DALLAS — A general obligation bond program going to El Paso, Texas, voters in November grew from an initial $200 million to a new total of up to $835 million at a special City Council meeting Wednesday.
Proposals for projects that total between $655 million and $835 million were outlined to the council, which established a panel in November 2011 to look at a quality-of-life bond proposal.
City manager Joyce Wilson said the boundaries of the bond program grew after public opinion polls found consistently high support by voters for more expansive city efforts.
“There’s a lot of excitement and support for it,” Wilson told the council.
The preliminary list includes a multipurpose event center in downtown El Paso expected to cost $150 million to $180 million, a soccer stadium pegged at $100 million to $120 million, a minor league baseball stadium costing $45 million to $55 million, and $25 million to $50 million of upgrades to the Sun Bowl football stadium owned by the University of Texas at El Paso.
Wilson said the sports projects are contingent on finding tenants for the facilities. The city does not currently have a professional soccer team and the local minor league baseball team is not affiliated with a major league team.
Tenants would be required to contribute to the financing of the facilities, she said.
Rick Horrow, a consultant who helped develop the city’s list of sports-related projects, said the proposed facilities would improve the image and the economy of El Paso.
“The time is now,” he said. “This is a transformational moment for this city.”
Recent public opinion polls found residents strongly support the development effort, according to Horrow.
“We didn’t hear anything negative about the big quality-of-life projects that were included that will help bring jobs and economic development opportunities to the region,” he said at Wednesday’s City Council session.
Proceeds from the bonds would also finance $200 million of street reconstruction efforts, $125 million of park projects and $20 million of general downtown improvements.
The council is expected to adopt a final project list in July and officially set the Nov. 6 election in August.
Wilson said the bond proposal will probably go to voters as a single issue on the ballot.
El Paso currently finances street restoration with annual issues of certificates of obligation, Wilson said, but the bond program would incorporate the funding for that work.
William Studer, deputy city manager for finance and management, said El Paso could issue $31 million of GO bonds a year over the next 15 years without increasing the property tax rate.
“That level would have virtually no impact on the tax rate,” he said.
Around 35% of the city’s property tax revenue is devoted to annual debt service, Studer said.
Wilson said the tax rate could go up by 4 cents per $100 of assessed value if annual sales are higher.
El Paso’s GO bonds are rated AA by Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings. Moody’s Investors Service rates them Aa2.
The city has about $600 million of outstanding GO debt and $217 million of outstanding certificates of obligation.
Studer said the city could also look at other sources of revenue to reduce the reliance on the property tax to support some of the projects.
Options included increasing the city tax on hotels and rental cars, he said, along with a surcharge on sports tickets and stadium lease payments.
El Paso is the sixth-largest city in Texas, with roughly 670,000 residents. Assessed valuation totaled $30.5 billion in fiscal 2012, which is up from $23 billion in fiscal 2007.