Money from bond election is not yet being spent
By Joe Olvera ©, 2013
With almost $500 million jingling in city leaders’ pockets, they are smacking their lips in anticipation and rejoicing over how best to spend the money to improve El Paso. On Nov. 6, 2012, election-day voters opted to approve the sale of $475 million in general obligation bonds by a big majority of 70 percent for and only 30 percent against. Voters came out in droves due to its being a presidential election year, plus the contentious bond election which also played a part in the big voter turnout. El Paso should be much better and brighter in a few more years…oh, give it anywhere from five to ten years.
Voters approved $245 million for parks, recreation, open space and zoo improvements. This would also include soccer and sports fields, an aquatic center and new and improved community and senior centers. Voters also approved $228 million to build or improve museums, cultural centers, performing arts and library facilities. This will include a new children’s museum, a cultural heritage center and an interactive digital wall.
Well, the money’s there, but, it hasn’t yet been allocated. The looming projects can’t all be done at once, city leaders say. There has to be great design, great location, good participation and good stockholders. District 2 City Rep. Susie Byrd, said none of the money has been spent. “We haven’t spent any of the bond proceeds from Proposition 1 and 2,” she said. “We have authorized the first three years of projects and work is already beginning now on those, but we won’t spend money on them until we bid the work or buy land. On Proposition 3, I don’t know that we have used any of the funds authorized by the Hotel Occupancy tax rate yet, but, we have hired architect, engineer, the construction company and have started to work on relocation.”
Proposition 3 turned out to be the most contentious of the complex issues because it required the demolition of City Hall to build the multi-million dollar stadium in its stead. This caused a lot of heartache and confusion to El Pasoans who were not opposed to building the stadium, but, were opposed to destroying city hall and moving city services to other locations. A back and forth court battle finally resulted in officials approving the tearing down of city hall and the stadium being built there. Opponents fought what they considered the unnecessary destruction of the 30-year old building, still in what many considered good repair. Proponents, however, insisted that building the new baseball stadium to house a Triple-A baseball team – once removed from the major leagues – will do much to revitalize downtown and to attract people to the downtown area, where new hotels, restaurants, and other amenities will also be built.
The stadium itself is on a fast track to completion, but, the other projects will take much longer; in some cases up to 12 years. Some improvements will be in place more quickly, such as improvements to the zoo, libraries, existing museums and the Fox Plaza. Other projects, like the soccer stadium, aquatic center, children’s museum and a multi-purpose entertainment center will take longer. The city is currently looking at possible sites and buying land. The next major step for city council will be to accept the bond passed by voters, and approve the Hotel Occupancy Tax rate at 2 percent, up from one percent. Citizens must also be approached to join oversight committees to ensure that the work goes according to plan. So, hang in there, El Pasoans, big changes are coming – and, for the better.