County Judge, Veronica Escobar

  • Goal of commissioners is to hold taxes steady again
  • By Erica Molina Johnson / El Paso Times
  • As the County Commissioners Court heads into its first meeting of 2008 on Monday, the group is looking forward to what it hopes to accomplish in the next 12 months.

  • "My goal for 2008 is holding it all together," Commissioner Dan Haggerty said.

  • Among the main goals of the court's five members are making progress on capital bond projects, keeping taxes level, advancing individual programs and staffing crucial boards.

  • "My main priority is to continue holding the line on taxes and to run county government as fiscally responsible as possible," County Judge Anthony Cobos said.

  • The county has not raised property taxes in two years, and court members hope to hold the line on taxes through the next budget cycle.

  • "Our ratings are excellent, and I think we will be able to balance the budget without increasing taxes once again," Commissioner Luis Sariñana said.

  • Commissioner Veronica Escobar said the county needs to go beyond simply keeping taxes steady.

    "We frequently hear politicians talking about fiscal conservatism or fiscal responsibility, and to me that does not mean ignoring the needs of a growing community," she said. "Too often the options are to ignore the needs or invest, and one is seen as fiscally responsible and one fiscally irresponsible."

  • She said the county and the other governmental entities in the area are trying to work together where possible, and she hopes to organize a summit in 2008 as a first step.

  • "This year I'm going to work toward convening a shared-services summit that will explore opportunities to share or consolidate services with other taxing entities to begin reducing the cost of government," Escobar said.

  • She said the summit would look at merging services, creating interlocal agreements and collaborating where possible.

  • "This is a huge task, but it's something we need to do," she said.

  • In line with keeping government costs responsible and manageable, the court members have agreed there must be careful oversight of the capital improvement projects that were approved with the passage of $72.9 million in bonds in late 2007.

  • "I'm concerned about the bonds we passed, making sure they're all on track and making sure they're spent properly," Haggerty said.

  • Escobar said, "There's going to be a lot of business that is going to be put out by the county in 2008 and 2009, and it's going to be incumbent on the public to stay engaged throughout the process."

  • She said the bonds that were passed could have been much larger if the court had not worked to whittle down the list of prospective projects.

  • "We didn't want to bite off more than we could chew," Escobar said.

  • One bond project that Sariñana is particularly interested in is the privatization of the Sportspark on the East Side.

  • "We're having a meeting with Big League Dreams (this month), and hopefully we can sign a contract there and then," he said. "I'm going to go ahead and see that the Sportspark project is written out and is win-win for everyone."

  • The other court members are also interested in making sure their priority projects are completed.

  • Haggerty wants to ensure that the Border Children's Mental Health Collaborative continues to stabilize and advance.

  • "We need to get the building started and the architectural plans and make sure we follow through on taking care of those mentally challenged children," Haggerty said. "It's needed. It's really the first thing I've really focused in on for a very long time."

  • Escobar said appropriately filling the three seats up for reappointment on the El Paso County Hospital District's seven-member Board of Managers is crucial.

  • "Thomason (Hospital) is at the most critical moment in its history, poised to embark on major building construction and expansion of services, overseeing the establishment of our first children's hospital, becoming a university medical center, and continuing its strong partnership with the Paul L. Foster Medical School," she said.

  • "Now more than ever, we need to appoint only the highest caliber people to that board, and the public should demand no less."

  • Cobos said the court and those other entities with a say should begin focusing on another board as well.

    "We do need to get the children's hospital board appointed soon," he said.

  • Terán, who will be spending his final year on the court because he is not seeking re-election, said he primarily wants to see progress on the planned port of entry in his district.

  • "That port is my number-one project," he said.

  • He would also like to focus attention on opening parks in underserved areas of the county, paving roads and breaking ground on the coming highway.

  • The court's effectiveness this year also could be influenced by the outcome of an extensive FBI investigation, which already has placed a number of elected officials under scrutiny and obtained guilty pleas from former County Commissioner Betti Flores and former county chief of staff John Travis, among others.

  • In May, the FBI raided the offices of Cobos, Terán and Sariñana. Sariñana said that although his office was among those searched, he does not have any part in the investigation.

  • "There's no question it hurts us as a court," Haggerty said. "All of this reflects on all elected officials, more so than even us."

  • Erica Molina Johnson may be reached at; 546-6132.

  • Anthony Cobos
    County Judge

    Keep a level or lower tax rate at the county for the third consecutive year; foster the appointment of appropriate people to the new El Paso Children's Hospital board; run the county in a fiscally sound manner.

    Luis Sariñana
    Commissioner Precinct 1

    Progress on the overhaul and privatization of the Sportspark; keep a level tax rate at the county for the third consecutive year; appoint an interim sheriff and assist with the transition; bond project oversight; health district transition to city health department.

    Veronica Escobar
    Commissioner Precinct 2

    Good appointments to Thomason Hospital's Board of Managers available seats; create shared services summit with other taxing entities; establish an economic development interlocal agreement with the city; continue Ascarate Park improvements and hire a golf pro for the golf course; hire a public information officer for the county.

    Miguel A. Terán
    Commissioner Precinct 3

    Progress on the new international port of entry; development of parks in underserved Lower Valley areas; progress on paving roads; progress on a Border Highway expansion.

    Dan Haggerty
    Commissioner Precinct 4

    Progress on the Border Children's Mental Health Collaborative, including building construction; bond project oversight; interim sheriff appointment.

  • Challenges facing the County Commissioners Court in 2008

    Commissioners will have to appoint members to two hospital boards in '08.

    An interim sheriff must be named to replace Leo Samaniego, who died.

    Improvements and privatization of the Sportspark continue this year.

  • County Judge
    Veronica Escobar