Former lawmaker alleges El Paso is disguising a tax as a fee

Cities and counties in Texas rely on several revenue streams to finance their operations, including property and sales taxes, user fees and funding from the state and federal governments. Former state representative Joe Pickett says the city of El Paso has come up with a new funding twist.

A tax disguised as a fee?

In a lawsuit filed against the city, Pickett alleged that El Pas has disguised a tax as a fee in monthly water bills. He claims the city inserted a fee to pay for damages to El Paso’s streets caused by El Paso’s own sanitation trucks.

Pickett said the city needs to be transparent and correctly identify the parts of water bills that are taxes and not fees.

Looking for truth in taxation

“But charging a fee on the garbage bill and not telling me what it’s for is not transparency,” Pickett said. “That’s not truth in taxation and I think the city is so wrong, I think they’re illegally charging and collecting fees that should be notated as taxes.”

In the lawsuit, Pickett objects to an environmental services franchise fee that is intended to pay for damage to city streets by the city’s sanitation trucks. (El Paso adds city sanitation fees to bills issued by El Paso Water.)

Improper diversion of improper fee?

In his lawsuit, Pickett claims city government hasn’t shared how it determined the costs of ““wear and tear on the City’s rights-of-way caused by the use of the city sanitation vehicles.” He also alleges that nearly 40 percent of the $10.6 million raised annually by the “fee will be used for purposes completely unrelated to the statutory authority for the fee, which is only to be used for solid waste disposal services.”

According to a local news report, the city denies the former legislator’s allegations.