Select Page

pelosi.jpg

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, will be in Edinburg on Thursday, September 27, first to address students in South Texas at the University of Texas-Pan American, then to participate in the grand opening ceremony for the Women’s Hospital at Renaissance. See story later in this posting.

••••••

lightrail.jpg

A new state law that could eventually lead to the construction of a light rail train system that would transport passengers from Brownsville to Rio Grande City is still on track, said Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, the author of the legislation. House Bill 2510 creates a mechanism to allow Hidalgo County and any of the other 13 Texas counties that border Mexico to create Commuter Rail Districts. Under HB 2510, each border county will have the opportunity to organize and create a commuter rail board to determine the feasibility of establishing a commuter rail system within their respective county. The legislation, which was sponsored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was endorsed by Gov. Rick Perry, shown here recently signing the measure into law. In attendance at the bill signing ceremony, held in Austin last month, were Hidalgo County Judge J. D. Salinas III (standing, back row, second from left), his wife Janie (standing, first row, first from left) and their two children, Nicholas and Samantha. Also present with Martinez (featured standing, second from right) for the ceremony were Veronica de la Fuente, who is Hidalgo County ‘s governmental director, and Jerry Haddican, General Counselor for Hinojosa.

••••••

stcgoals.jpg

STC President Shirley A. Reed addresses the college’s faculty, staff and administration at Professional Development Day, laying a roadmap for the college’s future. The community college system, created by the Legislature in 1993 through a law carried by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and then-Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez, D-McAllen, is now approaching a 20,000 student enrollment. See story later in this posting.

••••••

U.S. Speaker of the House Pelosi to visit UTPA, newly-opened Women’s Hospital at Renaissance

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, will be in Edinburg on Thursday, September 27, first to address students in South Texas at the University of Texas-Pan American, then to participate in the grand opening ceremony for the Women’s Hospital at Renaissance.

Both of her public appearances will be conducted in the morning.

Pelosi is coming to Edinburg at the invitation of U.S. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes.

Pelosi, D-San Francisco, is the first woman elected by the House of Representatives to lead that legislative chamber in the Congress.

At 8 Thursday morning, Pelosi will address students, teachers, and community leaders at the sixth-annual Hispanic Engineering Science and Technology Week (HESTEC) being held at UT-Pan American.

HESTEC, founded by Hinojosa, serves as a catalyst to increase the number of Hispanics pursuing careers in science, technology engineering, and math.

Her speech, followed by a press conference, will be held in the Field House at the university.

The Speaker’s remarks also will be webcast live at http://www.hestec.org.

Pelosi’s remarks before HESTEC participants are designed to challenge students to seek careers in science and technology.

She is expected to focus on the recent passage of H.R. 2272, the so-called “America COMPETES Act,” which was signed into law by President Bush on Thursday, August 9.

COMPETES stands for “The America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act”.

According to Hinojosa, the “America COMPETES Act” is the cornerstone of the Democrats’ Innovation Agenda, which seeks to add 100,000 new scientists, mathematicians, and engineers to the American workforce over the next four years.

“The America COMPETES Act” authorizes various programs at the National Science Foundation and the Departments of Energy, Commerce, and Education intended to strengthen education and research in the United States related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, according to the White House.

At 10 a.m. on Thursday, September 27, Pelosi will be a special guest for the grand opening of the women’s hospital, according to Mario Lizcano, marketing director for Doctors Hospital at Renaissance.

The Women’s Hospital at Renaissance is located at 5502 South McColl Road.

••••••

Sen. Hinojosa requests interim study on South Texas levees

By MELISSA DEL BOSQUE

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, has requested that the Texas Legislature examine solutions to fix the levee system in South Texas before a catastrophic flooding event occurs along the Texas-Mexico border.

“We saw the flood waters take New Orleans and history tells us that it is only a matter of time before we get hit,” said Hinojosa. “We need to tackle the problem immediately so that we are not left with huge economic and human losses because of our failing levee system.”

The U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission have already decertified the Rio Grande levees because they were incapable of withstanding a major flooding event.

