s tax rate by about a penny and boost the average El Paso homeowner’s property taxes by almost $20 per year, according to City Manager Tommy Gonzalez. 

The Climate Charter is a collection of several wide-ranging policies that would become part of the City Charter if voters in the May 6 city election pass the measure. The policies broadly aim to do things like reduce air pollution in the region, increase solar power generation in El Paso and create a city climate department to track and report local emissions.

The city hired Albuquerque-based consultant Yearout Energy to estimate the potential impact of the Climate Charter on the city’s finances. State law requires “that we have to estimate the anticipated fiscal effect to the municipality if the proposed amendment is approved at the election,” Nicole Alderete-Ferrini, head of the city’s Office of Climate and Sustainability, said in a presentation to City Council on Tuesday. 

In a report published last week, Yearout Energy said the Climate Charter measure would cost the city as much as $155 million between now and 2045 to implement, plus another $4.1 million in annual operating costs over that time, according to the analysis

“That’s roughly a penny on the tax rate – $3.5 million in one penny,” Gonzalez said in a brief interview Tuesday. “There’s a lot of discussions about increasing taxes. That would be at least a penny if that were to pass and those operational costs came to fruition.”

The Sunrise El Paso group, which helped draft the Climate Charter, disputed the city’s estimate on expenditures. The group did not speak at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

“The only required cost within the Climate Charter is hiring a single employee, the climate director. Every other decision will be made by the representatives of the El Paso people, the mayor and City Council,” said Miguel Escoto, a spokesperson for Sunrise El Paso.

“The climate director can find research organizations like UTEP to help with reporting, and list the support of nonprofit organizations as well. The costs cited by the various opponents are intentionally inflated to scare El Paso voters,” he said.

Nicole Alderete-Ferrini, head of the city’s Office of Climate and Sustainability, answers questions from city representatives on the Climate Charter during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. At right is City Manager Tommy Gonzalez. (Diego Mendoza-Moyers/El Paso Matters)

The city said it could not calculate the costs of some elements of the Climate Charter – including one provision that would ostensibly ban the sale of city-owned water to two El Paso Electric power plants – so there’s some uncertainty in the cost estimate. 

The average home valuation in El Paso was $189,709 last year, according to the El Paso Central Appraisal District. Assuming a one-cent increase in the city of El Paso’s property tax rate, the average homeowners’ annual city property taxes would increase from about $1,636 under the current rate to $1,655 – a difference of $19. 

If voters pass the Climate Charter, Gonzalez said there would probably have to be another election for voters to decide whether to approve the sale of around $155 million in general obligation bonds to cover the cost of investments the city would have to make by 2045. Proceeds from a bond sale would be used to pay for, among other things, the installation of solar panels on city buildings to power municipal operations with entirely clean energy, and to pay a consultant to study the idea of converting El Paso Electric from an investor-owned utility to a city-owned-and-operated utility. 

“It would be something that we would have to figure out,” Gonzalez said. “My recommendation would be to put it out for general obligation bonds so that the voters can vote on it.”

As of 2020 – the most recent year with available data – the city of El Paso owed $1.4 billion in general obligation debt, according to the Texas Comptroller. Other major Texas cities, such as Austin and Houston, carry more debt, but El Paso’s general obligation debt per resident was $2,072 that year, far higher than the per capita debt owed by other large Texas cities.

Still, the city’s cost estimate begs the question: What is the price of not marshaling city resources to address climate change impacts in the El Paso region? 

In a globally circulated report issued last week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate scientists said energy consumption from fossil fuels as well as poor land use have led to global warming of 1.1 degrees above pre-industrial levels.The borderland’s average yearly temperatures have trended upward in recent decades, and studies have shown the wide-ranging effects of climate change, such as extending the area’s pollen season.

Bermuda grass, commonly sold as sod in El Paso, also grows wild and produces pollen from April to October. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

“Every increment of warming results in rapidly escalating hazards. More intense heat waves, heavier rainfall and other weather extremes further increase risks for human health and ecosystems,” the IPCC report read. “The pace and scale of what has been done so far, and current plans, are insufficient to tackle climate change.”

District 2 city Rep. Alexsandra Annello echoed those concerns during the meeting Tuesday. 

“These are big numbers. That’s not untrue,” she said of the city’s projected costs. “For those who are going to say, ‘I really disagree with (the Climate Charter)’, my question would be then, ‘When is a reasonable year for you?’ Because I don’t think we have that long.”

Gonzalez said he agreed with Annello. “The longer you wait, the more it’s going to cost,” he told City Council representatives.

Opponents of the Climate Charter, such as El Paso Electric and the El Paso Chamber – which has warned of an economic catastrophe if the charter passes – have argued the charter is well-intentioned but vague in its wording and likely to invite lawsuits. 

They also argue the city is taking action on climate after voters passed a bond proposition last November that allocated $5 million for Alderete-Ferrini’s department to craft a detailed city strategy to address climate change. She has said the climate action plan would likely be completed by April 2025.

The city is hosting several community meetings on the Climate Charter, which will appear on the ballot as Proposition K. The meetings will be held throughout the city, with the last one scheduled for April 20. 

Disclosure: El Paso Electric Co. is financial supporter of El Paso Matters. Financial supporters play no role in El Paso Matters’ journalism.

Diego Mendoza-Moyers is a reporter covering energy and the environment. An El Paso native, he has previously covered business for the San Antonio Express-News and Albany Times Union, and reported for the...