Texas voters, not just El Pasoans, will decide whether local residents get to decide whether to approve bond issues for the development of future parks in unincorporated areas of El Paso County. Currently most new parks in the unincorporated areas are built by the developers, who pass on the costs to homebuyers.

The Nov. 7 general election ballot, which features 14 propositions aimed at amending the Texas Constitution, includes Proposition 11, which pertains solely to El Paso.

“In 2003, the Texas Constitution was amended, allowing conservation and reclamation districts in certain counties across the state to issue bonds to fund developing and maintaining parks and recreation facilities. However, El Paso County was left out of this constitutional amendment,” said state Sen. César Blanco, D-El Paso, who authored the bill asking that Proposition 11 be  added to the Texas Constitution. 

It is not clear why El Paso County was not included in the 2003 amendment. A constitutional amendment  similar to this year’s Proposition 11 failed to pass in the November 2011 general election. That year’s Proposition 7 was rejected by 52% of voters statewide, but it won approval of 53% of El Paso County voters. That election drew only 5% of registered voters statewide, and less than 3% of registered voters in El Paso County.

Right now, most new housing developments built in the unincorporated areas of the county have to include a small park, per a requirement from the El Paso County Commissioners Court, which approves the new subdivisions. Developers build and pay for new parks in subdivisions outside city limits in El Paso County, then pass along the costs of the parks in the price of the home paid by the buyer.

Most new neighborhoods in the unincorporated areas of El Paso County include small neighborhood parks. (Ramon Bracamontes/El Paso Matters)

The maintenance of the parks is paid by residents as part of their water and sewage bill from the local municipal utility district, or MUD, which are also known as conservation and reclamation districts.

“Prop 11 does not require developers to finance the development of future parks. The burden will be on the local conservation and reclamation district and the district’s taxpayers, but only if a reclamation district opts to issue debt and voters approve,” Blanco said.

Proposition 11, if approved, would empower small reclamation, conservation and municipal utility districts to issue bonds to develop parks. 

MUDs are political subdivisions that are authorized by the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality to provide water, sewage, drainage and other utility-related services within the designated boundaries. Most of the MUDs in El Paso County are located just east of the city limits. 

In eastern El Paso County, these MUDs were established by developers to provide sewage and water to the new neighborhoods that are currently not within the El Paso, Horizon or Socorro city limits. At least 18 districts have been established in unincorporated areas of the county in the quickly developing Far East El Paso area around Horizon City, including 10 for Paseo Del Este developments. There are also MUDs for Hunt Communities and Hunt Properties developments, according to city documents.

Most new neighborhoods in the unincorporated areas of El Paso County include small neighborhood parks. (Ramon Bracamontes/El Paso Matters)

The proposition and the authority for reclamation and conservation districts to issue bonds to build parks does not affect El Paso Water customers, and residents living within the El Paso city limits or any other city in the county. Any debt issued in the form of bonds to fund parks and recreational facilities would be levied with property taxes paid by residents within the MUD district.

The constitutional amendment, if approved by voters, would not immediately mean a tax increase for property owners within the districts.

“Only if a reclamation district decides to incur debt for this reason will it require approval through a vote by the district’s voters. If passed, districts will have to repay it like any other debt. The choice for new greenspace will ultimately be up to the voters and taxpayers,” Blanco said.

Only taxpayers who live in a specific reclamation district, or MUD, would get to vote on the bonds and only those same property owners would have to pay the debt. Each MUD has an independent board that gets to decide on issuing bonds. The TCEQ, which is responsible for general supervision and oversight of water districts, reviews the issuance of bonds.

Since voters statewide have a say-so on Proposition 11, a political action committee has been set up to educate voters on the El Paso issue.

Campaign finance reports for the El Paso Parks Coalition, a political action committee  supporting Prop 11, show the PAC was largely funded with two donations from Hunt Communities totaling about $63,000 for a poll and for its website. Hunt Communities is one of the leading developers of the new neighborhoods popping up on the East Side just east of Loop 375 and west of Horizon City.

“Proposition 11 is important to Hunt because the tools used in other Texas counties which  encourage growth, investment, and great neighborhood outcomes should also be available in El Paso. Passing Proposition 11 will enhance parks and open space outcomes, improve quality of life, and make El Paso even more competitive and attractive,” Justin Chapman, president of Hunt Communities, said in an emailed statement to El Paso Matters.

The El Paso Parks Coalition PAC’s website describes how the constitutional change could attract new residents, businesses, create more recreational and conservation projects and more affordable housing options with “desirable park and recreation amenities.”

Voters will see Prop. 11 worded as: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit conservation and reclamation districts in El Paso County to issue bonds supported by ad valorem taxes to fund the development and maintenance of parks and recreational facilities.”

Early voting begins Monday, Oct. 23, and ends Friday, Nov. 3. The general election is Nov. 7.

Disclosure: The Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation is a financial supporter of El Paso Matters. Financial supporters play no role in El Paso Matters’ journalism. The news organization’s policy on editorial independence can be found here.

Elida S. Perez is a senior reporter for El Paso Matters. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities...