EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — On El Pasoans’ monthly water bills, a $6 franchise fee can be seen listed under City of El Paso Environmental Services.

Former Democratic State Rep. Joe Pickett is suing the City of El Paso over that fee, alleging that the city is not using the funds for what it’s supposed to be for.

“I’m sueing on behalf of all the ratepayers in El Paso County,” said retired state Rep. Joe Pickett.

Franchise Fee on El Paso Water Bill

In a recent decision by the 8th District Court of Appeals, court documents say that Pickett learned that the city implemented the fee for wear and tear on streets in 2018.

However, he said the city’s 2020 budget resolution adopted in 2019 shows that the money from that fee was being used for police and fire.

“Look at actually the budget they proposed to council. There’s item number 61 where it shows money being transferred to police to fire, and I have nothing against police, fire, parks. A,ll that stuff we need but they’re not being transparent,” said Pickett.

Below you can see the section Pickett refers to from the city budget that is listed in the 8th District Court of Appeals Court documents.

  1. That the environmental service franchise fee will be used as follows:
    $6,600,000 for residential street maintenance.
    $2,700,000 for the purchase and acquisition of Fire Department replacement
    $1,300,000 for Police Department major capital equipment.

“So they’re charging you and me an additional $6 a month for the wear and tear on the streets. So state statute says cities can charge fees but you can only charge fees for the costs of whatever the services you’re providing, and you can’t use these as a hidden tax and spend it on something else,” Pickett said.

KTSM 9 News reached out to the City of El Paso regarding the lawsuit and fees and we were sent the following statement from a City of El Paso spokesperson.

“The decision from the 8th Court of Appeals means the case will be sent back to the trial court for the case to continue so we will refrain from commenting on the fee related to the litigation,” said Laura Cruz-Acosta, a spokesperson for the City.

The City of El Paso did file a motion, challenging Pickett’s standing to file the lawsuit, which a trial court denied.