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Former El Paso Deputy City Manager Doing Community Service

EPN - Border Analysis - Sun, 07/21/2019 - 10:00pm
If you a long-time reader of my blog then you probably remember Jane Shang, the former El Paso […]
Categories: Local Blogs

A student who seems to care

ElPasoSpeak - Sun, 07/21/2019 - 5:00am

Johnathan Michael Muniz Becerra, aTerry Scholar at UTEP sent us an email that contained this:

Furthermore, I’m currently conducting a quality of life study for the city of El Paso to see what worthwhile investments are needed to really improve the quality of life within the city. I’m investigating various industries within the city from healthcare to education. In my honest opinion, I believe El Paso suffers from the following:
    • Brain drain
    • Low wages
    • Questionable municipal management
    • Poor investments that do little to enhance the quality of life and continuously bring low-skill, low-wage jobs (e.g. the subsidized ball park, enormous incentives to bring the Great Wolf Lodge)
From the observations I’ve been able to make, it seems El Paso leaders and investors take advantage of citizen’s ignorance regarding city management and the impact the decisions of El Paso leaders will have on them. Link to survey

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RX3XL8N

 

A request from Brutus

Please keep your comments respectful.  We could help him by pointing out other deficiencies.

We deserve better

Brutus

Categories: Local Blogs

RumpToons No: 142

EPN - Border Analysis - Sat, 07/20/2019 - 10:00pm
I hope you enjoy RumpToons No: 142!
Categories: Local Blogs

Saturday’s open comments

ElPasoSpeak - Sat, 07/20/2019 - 5:00am

Saturday is the day that we open up the blog to topics that the readers choose.

We deserve better

Brutus

Categories: Local Blogs

Adapting cities to a hotter world: 3 essential reads

Borderzine - Sat, 07/20/2019 - 12:15am

By Jennifer Weeks, The Conversation

Heat waves can be deadly, especially when they combine high temperatures with elevated humidity levels that make the air feel even hotter. The impacts can be especially strong in cities, which often are several degrees warmer than nearby rural areas due to the urban heat island effect. These three articles from The Conversation’s archives describe steps that communities can take to adapt as climate change makes heat waves more frequent and intense.

1. Offer many cooling options

Emergency cooling centers are one way to mitigate the effects of heat waves, but cities need to do more. Nick Rajkovich, assistant professor of architecture at the University at Buffalo, has worked with planners around Cleveland to understand how they prepare for hot weather. Strategies there include planting more trees and shrubs, which provide shade and cool the air; weatherizing buildings with window shades and light-colored, reflective materials; and preparing emergency kits for power outages that include food, water and radios.

Most importantly, in Rajkovich’s view, different agencies and organizations need to talk to each other and plan together so they can take complementary steps.

“In Cleveland, preparing for extreme heat events has brought professionals together and encouraged overlapping approaches because no single strategy is foolproof,” he observes. Officials “should pursue multiple solutions rather than looking for one ‘best’ option.”

  2. Focus upgrades on vulnerable neighborhoods

Many types of green infrastructure can help neighborhoods withstand the impacts of severe weather. For example, permeable paving and rainwater harvesting are two tools for managing flooding and reducing stormwater runoff.

Notre Dame University climate scientist Ashish Sharma has researched use of green roofs, covered with drought-resistant plants, to cool hot urban areas. In a study in Chicago, Sharma and his team determined that low-income neighborhoods on the city’s south and west sides would benefit most from installing green roofs because doing so would make them less vulnerable during blackouts:

“When temperatures spike in cities, electricity use rises sharply making it hard for utilities susceptible to power outages. When the lights go out, critical services such as drinking water, transportation and health care can be jeopardized. And poorer people, whose neighborhoods tend to be the hottest, can be the most at risk.”

By lowering rooftop surface temperatures, green roofs keep buildings cooler. This would enable residents to reduce their use of air conditioning, saving them money and easing strain on the local power grid during peak demand periods.