Now, FEMA will release a preliminary flood insurance rate map in December that will more than likely result in federally-backed mortgage lenders requiring Rio Grande Valley residents to buy flood insurance for their homes and businesses.

In a letter to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Hinojosa emphasized the importance of the issue for South Texas and requested that the Senate study funding and construction options to rebuild the levee system.

In the next few months, the Dewhurst will announce the Texas Senate’s interim study charges. These major state policy issues will be examined in a series of hearings in preparation for the next legislative session in January 2009.

••••••

Burlington Coat Factory to set up 80,000-square-foot department store in The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Burlington Coat Factory, a national department store retail chain which offers modern, high-quality designer merchandise, such as shoes, clothes, and coats for all age groups, will be building an 80,000-square-foot facility at The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley.

The new store – set to open in the fall of 2008 – will carry a complete assortment of merchandise including Baby Depot, women’s, men’s and children’s apparel, accessories, shoes, coats, linens and gift items.

It will feature the most recent prototype and store design, according to a spokesperson for The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley.

The next closest store, opened in 1995, is located about eight miles away along U.S. Expressway 83 in McAllen.

The Burlington Coat Factory announcement was made Thursday, September 20, by First Hartford Realty Corporation, which is developing The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, a major complex of retail stores that is expected to generate 1,300 jobs for Edinburg within the next three years.

The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, which broke ground in early August, is one of several major prizes recruited in the past few years by the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

The EEDC is governed by a five-member board of directors, which includes former Mayor Richard García, who is the board president; Mayor Joe Ochoa; Fred Palacios; Mike Govind, and Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D.

The $80 million dollar open-air shopping center developed by Manchester, Connecticut-based First Hartford Realty Corporation, will feature over 1.1 million-square-feet of retail space on a 130-acre site, said Megan Phillips, a spokesperson for First Hartford Realty.

“The super regional shopping center will feature a traditional department store, big box retailers, national and local specialty stores, restaurants, entertainment and a full-service hotel,” Phillips reported, adding that

Burlington Coat Factory joins previously announced tenants – JC Penney and First National Bank of Edinburg.

Senior executives from First Hartford in charge of spearheading the leasing effort confirmed that additional retailer announcements will be made soon, she added.

“The growth of the South Texas market is quite evident as national retailers like Burlington Coat Factory open second locations in the market,” said Jay Shaw, senior vice president for First Hartford. “We are proud to offer an optimal site to accommodate Burlington’s expansion plans and facilitate growth of their customer base in the region.”

Burlington Coat Factory describes itself as “a national department store retail chain which offers current, high quality, designer merchandise at prices up to 60% below those at other department stores. Burlington Coat Factory stores feature coats, apparel, shoes, accessories for the entire family, baby clothes, furniture, toys, home decor items, and gifts. Over 394 stores can be found in 44 states nationwide. The company also owns and operates the following divisions.”

First Hartford Realty Corporation is a commercial real estate developer based in Manchester, Connecticut. The company has developed over 35 million-square-feet in real estate, including over 6 million sq.ft. of retail space, since the company’s inception in 1949. For more information, visit http://www.firsthartford.com.

••••••

Construction activities in Edinburg approach $132 million through August

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

The value of construction activities in Edinburg from January through August 2007 almost reached $132 million, with construction of new businesses leading the way at almost $60 million, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

During the same period last year, total construction activities in Edinburg had reached more than $143 million. The construction of new businesses between January and August 2006 totaled $52 million.

For the month of August – the latest figures available from the city government – Edinburg generated more than $8.8 million in total construction, compared with almost $14.9 million in August 2006.

The latest numbers, compiled by the city’s Code Enforcement Department, were released by the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

The EEDC is governed by a five-person board of directors, which includes Mayor Joe Ochoa, former mayor Richard García, who is the EEDC board president, and Fred Palacios, Mike Govind, and Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D.

The estimated value of construction for a project is included when the city issues a building permit.

A building permit is permission issued by a city’s planning department to oversee and approve any changes to structures.

They are documents designed to guarantee that any construction work, from remodeling to demolition to building a new home or business facility, meets the city’s building codes.

