On Monday, El Paso County Commissioners approved the highest tax rate they could without having to get approval from the voters. In a four-to-one vote, with Precinct 3 Commissioners Iliana Holguin voting against the measure, commissioners approved a 0.488 cent per $100 tax valuation increase. This increase is about $100 more a year that county taxpayers will be pay annually in their taxes. About twenty-five taxpayers voiced their opposition to the commissioners raising taxes.

Most of the opposition to the tax increase centered on the 16% salary increase the commissioners voted for themselves. The pay increase equates to $133,500 for each commissioner, an increase of $18,600 for each. Ricardo Samaniego’s salary will increase to $152,700 from $114,900. An increase of $19,200. The average annual salary in El Paso is around $52,000 according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. County commissioners and the county judge will be paid more than double the average El Paso salary.

El Paso taxpayer Kelsey Santo called the pay raise “ludicrous,” according to KFOX News.

In defending the tax increase, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, who has said he will not seek re-election in 2026, said that “if there’s anyone here or any of the commissioners that are opposed” to the salary increase, should “donate the money back.” The only individual with the authority to vote no on the salary increase and who opposed it was Iliana Holguin. This suggests that Samaniego’s comment, as reported by KFOX, was directed towards Holguin.

Yesterday, we asked Samaniego if his comment was directed at Holguin. As of press time, Samaniego has not responded to our request for comment.

We also asked Holguin what she had to say about Samaniego’s insinuation that she donates her salary to the county. Holguin wrote, “by the judge suggesting that I am free to just give it back, he misses the entire point of why people are so angry.” She added, “people are angry because not only did the other members of the Court vote to give us a 16% increase, but they also voted to adopt the highest tax rate allowable by law, even though so many in our community are struggling financially.”

Holguin continued that “the question shouldn’t be whether I can decline the raise, but rather whether we all will acknowledge the public’s rightful outrage and all of us decline the raise.” Holguin added that “telling me that I can simply donate the raise back to the county does nothing to alleviate the higher taxes that will now be paid by the residents of El Paso and frankly does nothing but let the rest of the Commissioners Court off the hook for voting to increase their salaries and raise taxes in the first place.”

Holguin concluded, “since taking office in 2021, I have voted against salary increases for the Commissioners Court during every budget cycle…the same is true this year: I do not believe that the Court should receive an increase and so voted against it. Making that request of me is simply a way to deflect from the real issue, which is this Court’s unwillingness to make the difficult decisions of how to delay certain initiatives in order to not pass the burden to the taxpayers by simply raising taxes.”

Stout Defends Pay Raise

Commissioner David Stout also defended his decision to vote for his own salary increase in a Facebook post. In defending his vote in favor of the tax rate increase Stout voted for, he wrote that “it is not sustainable” for the county “to continue without increasing revenue.” Stout was referring to the taxes paid for by county taxpayers as the source of revenues he argued were needed for sustainability. Stout went on to argue that the county has “no control” over “the elevated cost of doing business,” singling out costs such as “utilities, materials, labor,” adding that “everything costs more.” Stout, in defending the need to raise taxes, outlines the same cost increases the county taxpayers are experiencing today.

However, unlike the county, the taxpayers cannot vote to give themselves a pay raise.

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In his Facebook post, Stout defended the pay raise he voted for himself by arguing that Commissioners Court “created a policy in 2016 to make sure that EVERY county employee receives a market value salary, whether you are an attorney or a janitor, a clerk or an IT specialist.” Stout added that “the policy has been applied for employees and all elected official in the County.” However, unlike the county employees who cannot vote for their own pay increases, county employees are employees and not elected officials like Stout is. Equating the two ignores the fact that elected officials are elected to serve their constituency and not work for the county.

In essence, Stout has argued that he is an employee of the voters but has effectively taken the voters out of the vote to give raises to those they elect. As Johnathan Gulliman expressed on Stout’s Facebook post, “pay raises should have been a separate issues [sic].” Gulliman added on his comment that by attaching the pay raise issue with the tax rate to provide other services, the voters were not “allowed to decide if the Court actually deserves a raise based on performance.” Ju Teixeira commented that Stout’s defense of his vote was “shameless and the epitome of why people are disgusted with politicians.”

Stout ended his post by again reiterating that he considers himself an employee of the county instead of an elected official. Stout wrote that the salary increase he voted for himself was to address “the deferred cost of living adjustments we neglected to provide ALL employees.”

The 2016 policy Stout refers to in his Facebook post was commissioned by the county commissioners. The report by Public Sector Personnel Consultants outlining that “El Paso County elected officials’ salaries are significantly below” other counties. The commissioners had tasked the consulting agency to produce a countywide salary analysis comparing El Paso’s salaries to 10 other counties. The report outlined that El Paso’s elected officials were being paid five percent below the other counties. However, the five percent figure did not account for the cost of living, which averaged about 13% higher in the counties surveyed than in El Paso.

At the time, county commissioners in El Paso were receiving an annual salary of $62,681. The county judge at the time, Veronica Escobar, was being paid $87,578. David Stout, responding to the salary presentation told the El Paso Times on August 4, 2016 that he believes that El Paso’s county commissioners salaries were low “because it’s not easy for members of the Commissioners Court to make a decision about their own salaries.” Stout added that “obviously, people may think that if you’re voting to raise your own salary that’s being self-serving and you’re doing it for your own benefit.”

Stout concluded that El Paso “is not a tax-rich community, but at the same time,” he believed “that providing higher salaries to elected officials will attract a more educated and prepared” elected official.