Green roofs can help solve many problems, including stormwater runoff, climate control and energy consumption. 3. Design streets for a changing climate

Most U.S. city streets are designed with a focus on the needs of drivers, and sometimes far in second place, pedestrians. But Anne Lusk, a research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, calls for “designing green streets for bicyclists, pedestrians, bus riders and residents who live on transit routes, as well as for drivers.”

Trees and cycle tracks would be central features of these streets, configured in ways that make pedestrians and cyclists feel safe from automobile traffic. The trees would serve as barriers while cooling neighborhoods and absorbing air pollutants. And well-designed bike paths would remove cars from the road, reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

In surveys, respondents told Lusk that designs with trees and bushes between cycle tracks and the street best blocked their view of traffic, lessened their feeling of being exposed to pollution and made them feel cooler. Lusk also spotlights ways to offset climate-related stresses on trees, such as redesigning street drainage systems to direct water to trees’ roots.

Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.

Jennifer Weeks, Environment + Energy Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Click hear to read Adapting cities to a hotter world: 3 essential reads

Categories: Local Blogs

El Paso, other top Texas cities scramble to figure out what the 2019 legislative session will cost them

Borderzine - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 11:55pm

DALLAS — During this year’s legislative session, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price was among scores of city leaders who actively opposed yet another series of attempts by state officials to limit how much money local governments collect. But with lawmakers determined to reform the local property tax process, she and other mayors had little luck fighting off what many city officials considered attacks on local control.

By the time the Legislature adjourned in May, lawmakers had passed bills that limit how much property tax revenues local governments can collect without voter approval, prohibit the use of revenue-generating red-light cameras and eliminate some fees telecommunications companies pay to local entities.

“We have actually worked on this for the last three or four sessions, but it really feels like it escalated this session,” Price told The Texas Tribune. “They don’t have a full grasp of cities, our spending and what we do.”

That’s left many local officials scrambling to calculate how much money cities will forgo in coming years as many city councils prepare their budgets for the next fiscal year.

One of the most impactful pieces of legislation is Senate Bill 2, which established that starting next year, cities, counties and other taxing units need voter approval before levying 3.5% more property tax revenue than the previous year. In May, Moody’s published a report warning that the homeowner savings would be minimal “but budgetary impact on governments would be significant.”

But two other laws might also impact local budgets. Cities are already planning to sue the state to stop Senate Bill 1125, which bans cities from charging telecommunications companies a right-of-way fee. And there’s also the ban on red-light cameras, devices that Austin, Dallas, El Paso and Fort Worth were quick to take down after the bill prohibiting them passed.

“Obviously the major problem for us is the 3.5% cap, and we will have to live with that or call for an election,” Price said. But she’s also worried about the other two new laws. “They are a double whammy; we lost over $10 million from the red-light camera ban and the telecommunications fee,” she said.

This is what Fort Worth and other cities are considering as they prepare their new budgets and get ready for the new property tax collection cap that goes into effect next year.

Austin

In the state capital, the city government is projecting a budget shortfall of $52.6 million by 2023-24, due to property tax reform. To get a reference, the general fund budget for the 2018 fiscal year was $1 billion. But city officials still say that the tax reform will be felt.

“The 3.5% cap will make it more difficult for the city to fund the priorities of the Austin community,” said Ed Van Eenoo, deputy chief financial officer for the city’s budget office. “It will make it harder for us to hire additional police, fire and other personnel as the city continues to grow, and tougher to absorb annual cost increases in wages, rents and insurance premiums.”

In terms of the telecommunications franchise fee, Austin expects to see a reduction of $4 million in revenue next year and $5.6 million each year after that.

Finally, it is not clear yet how much the ban on red-light cameras will affect the city’s budget, but most of the revenue coming from the devices doesn’t end up in the hands of the city. In the 2018 fiscal year, Austin ended up getting $83,698 of the $777,516 collected. The city’s share was used for street safety projects. Seventy-eight percent of the revenue went to the lease and operation of the equipment and the state comptroller took a cut of $83,698.

Although the city’s contract with a vendor was supposed to last until 2023, the city stopped issuing tickets June 1.