The building permit does not include the value of the lot.

A breakdown of the major construction categories year-to-date and by month in Edinburg includes:

• Total new construction, January through August, was $131,753,475, compared with $143,300,488 during the same period in 2006. In August, total new construction was $8,810,255, compared with $14,878,428 during the same month last year;

• Total new commercial construction, January through August, was $59,666,725, compared with $52,088,164 during the same period in 2006. New commercial construction in August reached $1,873,500, compared with $2,579,300 in the same month in 2006;

• Total new construction of single-family homes, January through August, was valued at $43,245,909, compared with $52,248,962 during the same period in 2006. New construction of single-family homes in August totaled $5,818,000, compared with $7,561,604 in the same month last year;

• The number of single-family homes built in the first eight months of 2007 totaled 464, compared with 560 from January through August 2006. In August, construction began on 65 new homes, compared with 81 new homes in the same month last year;

• Total new construction of multi-family residences (duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and apartments), January through August, was valued at $9,842,500, compared with $10,080,000 in the same period in 2006. New construction of multi-family residences in August totaled $536,000, compared with $670,000 in the same month last year;

• The number of multi-family residences built, from January through August, totaled 106 (103 duplexes, three triplexes/fourplexes, and one with five or more units), compared with 105 (95 duplexes, 1 triplex/fourplex, and nine with five or more units) in the same period in 2006. New construction of multi-family residences in August totaled seven (six duplexes and one with five or more units), compared with seven (6 duplexes, 1 triplex/fourplex) in June 2006;

• Total residential alterations, January through August, were valued at $3,734,502, compared with $4,248,158 during the same period in 2006. Total residential alterations in August were valued at $328,345, compared with $389,319 in August 2006;

• Total commercial alterations, January through August, were valued at $2,762,339, compared with $8,945,204 during the same period last year. Total commercial alterations in August were valued at $254,410, compared with $471,606 during the same month in 2006;

• No permits have been issued from January through August for construction of non-taxable structures (government buildings, churches, etc), compared with work valued at $8,996,000 during the same period. The city government does not issue building permits for any construction work at the University of Texas-Pan American.

• Alterations/repairs on non-taxable structures (government, religious, etc.) between January and August have reached $12,501,500 during the first eight months of 2007, compared with $6,694,000 during the same period last year. For the month of August, no building permits were issued for alterations/repairs on non-taxable structures, compared with $3,206,000 worth of work in August 2006.

Haidar Properties was issued a building permit for the most valuable project in August. They are building a commercial facility, valued at $700,000, at 2716 W. University Drive in the Barbin Commercial Center Subdivision.

Dr. Brad Showers was issued a building permit for the second most valuable project in August. He is building a commercial facility, valued at $423,000, at 3109 Center Point in the Center Point Subdivision.

Trevor Tollett received a building permit for work valued at $250,000. He is coordinating the construction of The Veranda Place, a private student housing luxury complex near the University of Texas-Pan American. The building permit, for construction of a facility on 941 N. Sugar Road, in the Education Place Subdivision, is for work valued at $250,000. Eventually, The Veranda Place will represent a total private investment of $18 million.

Five other commercial projects authorized for construction in August were valued at between $100,000 and $150,000 apiece.

Permits were issued in August for 24 single-family homes valued at $100,000 or more.

The most valuable home to receive a building permit in August was issued to Armando Gamboa, Jr., for construction valued at $200,000. Their home is located at 2685 Easy Street in the Copper Field Subdivision.

Three of the five multi-family homes authorized for construction in August were valued at between $100,000 and $120,000 apiece.

••••••

Edinburg’s Linda Yañez, current appeals court justice, announces bid for Texas Supreme Court

By MIGUEL CARRERA

Linda Yañez of Edinburg, a Justice of the Thirteenth Court of Appeals, has announced her intention to run as a candidate for Place 8 on the Texas Supreme Court.

Yañez, a Democrat and the Senior Justice on the 13th Court of Appeals, said she could no longer turn a blind eye to the “extreme right judicial activism” of the state’s highest court. One of the highest profile examples of the current brand of judicial activism is the case of Duenez v. F.F.P.

