As I explained when I last wrote on this subject, El Paso has spent the last couple of years trying to figure out how to redefine itself. Our rabidly "progressive" city council passed a new landscape ordinance which requires more greenspaces and less parking as a part of a plan to beautify our city. Our newly adopted master plan calls for smart growth and a redeveloped downtown where multi-storied, mixed use buildings comprised of retail on the bottom and apartments on the upper levels will line narrow streets. We are spending $27 million on upgrading our notoriously badly run bus system--Sun Metro. And the crowning jewel of this new, green us is a brand new Triple A ballpark stadium which we are building on the site of our former city hall. We imploded the latter building, which was only about 30 years old, on April 14, and moved our city offices, so that we could build a new arena stadium for a minor league baseball team which is moving to El Paso. Combined costs for moving the city offices, imploding city hall and building the arena ball park were initially estimated at between $85 and $100 million. After two years of meetings and investment in a public relations firm, we even have a new city motto--"El Paso: It's All Good."
Wrong. Unfortunately, for El Paso, the Downtown Arena Stadium is the gift that keeps on giving. Like all projects of its kind, the stadium is being financed through the sale of bonds. But this week, the city manager informed city council that in order to sell these bonds, the city must raise the interest rates on the bonds 1.5%. Otherwise, the bonds will not sell, construction on the ball park will stop, and the city will find itself embroiled in a lawsuit with the owners of the team who purchased the Triple A ball team because the city had agreed to build the stadium. Raising the interest rate on the bonds will cost El Paso an additional $17 million in this project, or a cost over $566,000 a year. The city has repeatedly assured us that the money to cover this cost cannot come from property taxes--it must come from sales taxes and fees. That is supposed to make everyone feel better, except for one tiny little detail: When the money from other taxes is diverted to pay for the interest on the bonds, the city has less money in the general fund to pay all of its other expenses: police, fire, city workers, street repair, etc. So in order to make up the shortfall--you guessed it--the city will have to raise property taxes. El Paso already has high property taxes, high sales taxes, and high school taxes. But we can look for them to go up--a lot.
In an irony worthy of great English literature, the excuse for raising the interest rates on the bonds is that because Detroit filed bankruptcy nobody will purchase the bonds unless the rate of interest is higher. Detroit filed bankruptcy due to liberal management and decades of progressive policies that drove the city into the ground. As Detroit goes, so go we also unless we put a stop to this madness. What is saddest of all about the Downtown Arena Ballpark is that it was a financially losing proposition from the start. As deputy city accounting manager Bill Studer told Matthew Smith in that KVIA-TV interview last fall, "They [minor league downtown sports arenas] all lose money from a strictly accounting thing."