Dallas

According to the latest budget overview presented to the City Council last month, if SB 2’s property tax reform had been in effect in September 2018, Dallas would have needed $25.1 million more in revenue or expense reductions to balance its budget for this year.

In the same presentation, city officials said the loss of the telecommunications franchise fee will cost $6.6 million next year and $9 million for the 2021 fiscal year. While that sounds small considering the city has about a $3.6 billion budget, Dallas needs the money to fund already approved raises for police and firefighters, which will create $5.3 million in new expenses next year, according to The Dallas Morning News.

The ban on red-light cameras will force another $1 million loss this year. For next year, the loss is estimated to be $2.4 million.

El Paso

The border city’s officials estimate that if property tax reform had been in place this year, it would have cost $7 million. To put that in context, El Paso’s general fund for 2019 was $428.6 million.

Before the new legislation passed, the city collected about $3.8 million from the telecommunications franchise fee, according to a city spokesperson. Officials estimate the new law will cost them about $2.7 million.

Finally, El Paso’s red-light cameras used to bring in about $1 million, but only half of that would stay in the city to pay for administrative costs and street safety measures. The rest would go to the state. The cameras were turned off June 2, though people fined before that are still required to pay their fees.

El Paso estimated the total cost of all these reforms is $10.2 million, an amount that could fund 170 police officers, the entire library system, or the entire public health and museum departments of the city.

Fort Worth

If the property tax reform bill had been in effect this year, the city would have forgone $4.5 million, according to officials’ assessment. To put this in context, the general fund budget is more than $731 million.

This year, Fort Worth collected $6.3 million in cable franchise fees and $7 million in telephone fees. The city projects a loss of $4 million based on the new telecommunications franchise fee law.

The ban on red-light cameras will cost an estimated $4 million, typically used for traffic safety. All of the cameras were disconnected after the signing of the bill.

 

Houston

In the last four years, Houston’s property tax revenue increase has averaged 2.48% annually, and officials say that the new mandated cap is unlikely to affect the city. Houston has had a voter-approved cap since 2006, which relies on a formula that factors in population change and the consumer price index. If SB 2’s property tax reform measures had been applied previously, it would have affected Houston only in two of the last five years.

With the telecommunications franchise fee, on the other hand, the city stands to lose between $17 and $27 million each year. Officials argue the law violates the Texas Constitution, which “expressly prohibits public property from use by private entities for less than market value,” according to a statement.

The ban on red-light cameras won’t impact Houston. City officials got rid of their cameras in 2011, after a voter referendum banned them.

San Antonio

According to Jeff Coyle, San Antonio’s director of government and public affairs, if the property tax reform cap had existed in the last decade, it would have cost the city $81 million.

“The current year, our general fund revenue would have been $37 million smaller than it is,” Coyle said. To put that in context, for fiscal year 2019, the general fund was $1.26 billion. San Antonio has not raised its property tax rate in 27 years.

The telecommunications franchise fee law will cost the city around $7.3 million.

But, like Houston, San Antonio doesn’t have to worry about the ban on red-light cameras; the city didn’t use the devices.

Carla Astudillo contributed to this story.

Read related Tribune coverage

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/07/18/houston-dallas-and-other-big-texas-cities-see-budget-hit-after-session/.

This article was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues

Click hear to read El Paso, other top Texas cities scramble to figure out what the 2019 legislative session will cost them

Categories: Local Blogs

Light pollution improved in El Paso, but more can be still be done

Borderzine - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 12:51pm

Dark Sky advocates say that El Paso’s 14-year-old light pollution ordinance has made a difference for stargazing in the Sun City.

“I’m happy to say that the light pollution in El Paso is practically gone,” said Marcia Turner, a community activist who helped push for the 2005 city ordinance that required changes in municipal and business lighting practices to help keep the stars visible in the night sky.

Before the Dark Sky ordinance, Turner said stores would often compete for business by using bright lights which not only added a heavy amount of light pollution but made it difficult for people’s eyes to adjust.

“Notice the stars that you can see now, that you couldn’t before,” Turner said.