In her press release, Yañez provided an internet link address to a Texas Monthly article that provides background on her concerns.

That site is:

http://www.texasmonthly.com/preview/2005-11-01/feature4

“I authored the Court of Appeals’ decision that affirmed the jury’s verdict in favor of the brain damaged child victim of the drunk driver,” Yañez noted. “The current members of our state’s highest court reversed a jury verdict, ignored the Dram Shop law, and overturned their own prior ruling in the same case after an election took place.”

The Duenez case is just one symptom of the larger problem the Supreme Court suffers from, Yañez argues.

“One-party rule has once again bred arrogance, group-think, and allowed the pay-for-play politics that favors insurance companies and large firms to go unchecked,” she said.

Yañez referred to recent studies authored by non-partisan consumer watch groups Texas Watch and Texans for Public Justice. Those studies indicate the all-Republican court has taken millions of dollars from insurance companies and corporate defense firms in recent years while ruling against consumers 84% of the time last term — up from 52% of the time in 2000.

“The court’s behavior gives regular Texans every right to question if Justice is for sale on our state’s highest court,” she said.

Yañez, a Democrat, was appointed to the Thirteenth Court of Appeals in 1993 by Gov. Ann Richards—making her the first Hispanic woman to serve in an appellate court in the history of Texas. Justice Yañez’ work ethic and commitment to education have carried her from the cotton fields of South Texas, to becoming an elementary school teacher, an attorney, and a judge.

A former Clinical Instructor at Harvard Law School, Yañez received her Master of Laws from the University of Virginia Law School, led President Clinton’s transition team on immigration issues, and received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Hispanic Bar Association.

Place 8 is currently held by Republican Phil Johnson, who was appointed to the bench in 2005 by Gov. Rick Perry.

(Editor’s note: Galveston County 212th District Court Judge Susan Criss is also seeking the Democratic Party nomination for Place 8 on the Texas Supreme Court.)

••••••

Edinburg Mayor Ochoa endorses Eddie Sáenz for state representative against Aaron Peña

By KELLY FERO

Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa on Wednesday, September 19, announced that he is endorsing challenger Eddie Sáenz in the race for House of Representatives District 40.

Sáenz is challenging Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, in the March 2008 Democratic Party primary.

So far, both men are the only announced legislative candidates for House District 40, which includes all but southwest Edinburg, La Joya and Sullivan City in western Hidalgo County, Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa, and San Carlos in eastern Hidalgo County, and northern Hidalgo County.

“I am proud to give Eddie Sáenz my enthusiastic endorsement,” Ochoa said. “He will be a great representative for our community in Austin.”

Ochoa, a pharmacist and longtime community leader, said that Edinburg’s continued economic diversity demands a united front among the region’s elected representatives at the State Capitol.

“There is simply too much competition from other areas of the state for us to sit back and hope that the current leadership at the Capitol will treat us fairly,” Ochoa said. “Our state senator needs a full partner fighting with him for the full share of resources our communities demand and deserve.”

Ochoa said that Sáenz is uniquely qualified to represent House District 40 because of his knowledge of health care, transportation, and infrastructure issues. In addition, he said, Sáenz’ success as a private businessman gives him a special perspective on what middle-class families and small businesses face every day.

“Eddie will hit the ground running as part of the new team emerging at the State Capitol,” Ochoa said. “He has met a payroll, provided health care to his employees, and dealt with soaring utility and insurance costs. He knows what we need and where to find it.”

Sáenz said he is proud to have Ochoa’s enthusiastic endorsement.

“Mayor Ochoa understands what state resources would help him provide even better services to the community, and he knows that I will make sure he gets them,” Sáenz said.

Sáenz, owner and chief executive officer of one of South Texas’ leading civil engineering firms, is a recognized expert in helping cities, school districts, and other public entities improve their operations and basic services.

“As an engineer, I know something about repairing vital services,” Sáenz said. “That’s the challenge we face today: repairing the trust that has been broken so our communities can get stronger and our working families can get the help they deserve.”

