The city has taken the first steps to place a nearly $1 billion bond proposition on the November ballot, the largest in the county’s history.
City officials said the $940 million bond proposal would address needs from the El Paso Fire Department, El Paso Police Department, the Department of Public Health, animal services and streets.
“We have a lot of deferred maintenance,” said Dionne Mack, deputy city manager for public safety and support services.
On Wednesday, El Paso City Council voted unanimously to direct city staff to prepare the bond proposition. The council still has to vote on whether to place the proposal on the November ballot.
The proposal would be the city’s second bond since 2012, when voters approved the $473 million quality of life bond that included projects like Southwest University Park and the still-in-progress Mexican American Cultural Center, children’s museum and Downtown arena.
The El Paso Police Department wants funding for new facilities, a new training academy, renovations to other regional command centers and fleet replacements, according to presentations made to City Council.
The proposal includes constructing a new Eastside regional command center to keep up with the growth in Far East El Paso.
Police also want to create a Downtown regional command center specifically for Downtown and may want to move the Central command center, which was built in 1894, to a “more central” part of the city. The current Central command center is at 200 N. Campbell in Downtown.
The total for recommended projects from the Police Department is $286.6 million over 10 years, according to a City Council presentation.
The El Paso Fire Department has nearly $160 million in capital requests in the proposed bond measure. The department is looking to replace its fleet of emergency and light duty vehicles at a cost of $17.1 million.
The department is also requesting funding to renovate 35 fire stations at a cost of $57.9 million and to revamp the training facility at a cost of $40.3 million.
“Nothing of this magnitude has been invested in public safety in terms of facilities,” said the city’s chief financial officer, Robert Cortinas.
The health department is requesting $63 million to build a new facility and consolidate three other facilities at one location. Right now, the department is on a piece of land that is the future site of the Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine, and it will need to move before 2021.
Health department officials said in a presentation they would need a minimum of 89,284-square-feet of space to house its operations. Officials also want to be able to expand dental, HIV and preventive clinics at the main location.
Officials are also proposing spending $291 million in bond funds on street infrastructure, including rebuilt streets and resurfacing.
The city will have to work on its messaging to inform voters on what’s intended for the bond funds, said Richard Pineda, director of the Sam Donaldson Center for Communication Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso.
“If the city can’t tell an effective story for why the money is needed, they’ll have a hard time getting voters to pass the bond and it would lead to a lot of finger pointing on behalf of elected officials, people running for office and voters who feel like they’re not getting their due services,” Pineda said.
He speculated that large bond measures might become the standard in cities across Texas after state lawmakers approved changes that limit how much entities can raise taxes without triggering elections.
“I think lots of municipalities in the state of Texas are going to have to juggle this political football thanks to the legislature,” Pineda said. “I think you’ll begin to see how effective El Paso is compared to other municipalities based on how they talk about the bond, put it to a vote and see if it gets voted in.”
Cindy Ramos-Davidson, CEO of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the organization sent out a survey to its 1,332 members last week to gauge their views on the bond proposal.
Ramos-Davidson said the chamber had received 119 survey results as of Friday and expects to get about 250 to 400 responses total.
“While many of our businesses understand the bond is not a direct tax, most feel they’ll pay a higher tax in relation to the bond,” Ramos-Davidson said of the responses collected so far.
At least $1.5 billion in bond measures have been approved by voters in El Paso County since 2012 for the city and three school districts.
“At the end of the day, the taxpayer pays for it,” Dionne Mack said. “But what I’m most excited about it is you get to make a choice and get to be very informed about how these things make a difference and what it really means for our community.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Sara Sanchez at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 105.