In 2003, scientists at the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas, reported that they could see El Paso’s light pollution even though they were 200 miles away. Things are different now, said Bill Wren, an astronomer with McDonald Observatory.

“From personal observation, driving in and around El Paso and flying into El Paso, I noticed that much of the new lighting – and I can’t say most, I don’t really know how to quantify it – but much of the new lighting that has been installed in El Paso since the ordinance has been good,” Wren said.

The worst light pollution in the area is now coming from the Permian Basin oil field around Midland and Odessa, Wren said.

The Dark Sky ordinance gave El Paso businesses 10 years to comply with the new lighting requirements, meaning by 2015. That goal still hasn’t been met.

An example of a covered street light on the UTEP campus.

 

“There’s still a lot of light being installed that’s not compliant, so I don’t believe there’s much in the way of enforcement going on, but much of the light that’s going in is good,” Wren said.

Joel Candelaria, an electrical plans examiner for the city of El Paso, said during the field inspection of new construction, electrical inspectors are responsible for verifying that proper light fixtures are installed. The biggest issue is that despite the city ordinance requiring existing lighting on older buildings to be updated by 2015, not everyone has made the change.

When buildings are found that do not adhere to the requirements set up by the Dark Sky ordinance, the situation is handed over to code enforcement. Violators can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $2,000. They can subsequently be charged with a separate offense each day they are out of compliance.

UTEP’s Centennial Plaza uses covered and downward lights.

There are exceptions to lighting restrictions. For instance, airports and recreational areas follow their own set of light regulations. Flood lights that are firm and grounded also are allowed. But residential lighting must be shielded to minimize stray light “trespassing” across property boundaries.

In some areas in El Paso, decorative lights may not be allowed, with the exception of lighting sculptures or flags. Candelaria said that the Dark Sky ordinance restrictions are heavily affected by the area people live in.

“You kind of have to go through it page by page, and scenario per scenario.”

The city does allow an exception for seasonal decorations using low-wattage incandescent lights, but only from November 15 to January 15.

Candelaria said LED lights are now more common as more businesses are starting to switch to them for energy efficiency.

“The LED lights are a lot brighter. So obviously you’re getting more of a halo affect. So I can’t really say that it’s mission accomplished,” Candelaria said.

How residents can reduce light pollution

The International Dark Sky Association offers the following advice on how residents can reduce light pollution:

  • LEDs and compact fluorescents (CFLs) can help reduce energy use and
    protect the environment, but only warm-colored bulbs should be used.
  • Dimmers, motion sensors and timers can help to reduce average illumination levels and save even more energy.
  • Outdoor lighting fixtures that shield the light source to minimize
    glare and light trespass help prevent light pollution. Illustrated guide
    to the acceptable vs unacceptable types of light fixtures: https://imgur.com/a/x84vq
  • Turn off unnecessary indoor lighting – particularly in empty office buildings at night.
  • Avoid blue lights at night. Blue-rich white light sources are also known to increase glare and compromise human vision.

 

 

Click hear to read Light pollution improved in El Paso, but more can be still be done

Categories: Local Blogs

You need to go to the next City Council meeting

Refuse the Juice - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 8:51am
You can find the agenda HERE. There are several reasons to go. 1. Protest Rep. Cassandra Hernandez's "El Paso Princess Program" that unfairly forces binary gender pronouns on young girls. 2. See if you know anybody on the Solid Waste... Brad Kanus
Categories: Local Blogs

El Paso Delegation - Update Sort Of

Max Powers - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 5:50am
I tried to get you a decent DA. But that man does not want to give up his current job. I know he thinks he can do bigger and better things where he is at now. That is all nonsense. I remember one-time I was at a trade show I... Max Powers
Categories: Local Blogs

Looks like an increase to us

ElPasoSpeak - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 5:00am

Here is the city’s own chart that shows what they want us to believe the tax rate will be if a $940 million bond is approved by the voters:

Contrary to what we are hearing from the city the chart shows a significant increase in taxes.

