County Judge, Veronica Escobar

  • Officials begin health district overhaul
  • By Erica Molina Johnson / El Paso Times
    El Paso Times

    After years of talk that included dissolving the City-County Health and Environmental District and disagreements over how the district would be funded and operated, city and county officials met amicably on Wednesday and began making changes.

    "There was a lot of progress made," interim director Dr. Robert Galvan said. "Just bringing the two bodies together is a huge step forward."

    Members of the City Council and the County Commissioners Court agreed with this and pushed ahead toward the ultimate goal having a more autonomous district.

    "The big piece for me was the spirit of cooperation that existed and the É commitment we made to make some changes to the interlocal agreement that will allow the district to run more efficiently," County Commissioner Veronica Escobar said.

    "A year ago, there was a question of whether the district would continue to exist."

    Among the changes agreed on by the City Council and Commissioners Court were reducing the size of the district's board, from 11 members to seven, and shifting its focus to a solid administrative capacity rather than advisory.

    Galvan said the current 11-member board would stay in place until the new interlocal agreement is signed and the city and county make their appointments. The appointments to the board will be proportional to the amount that the district's budget is funded by each government.

    "We're restructuring to bring in people with expertise in a lot of areas," Galvan said.

    County Commissioner Dan Haggerty said he was disappointed by the meeting's outcome, but was encouraged by the city and county leaders finally coming to the table with an eye on making positive changes.

    "I didn't get the answers to anything," he said after the meeting. "But it was way less tense than the last two times we met."

    The governmental bodies also agreed to allow the district to begin accumulating a reserve fund rather than to return any surplus money from its budget to the city and the county. They agreed to continue the city's designation as the district's fiscal agent and to require that board members be subject to the district's regulations.

    One area that did not get resolved was the funding split between the city and the county.

    "The sore spot that will take some more (discussion) is the funding," West-Central city Rep. Susie Byrd said. "But we made a lot of progress in allowing the district to become a more stand-alone body."

    Some are pushing for the county to take on an equal share of the contributions, a change from the 30 percent it now contributes.

    Byrd said the most equitable funding option would be for one taxing entity to put forward all of the public subsidy, because she said the current model leaves city residents contributing twice -- once through their city taxes and once through their county taxes.

    The Commissioners Court may discuss the issue in coming weeks, Escobar said. She favors a gradual move to a 50-50 funding split.

    "I would like the other two members of Commissioners Court to have their say," she said. "Their voice is important."

    County Judge Anthony Cobos and Commissioner Miguel Terán did not attend the meeting.

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

  • County Judge
    Veronica Escobar