by Max Grossman
I recently reported that the City’s four water parks lost $1,335,420 during the summer 2021 season and that they are projected to lose $3,394,546 during the summer 2022 season, but that these figures do not include utilities.
Well, today I received the results of an open records request I filed with the City and I can now confirm that the City spent $437,738 on gas, electricity and water for the water parks during the 2021 calendar year (presumably beginning with the opening of the first water park on May 29 of that year) and $469,698 from January 1, 2022 through four days ago.
Thus, from May 29, 2021 through September 26, 2022 (less than 16 months) the City spent $907,436 on utilities for the four waterparks.
Factoring in the operating deficits cited above, this means they lost at least $1,773,158 in 2021 and $3,864,244 in 2022, for a total estimated loss so far of $5,637,402!
THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE FOUR WATERPARKS WAS $16,995,548 OVER BUDGET
The City of El Paso Budget Book for FY 2020-2021 includes a detailed budget for the water parks on pages 377, 381, 398 and 408.
There we learn that $55,164,082 from the 2012 Quality of Life Bond were spent on their construction.
But then the City Council voted to supplement that cost, without voter approval, with $16,699,712 from certificates of obligation and $295,836 from “outside sources,” for a total cost overrun of $16,995,548, or 31%.
REP. ISABEL SALCIDO OWNS THIS BOONDOOGLE
The COs that paid for these cost overruns were authorized in 2017, 2018, and 2019 by City Council.
Rep. Isabel Salcido of District 5 is the only incumbent running for reelection to City Council who voted for COs to supplement the water parks, on November 12, 2019. And now she is trying to convince her constituents that she is a fiscal conservative, after all her votes for deficit spending and high taxation!
ARE PUBLIC AMENiTIES SUPPOSED TO BE PROFITABLE?
One journalist friend of mine recently told me that public amenities are not supposed to be profitable. Rep. Svarzbein states this every time he is questioned about his insolvent trolleys.
But the voters were not told that the water parks would cost more than $72 million to build and that there would be an average operating loss of $2.8 million per year; nor were they told that the general admission price would be $12 per person, and that it would be raised to $15. With bond interest included, the water parks will cost over $100,000,000!
So let’s look at this like mature adults.
By any standard, the cost to the taxpayers for the four water parks is staggering and the operating losses are catastrophic.
The cost overrun of this boondoggle alone is equal to the amount of money the City would have needed to prevent their latest property tax hike!
It’s business as usual in Tommyland.
(You can find a utilities breakdown of the waterparks here.)
It is my recollection that the trolleys were decided on before Rep. Svarzbein took office. He has been their biggest supporter, no doubt, but I do not think he had a role in the decision to build them. That was the Shaplite council. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
That said, the trolley is kind of the poster child for the term “vanity project” in El Paso, serving no real transport function except to go around in a circle and look retro.
Mr. Svarzbein promoted the street cars before he was elected. He had a guerrilla art project that advertised international trolleys as though they were a done deal. It was cool. Then City Council and the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority took the ball and ran with it. As I recall, the trolley was originally financed as a federal “shovel ready” project to stimulate the economy after the bankers burned it down. Fortunately, the City isn’t paying off the bonds that were sold to build it. We’re just paying the operating deficit.
Maybe he didn’t have an electric train set when he was a kid 🙂