El Paso Metro

The El Paso Empowerment Zone Board of Directors has postponed their November 15th funding cycle.  This comes as new members join the board including Kathleen Staudt of UTEP.  The changes on the board executive committee and the decision to postpone the November funding cycle has put members of the empowerment zone community on notice that changes should be expected on the emphases that will be placed on funding in the future. It is noteworthy that Carmen Rodriguez, an attorney with very close ties to Mayor Ray Caballero, was elected as vice-chair.  The Empowerment Zone focuses on three major types of funding:

Economic Self-Help:

The goal is to strengthen the business environment such that it leads to full employment in the target area.  Economic opportunity efforts encourage business start-ups and entrepreneurship for those that live in the Zone. Additionally, larger businesses are being recruited to provide employment for residents.  Specific incentives are offered:

Industrial Revenue Bonds– $130 million available, tax-exempt;

Qualified Academy Bonds– Bond money to develop course materials, train teachers and other personnel to increase skill levels of students;

Increased 179 Deduction– permits write-off as an expense of the cost of depreciable, tangible personal property up to $37,500;

Training Programs Funding or Grants– For residents;

The WOTC/Welfare to work Program– Employer tax credit on federal taxes for hiring workers from certain target group residents.

The Environment Clean-Up Cost Deduction– incentives to clean up certain sites contaminated with hazardous substances.

Sustainable Neighborhoods:

The goal is to provide neighborhoods with help to improve the quality of life by providing opportunities for home ownership and financing opportunities.

Human Development:

The goal is to enhance the attitudes and values of residents to their fullest potential, improve conditions daily, and their ability to maintain them.  There are six Community Resource Councils (CRC- Ysleta, West End, South Central, Southside, Workforce Development) that provide access to a variety of health and human services.   However, the current efforts to reprioritize the Empowerment Zone funding may result in defeating the purpose of the program.  The primary goal of the funding is to redevelop depressed neighborhoods through economic empowerment of its residents.  The projects must be in areas designated by the empowerment award and, furthermore, the program calls for leadership from those affected by it – the residents.   New policies that would have the effect of redirecting monies for City projects under the guise of newly-created “not-for-profits” directed by the City will shortchange the residents of the empowerment zones.

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