Note that even without the new bonds it won’t be until the year 2031 before we have paid enough money on already existing debt for the tax rate to go down.

We deserve better

Brutus

Categories: Local Blogs

Americans And Others

EPN - Border Analysis - Thu, 07/18/2019 - 10:00pm
The latest Donald Trump controversy fully exposes an ugly truth about some Americans. Accepting that Trump’s approval ratings […]
Categories: Local Blogs

Moody stays - El Paso still in Texas

Refuse the Juice - Thu, 07/18/2019 - 10:43am
There was a very real fear that if Rep. Joe Moody had decided to claim his spot at DA, the rest of Texas would forget El Paso is a part of the state. Moody is by fart the only member... Brad Kanus
Categories: Local Blogs

Getting officers out on the street

ElPasoSpeak - Thu, 07/18/2019 - 7:50am

Part of the way our police department people are trying to justify their $287 million portion of the bond being considered is that they will try to get 60% of their sworn officers assigned to patrol duty.

Evidently they spend the rest of their time doing administrative work.

The 60% number comes from a national organization that recommends that level for larger police departments.

It seems that El Paso is below that number and if we give them a lot of money they will somehow come up to standard.

We deserve better

Brutus

Categories: Local Blogs

Chapo Sentenced to Life

EPN - Border Analysis - Wed, 07/17/2019 - 10:00pm
As expected, notorious drug dealer El Chapo aka Joaquín Guzmán was sentenced to life in prison yesterday. El […]
Categories: Local Blogs

Simple way to resolve the arena issue

ElPasoSpeak - Wed, 07/17/2019 - 5:00am

The city does not have to go through with building the multipurpose performing arts and entertainment center (commonly referred to as the arena).

In The bond election can be revoked we pointed out a state law that allows the voters the option of cancelling the authority to issue previously approved bonds.

Shouldn’t city council put the issue to a test?

If enough voters decide to revoke the bonds then the center cannot be built unless another election occurs where the voters approve it.

If there are not enough votes to revoke the bonds then the voters would have spoken and the city should build the center.

Sounds simple enough

We would also avoid the mounting costs of litigation.

The statute is found in chapter 1252 of the Texas Government Code.

Contact your city representative and ask them to vote to call the election.  You should also ask the mayor.

We deserve better

Brutus

Categories: Local Blogs

A Government of the People and for the People Under Trump

EPN - Border Analysis - Tue, 07/16/2019 - 10:00pm
Yesterday I caused an uproar on one of my social media channels because I dared to challenge the […]
Categories: Local Blogs

Billion Dollar Bond - Interesting who was left out

Refuse the Juice - Tue, 07/16/2019 - 8:45am
You'd think if another bond issue was going to the voters that someone would have called Bonart and Grossman to ask what they'd like to have paid for. But they didn't do that, did they... Bonart could have had taxpayers... Brad Kanus
Categories: Local Blogs

Proud to thwart transparency

ElPasoSpeak - Tue, 07/16/2019 - 7:08am

As part of the city’s 2020 budget process this slide was included to tell us what their legal department did last year:

Note that they tell us that they processed 5,469 open records requests.

They seem to be proud of the fact that they got the Texas attorney general to support denying release of information on 482 of them.

They could of told us that they handled the requests so well that on average they responded within X days, thus providing good service and promoting transparency.

Instead they focused on telling us how often they were able to deny information.

We deserve better

Brutus

Categories: Local Blogs

How the Mighty Have Fallen

Max Powers - Tue, 07/16/2019 - 6:47am
Last November, Beto on the heels of a "good" loss and Vero winning her congressional seat, the sky was the limit. But something happened. More ballsy women who do not give a phuck also won their races. One woman who lives about 2,200 miles from the border gets more airtime... Max Powers
Categories: Local Blogs

For Trump It Is About Skin Color

EPN - Border Analysis - Mon, 07/15/2019 - 10:00pm
For Donald Trump the immigration issue is not about saving U.S. jobs or keeping the country safe. Trump […]
Categories: Local Blogs
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by Dr. Radut