Sáenz said that the unemployment rate in the district is higher than the state average, 1.4 million children statewide are without health insurance, public services are increasingly threatened with more cuts despite a record state budget surplus, and middle-class families are getting squeezed by soaring college tuition and homeowners’ insurance rates that are twice the national average.

“The Republican leadership in the Texas House and their local allies betrayed our trust,” Sáenz said. “But help is on the way. It’s a new day and a new direction.”

Sáenz is chairman of the Board of Governors of the Edinburg Regional Medical Center and Edinburg Children’s Hospital, an award-winning network of acute-care hospitals specializing in children’s care and cardiovascular health. He also served as chairman of Avance, a non-profit organization whose focus is to strengthen families. Avance helped initiate the CHIP enrollment process in the Valley.

Sáenz is a former chairman of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Border Infrastructure Coalition Transportation Committee, and the Edinburg 2020 Action Committee. A graduate of McAllen High, he earned his degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 1982. He is a member of the National Society of Professional Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Texas Society of Professional Engineers. He and his wife, Sandra, and their 16-year-old daughter live in Edinburg.

••••••

Five former Edinburg mayors endorse Peña over Sáenz for House 40 state representative campaign

Some call them city fathers, others call them mayor, but the supporters of Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, are calling the “the five wise men of Edinburg.”

The five former mayors of Edinburg who have endorsed Peña’s reelection are: Al Ramírez (1963-1967); Ronald Case (1973-1981); Richard Alamia (1981-1987); Rudy de la Viña (1987-1993); and Richard García (2003-2006). They are calling on their community to support Peña and re-elect him to a 4th, two-year term in the Texas House, Peña said in a press release he distributed to the local media.

Peña, a trial lawyer, is facing a challenge from Eddie Sáenz, a civil engineer, for the House District 40 state representative post.

House District 40 includes all but southwest Edinburg, La Joya and Sullivan City in western Hidalgo County, Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa, and San Carlos in eastern Hidalgo County, and northern Hidalgo County.

One of those former mayors, Alamia, is an uncle of Peña.

Alamia and Peña’s mother are brother and sister.

Alamia voiced the concern expressed by many that people outside the community are pushing for Sáenz, according to Peña.

“When you are determined to fight for your community and not push some special interest agenda you step on some toes. I am proud of Aaron’s record and I know he will continue to represent the concerns of our citizens,” Alamia said.

Ramírez, the city’s first Mexican American mayor, provided his perspective as well.

“I had the fortune of being elected mayor of this great city in 1963,” said Ramírez. “I have know Aaron and his family for a long time. He is a hometown boy who played in our baseball parks and in our football fields. Aaron knows and cares for Edinburg. He has done a great job for our city and we need to keep him in office.”

Case focused on Peña’s family ties to Edinburg.

“Aaron’s roots run deep in this city,” said Case. “He has always put this community in front of personal interest. He follows a long Edinburg tradition of service to community.”

García noted some of Peña’s major legislative accomplishments in his endorsement.

“Aaron has proven that he has the experience and strength to deliver,” said García. “When the city asked him to secure important funding for the Regional Academic Health Center, he came through with $5 million. He also delivered $3 million for the construction of a new health clinic and substance abuse treatment center and another $750,000 for our museum on the square. At the campus of the University of Texas Pan American you will see a brand new $26 million Health and Wellness Center and the construction of $40 million Performing Arts Complex that will stand as a jewel not only for Edinburg, but the entire Rio Grande Valley. There is no doubt that Aaron has served this community with great success.”

De la Viña agreed that Peña continues to prove on his word.

“Aaron won’t back down when the going gets tough. He was the primary joint author of $80 million CHIP legislation that restored healthcare services to thousands of children. He has fought for our public schools, teachers and retirees. Aaron has earned some real momentum. Our community can not afford to move backwards,” De la Viña observed.

Peña said he was humbled by the strong endorsements from the former mayors.

“I am so proud to see these true public servants united behind my re-election campaign,” said Peña. “Over the years, I have learned so much listening, talking and visiting with these men and so many others like them in our community. Many try and buy respect but it must be earned. I will continue to serve the interests of the people of this city and District 40 with a sincere heart and a true spirit.”

