Remember the Alamo

By now you’ve probably seen this story on KVIA.

EL PASO, Texas – Political considerations may have cost the City of El Paso $22 million when it issued debt for the ballpark.

When City officials first presented the financing plan for the ballpark, they said the debt model would infuse between $24 million and $27 million into the City’s general fund.

“People are saying this is going to be an increased burden on the local taxpayer. Actually, it’s gong to decrease the burden on the taxpayer because we’re going to have additional revenues above and beyond,” then City Chief Financial Officer Carmen Arrieta Candelaria told ABC in June of 2013. That’s when Council authorized taking on $60.8 million in debt for ballpark construction.

Because interest rates were so low, the city’s model estimated any sales tax made at the ballpark would go into the city’s general fund. But things turned out very differently.

In February, the City’s new Chief Financial Officer, Dr. Mark Sutter told Council the financing had not gone as planned, mostly due to the timing of the issuance of the debt. “I told council ‘I don’t think you ever saw the actual results of the financing compared to the models. It’s not a pretty sight,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

What’s the big deal? It’s only $22 million. And it’s not even the City’s money. It’s the taxpayers’.

Though Council authorized issuing the debt in the Summer of 2013, it appears the Council chose to issue the debt until it was more politically favorable. “Somebody made a decision to wait until after an election and that’s what cost us a lot of money and that’s really disheartening,” said Mayor Oscar Leeser at the City Council meeting Tuesday.

Though Leeser and most of the council disagreed with City Rep. Cortney Niland, she blamed the loss of $22 million on the financial advice the City received from financial advisors First Southwest. “If you think for one second that I’m not going to stand up here and tell the truth from the very beginning because I’m getting blamed for a $22 million error that was not mine, you bet your ass I am,” she told the rest of council, very clearly aggravated.

Niland said First Southwest did not inform the City the parameters of the issuance of the debt had changed.

Leeser quickly corrected Niland, saying First Southwest had informed council of unfavorable conditions the first time the Council was slated to issue the debt but prior City Manager Joyce Wilson, Candelaria and some council members delayed the issuance the second time it was scheduled due to a pending election.

I bet Mayor Leeser suspects that Representative Niland may run for mayor next election. He’s telling voters to never forget.

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