During the 2016 vote to give themselves a pay raise, three members of the County Commissioners voted against the pay raise. Then County Judge Veronia Escobar told the El Paso Times that she “could not vote for salary increase for herself.” The other two votes against the pay raises were cast by then-commissioners Carlos Leon and Andrew Haggerty. Leon told the newspaper that the reason he voted against his pay raise was because “he was in a different position than the rest of the” commissioners because he was running for re-election in the November 2016 general election.

However, Leon was running unopposed at the time. It should also be noted that Leon is receiving a taxpayer-funded pension from the El Paso Police Department.

Unlike this week’s vote for increasing the salaries of the county commissioners, the vote in 2016 was separate from the budget vote. Escobar voted to give the raise to the county commissioners which was voted on separately from the county judge’s vote to raise her own salary. Although Escobar voted against raising her salary, the commissioners voted to give her the raise.

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In 2016, Stout voted on his salary increase on an agenda item that was separate from the budget vote. Stout told the newspaper in 2016 that voting on his pay increase “was not easy and was not done arbitrarily,” referring to the study they commissioned. However, the study did not account for El Paso’s significantly lower cost of living compared to the other communities sampled.

“I think it was a tough decision, but I was elected to be in this position to do what is right and to make the county a better place,” Stout told the newspaper in 2016. He added that “I think that raising these salaries will make the county a better place because we can attract talent, professionals that might not ever entertain running for office in the past because of the pay disparity.”

This week, Stout was arguing that he was an employee rather than an elected official. However, even as an elected official, Stout could have had a third independent party evaluate his pay without voting for it. Stout neglected to point out that he has the option to file a grievance instead of voting to give himself a pay increase. Miguel Terán availed himself of this option in 2001.

Miguel Terán Asks For And Receives Pay Raise By Third Party Pool

In 2001, the county commissioners voted to give themselves a 5.6% salary increase. The new salaries, which would go into effect in October 2001, gave then-county judge Dolores Briones an annual salary of $59,572 and county commissioners a salary of $42,077. However, then-county commissioner Miguel Terán’s new salary was $46,285. The reason his salary was higher than those voted by the commissioners was because he had filed a grievance the year before arguing “that county commissioners in El Paso were being paid much less than those in other cities of similar size” in Texas, according to his prepared grievance. This is the same argument Stout and others have made.

Terán argued that being county commissioner was “a part-time job for other commissioners but not for” him. Terán wrote that being a county commissioner was a “full-time job.” Elected officials are allowed to file a grievance where a grand jury pool reviews the petition in a public hearing. Terán’s salary, along with other commissioners, had been cut in the 2000 budget process because of a budget shortfall. The jury ruled on the grievance a raise for Terán. Terán was the only commissioners to file a grievance asking for a review of his salary by a third party.

Three years later, then-county commissioners voted again to give themselves a pay raise. After the 2004 vote, county commissioners’ pay increased to $43,332 from $41,446 and Briones’ salary to $61,348 from $58,678. In addition to the salary increases, the county commissioners also received a $5,800 annual car allowance. Terán’s salary, because of his grievance, increased to $47,665 from $45,591.

Terán told the newspaper in 2004 that the salary raises were “fair,” asking if voters wanted a “government by retires,” or a “government by wealthy people?”

The State Used To Set County Commissioners Pay

According to an El Paso Herald Post article on May 27, 1933, the salaries of county commissioners were set by the state senate. In 1934, the salary for an El Paso County Commissioner was set to $1,920 annually, down from the 1933 salary of $2,400. The El Paso state senator at the time, Kenneth Mills Regan, a Democrat, voted against the measure to lower the commissioners’ salaries in 1934. By 1958, county commissioners in El Paso were being paid $200 a month, after the state legislature voted to reduce commissioners’ salaries by $40 a month. It is not known when the power to set county commissioners salaries transitioned away from the state legislature but a newspaper report in 1998 shows that county commissioners were setting their own salaries by then. The 1998 vote also demonstrates that El Paso taxpayers were averse to raising the salaries of the commissioners, leading the commissioners to look for creative ways to keep public scrutiny away from their votes to give themselves a raise.

In 1998, county commissioners first voted to raise their salaries in their regularly scheduled meeting on September 9, 1998. After the measure to increase their pay failed, rather than adjourn the meeting as normal, the commissioners recessed the meeting. By recessing the meeting, instead of adjourning the meeting, the commissioners left open the possibility to act again on any agenda item, including their pay increase. The following day, the commissioners resumed the meeting and passed their pay increase with the news media largely absent since the matter of the pay raises for the commissioners seemed to have largely settled at the meeting the previous day. Because the meeting was recessed rather than adjourned, the commissioners were free to bring back any item, including the pay raises, and vote on it again. They did, giving themselves a raise. All commissioners voted in favor, except for then-commissioner Dan Haggerty. Because of public outcry following the vote, the pay raise matter was added to the following week’s meeting where the pay raises were rescinded. Then-commissioner Charles Hooten, who voted on the pay raises, told the El Paso Times that he “wanted to be proud of himself,” adding that the pay raise matter put them “in a very awkward position to vote on our own salaries.” Then-commissioner Carlos Aguilar III told the newspaper “that the act of recessing the meeting from one day to the next was not the wisest thing to do.”

Commissioners defending their pay increases ignores the fundamental fact that they voted to give themselves a pay raise, which the taxpayers cannot do.


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Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...