Despite several requests by property owners to hold the line on taxes, the El Paso County Commissioners Court on Monday approved two tax rates that will cost the average homeowner about $138 more a year in property taxes.
The tax rate increase, which includes a hefty pay raise for the court, is needed to keep up with the growth in the county, said El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego.
“This idea that giving us an increase is the reason for the tax increase is very disingenuous – because it’s a small component of it,” Samaniego said.
Samaniego said the increase will not just fund the court’s pay raises, as that is but a small portion of the budget. The additional funding is needed for the many needs the county is seeing, including addressing streets and stormwater infrastructure that should not be put off for a prolonged period of time.
Along with voting for the county’s tax rate, the commissioners court also approved an increase to the tax rate for the El Paso Hospital District, which includes University Medical Center of El Paso. Commissioner Ilianna Holguin voted against both tax rates, which passed by a 4 to 1 vote.
The county’s new tax rate was set at 45.9 cents and it is expected to cost the average homeowner of a home valued at about $187,000 about $100 more a year. The increase will be used for pay raises for all employees, including the raises for the county commissioners and county judge as well as county services.
UMC’s tax rate was set at 23.6 cents per $100 of property value, a $38 increase per year to average homeowners.
The items to adopt the tax rates drew dozens of people to the meeting, all of whom spoke against the increased tax rates. Most spoke out directly against the pay raises for the county commissioners and county judge.
“I think it’s important to note most El Paso County residents have likely not seen a raise to their income let alone a very generous, handsome 16% raise in recent years,” said El Paso resident Conrad Guevara. “It’s quite honestly – it’s tone deaf.”
The 16% pay raise for the commissioners and county judge also includes a 4.75% wage adjustment received by other county elected officials.
The commissioners salaries will jump from about $114,900 to nearly $133,500 a year. The county judge’s annual salary will increase from $131,500 to more than $152,700.
“I don’t believe a higher salary will bring a higher caliber individual,” said Arturo Huerta, during the public comment in opposition to the pay raises for the county judge and commissioners. “I ask you all to humble yourselves. I ask yourselves to reconsider those votes for higher wages (and) higher salaries.”
The proposed county budget will also fund medical insurance and detention facilities contracts and some capital improvement projects. The county’s general fund budget also pays for programs mandated, but not funded by the state, including jailing state prisoners, public defender salaries and election costs. County officials estimate at least half of the general fund budget pays for the state mandates.
The county adopted the voter approval rate, which is the highest amount the Commissioners Court could approve without going to the voters. The tax rate will generate the revenue needed to fund the county’s general fund of about $454.7 million for the next fiscal year.
Holguin made an attempt to ask commissioners to vote on the no-new-revenue rate for the county’s tax rate, but did not get support from her colleagues.
“We all get together and decide what (and) how we are going to move our county forward. But that’s got to be consistent then with how we vote to make sure we put money towards those efforts,” said County Commissioner Sergio Coronado. “We can’t just vote and say these are our goals, these are our great initiatives and then not fund any of it.”
The county has until mid-September to formally adopt its budget, or make changes before the start of its 2024 fiscal year on Oct. 1.
UMC’s increased tax rate, hospital officials said, will be used for salaries, employee benefits and other operations. The hospital district includes UMC, El Paso Children’s Hospital, outpatient clinics and primary care centers as well as affiliated programs.
The tax rate will fund the hospital district’s $1.4 billion operating budget for the next fiscal year. The operating budget includes the cost of salary and wages, employee benefits, supplies and pharmaceuticals.
The fiscal year’s expenses include merit raises and a minimum wage increase from $14 to $15 per hour for UMC employees, as well as expanding the eighth floor at El Paso Children’s Hospital.