The Democratic Primary Election will be held on March 4, 2008.

••••••

Edinburg adopts city budget, expected to keep the same property tax rate at September 27 meeting

By DAVID A. DIAZ

Edinburg’s 12-month operating budget for the city government, which begins October 1, was unanimously approved on Tuesday, September 18, by the Edinburg City Council, which also was scheduled to vote on Thursday, September 27, to keep the city property tax rate at the same level for the 13th consecutive year.

The General Fund, which is the chief operating fund of the city, is projected to generate almost $34.3 million for the upcoming fiscal year, which is the 12-month period on which the city budget is planned.

Almost 83 percent of the General Fund revenue will come from the city property taxes, local sales taxes (1.5 cents per $1 in eligible purchases), and franchise taxes.

The city property tax rate is expected to remain at 63.5 cents per $100 property valuation, which means that for the owner of a home or business building whose taxable value is $100,000, the tax bill from the city government will be $635.

According to the city’s notice on the adopted property tax rate, the average taxable value of a home in Edinburg this year is $87,556, compared with $76,396 last year.

According to the city’s notice on the new property tax rate, the average taxable value of a home in Edinburg this year is $87,556, compared with $76,396 last year.

Although property taxes will remain the same, and there will be no increase in the solid waste collection rates, the city council did approve a five percent hike in water and sanitary sewer rates to support the construction of a new water plan, and the second phase of an expansion to the city’s waste water plant.

Mayor Joe Ochoa said the new budget puts priorities on three major goals:

“We continue to put in money for public safety, infrastructure, and quality-of-life,” the mayor said. “I believe this council has been very serious in trying to improve much-needed infrastructure in this community, and what have seen tonight is that same commitment to public safety by increasing personnel in the police department and helping the fire department with equipment and personnel.”

City Manager J.J. Rodríguez, who presented the budget, which had been reviewed and shaped by the city council during the summer, said that with major city construction projects already finished or wrapping up in the coming months, the city will focus on improving several key roadways in the city.

“The council’s directive is to look at roadway infrastructure and begin the design process on three main roads – North Jackson Road, W. Freddy González from McColl to Highway 336 (10th street in McAllen), and from Jackson Road to Mon Mack Road,” said Rodríguez. “We will have about $1 million to design some of these roadways” and the city staff will look for “finding the best ways to fund construction, whether it is through certificates of obligation, or looking at creative financing.”

Those street improvements will have a positive effect, not only on handling increased transportation needs within the city, but also in helping boost the local economy, Ochoa added. But in order to begin the preliminary – and expensive – work on roadway improvements, the city council decided to keep the city property tax rate at the same level.

“The Edinburg economy continues to grow. We have been very blessed to have our sales taxes growing, our construction remaining stable, making this a very viable community. I hope that very near in the future, we will be able to drop that tax rate,” Ochoa explained. “That opportunity did not come at this time because of the great infrastructure projects that are coming to fruition, we wanted to make them happen. Knowing that the Texas Department of Transportation has less money (for state highway projects), we wanted to proceed our own.”

Other highlights of the city budget include:

•A six (6) percent pay plan adjustment for civil service (police) employees; a three (3) percent pay plan adjustment for all other city employees; and an additional three (3) percent merit funds for non-civil service employees, based on job performances;

•Minimum new city personnel will be hired;

•Increased funding to the fire department for one additional paid staff member, plus $855,000 in new funding for purchase a 2007 ninety-foot platform truck to replace the existing unit;

•Increased funding to the police department for additional personnel, vehicles and equipment;

•Increased funding to the Solid Waste Department for one commercial side load retriever ($215,000), one (1) 3,000 gallon Hydromulcher ($65,000), and one brush truck with knuckle boom ($140,000), along with other additional vehicles and equipment;

•Proposed partnership with the Edinburg school district to develop neighborhood parks;

•New personnel to staff the Edinburg Cable Network; and

•No increase in city employees’ health insurance premiums, plus dental insurance for all full-time city employees.

