By Jaime O. Perez, El Paso Metro

Arturo Huerta, President of the El Paso Community College (EPCC) Board of Trustees, announced that EPCC will probably go along with the Tax Increment Finance Districts (TIFs). The Board met with Mayor Ray Caballero on Thursday the 24th at the Valle Verde campus. The El Paso Times reported that the Board supported the TIF that would provide financial support for the Border Health Institute, described by the Times as a “unified medical campus,” but had reservations about the TIF that would support downtown redevelopment.  According to the Times report, Huerta wanted to ensure equal representation on the TIF boards and supported both TIFs.  More talks are scheduled regarding the second TIF that would support Downtown redevelopment.

The Mayor explained that the TIF districts were created to spur economic development, which would increase the tax base, improve the quality of life in El Paso and lessen the burden on taxpayers in yet another example of superb political double-speak.  The Times quoted Huerta as saying that he believed that as an equal partner (both EPCC and the City) could develop the vision.”

The TIF board has 10 members appointed by the city and one member appointed by each of the other taxing entities affected by the districts but EPCC Trustees wanted equal representation and a mechanism of accountability for the expenditure of tax dollars.

The Real Story

However, sources close to the behind-the-scenes negotiation reveal a story completely different from the one proffered by the El Paso Times spin machine.  The mood of the EPCC Trustees was unhappy and despondent.  Two trustees opposed both TIFs outright but the entire Board felt they had no choice but to go along with the proposed TIFs.  But, a decision was made to put the best face on it.

A third Trustee, who agreed to talk to on condition of anonymity, said “we had no choice but to go along with this pie-in-the-sky vision thing.  Our backs were to the wall.  EPCC has challenged a TIF previously and lost in court.   State legislation regarding the creation of TIF Districts does not allow the College to opt out.  We will ultimately support the second TIF also because we have no recourse.  We could sink billions into downtown and accomplish nothing and, of course, we realize that there is no such thing as a ‘unified medical campus’ but we are going along with the sham because we do not want to appear divisive or be accused of not supporting the goal of creating a Border Health Institute.”   A fourth Trustee, who also agreed to talk to on condition of anonymity said, “Senator Shapleigh assured us that he would pass legislation that would allow us to opt out of the TIFs in the future as a means of persuading us to go along.  Based on his assurance, we decided to refrain from filing a lawsuit that EPCC would probably lose anyway.  Also, we are being assured that the land values around the TIF will be going up and that this will make up for lost revenues.  The bottom line is that if this doesn’t work we will be forced to raise taxes even more but we can’t find a way to opt out.”

When pointed out the strong alliance existing between Senator Shapleigh and Mayor Caballero the third and fourth Trustees responded that, “we have no recourse.  We have chosen to believe Shapleigh because we have no choice.  The good news is that we are not going to be hurt as badly as EPISD (El Paso Independent School District).”

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