This month: Working cooperatively helps El Paso-area entities eliminate duplication
Economic Development and Analysis
Region 3 – Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis is the Comptroller’s representative for the 29 counties in the West Central and Concho Valley region.
Key issues facing the region include commodity prices for oil and gas, dairy and animal products, which affect jobs, incomes, local property values, and revenues to local governments. Preserving limited water and other natural resources is a continuing challenge in this arid region. In recent years, alternative energy projects have offered a new revenue source for some property owners and local taxing entities.
Michael serves as the subject matter expert for local government budgeting and purchasing questions and has audited Texas school districts for 10 years. He performs local government management assessments for the Comptroller’s office.
Michael and the other local government specialists can offer technical assistance about programs that foster economic development, including property tax abatements, appraised value limitations for school districts and the sales tax for economic development.
The Comptroller’s Economic Development and Analysis division also serves as the state’s portal to information on federal stimulus funds including energy conservation grants to retrofit public buildings and reduce energy costs.
Partnering for Impact
Sharing services improves efficiency
El Paso County is on the cutting edge of a concept called Shared Services, an effort to save taxpayer money by reducing duplication of efforts and increasing governmental efficiency and effectiveness.
Shared services is an operational philosophy that aims to centralize human resources, finance, purchasing, information technology and other administrative functions performed by neighboring cities, county, school and water districts.
El Paso County Commissioner Veronica Escobar spearheaded the first Shared Services Summit in November 2008. The event drew 67 officials from 18 different political subdivisions. She was prompted to action after discovering several local entities were planning to build data centers.
In the current economic climate, local governments need to provide services using more limited resources than in better economic times.
“I knew we would have to look for more creative ways to ensure we don’t overburden our tax base,” she says.
“El Paso is in the midst of experiencing significant population growth, which in turn means more need for services and growing demands on our government budgets,” Escobar says.
Escobar says she believed the best way to head off many of these types of expenditures was to get buy-in from the other entities to share their purchasing power and potentially save millions of taxpayer dollars.
“Collaboration was an option I knew had great potential,” she says. “Once all the government professionals came together, they thought of all the great ideas. I’m very proud of the goodwill and cooperation that has come from all who participated.”
The summit’s goals were to identify short-term and long-term goals within three areas: facilities management, purchasing and information technology. In the year following the first summit, El Paso leaders came together to meet and discuss what ideas were immediately feasible and simple to start with.
The local governments in the El Paso area have acted upon many of the ideas that came out the first summit, including:
- forming a shared purchasing agreement between Thomason Hospital and El Paso Independent School District;
- limiting redundancy of building data centers by different taxing entities. Several local governments are moving forward to develop a shared data center, which would house a primary or backup system. According to El Paso County, a combined city-county data center would save $3 million. In addition, a joint bid for equipment is expected to save up to $2 million.
- consolidating city and county information technology departments.
- The city and county of El Paso determined that a Blue Ribbon Committee would best serve all parties involved in evaluating the possibility of a regional parks district;
- The city of El Paso is negotiating with the El Paso Sheriff’s Department, the city of Sunland Park and the Lower Valley Water District. These entities are drawing up an interlocal agreement to consolidate vehicle fueling and preventative maintenance services.
- The Anthony Independent School District and the Town of Anthony recently partnered to create a joint vehicle maintenance facility.
- A regional video conferencing system was established to reduce wasted time and travel.
- A regional public safety network was established that includes the city, county, 911 District, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso Community College, El Paso ISD and Texas Department of Transportation.
- The Digital El Paso consortium has implemented a free municipal wireless system that covers approximately 3 square miles in downtown El Paso. The $150,000 project cost was shared by the city, county, EPISD and the El Paso Housing Authority. Other entities contributed in-kind services.
The success of the first Shared Services Summit spurred Commissioner Escobar and the other stakeholders to conduct a second Shared Services Summit in December 2009 at El Paso Community College’s Rio Grande Campus. This event focused on human resources issues including benefits, training, hiring and employment as a way local governments can partner for mutual benefit. TR
Read detailed reports explaining the actions taken by Shared Services Summit participants and learn about future plans to collaborate at Escobar’s Web page.