A copy of the final budget is available for review at City Hall, 210 W. McIntyre, from the City Secretary.

There is no charge to view the budget, but a minimum fee, as allowed by state law, may be charged for copies of portions or all of the city budget.

•••••

Edinburg school board drops property tax rate by 33 cents, approves $297 million operating budget

By GILBERT TAGLE

The Edinburg CISD school board has adopted a 2007 property tax rate that is 33-cents lower than the 2006 tax rate, announced Carmen Gonzalez, board president.

The new tax rate will help to fund a $297 million budget for the 2007-2008 fiscal year adopted by the school board on August 28th, said Gonzalez.

Property taxes will be calculated at the 2007 tax rate of $1.11 per $100 property. The new tax rate will not raise more taxes for Maintenance and Operations than last year’s tax rate.

The 2006 tax rate was $1.44 per $100 valuation.

Gonzalez said the reduced tax rate will mean a homeowner with a $100,000 home will pay $330 less in school taxes.

A breakdown of the newly approved tax rate shows that $1.04 dollars on each $100 of assessed valuation levied for 2007 will be used for general school purposes and to pay for the current operating expenses of the school district for the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2008. Of the same tax rate, $0.0752 will be for the purpose of maintaining an Interest and Sinking Fund with which to pay the interest and retire the principal of the valid bonded and warrant indebtedness of the school district.

The assessed valuation of real and personal property subject to taxation by the district will be 100 percent of its fair market value, which is determined by the Hidalgo County Appraisal District.

Under state law, the dollar amount of school taxes on the residence of a homestead of a person 65-year-of-age or older or of the surviving spouse (if he or she was 55-years-of-age or older when the person died) will not be increased above the amount paid in the first full year after the person turned 65, regardless of changes in tax rate or property value

••••••

Hidalgo County Commissioners Court adopts budget, maintains current tax rate with record fund balance

By CARI LAMBRECHT

The Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday, September 25, adopted the 2008 budget, marking the first time in at least two decades years Hidalgo County has embraced a true balanced budget.

Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, Precinct Two Commissioner Hector “Tito” Palacios, Precinct Three Commissioner Joe Flores and Precinct Four Commissioner Óscar Garza also adopted an ad valorem tax rate of $0.59.

Precinct One Commissioner Sylvia Handy voted against the tax rate.

This is the same rate Hidalgo County has held since 2003. The rate allots $0.5155 for maintenance and operations and $.0745 for debt service payments.

The $148.2 million general fund budget was developed by the county’s Department of Budget and Management in accordance with direction from the court. The adopted budget accomplishes several things:

• It provides sufficient funding for services the county is mandated by the state to provide to its citizens, such as 8 percent of its general fund, or approximately $10 million, for indigent health care, and approximately $5 million for public defense.

• It maintains reserves for emergencies, $14.8 million to be exact. This is the highest the fund balance has ever been.

• This $14.8 million fund balance also maintains Hidalgo County’s strong financial position with investors, enabling the county to continue to be granted the highest bond rating scores, which means lower interest rates on capital projects.

• The budget addresses the growing needs of Hidalgo County’s citizens and residents.

The 2008 general fund budget represents an overall increase from 2007 of 7.75 percent, the smallest increase in several years. The 2007 general fund budget was $137.5 million compared to this year’s $148.2 million.

Law enforcement and the county’s judicial system make up 53.26 percent of the general maintenance and operation fund.

Other big ticket items include the rising cost of fuel for county vehicles ($2 million) and cost of the living adjustments for all county employees ($2 million).

All county employees will receive a 4 percent cost of living increase to keep up with inflation, with a minimum adjustment of $1,000. That means employees with a $20,000 salary would receive a 4 percent cost of living adjustment and an additional $200 to equal $1,000. Furthermore, the court adopted a longevity pay program for employees serving the county five years or longer, and approved funding for the law enforcement step and grade program.

“It’s important when we talk about improving the quality of life for all Hidalgo County residents that we don’t forget about our own employees. More than 2,000 people work for this county, and they are the people that are the driving force behind this county’s success. These are the people that repair the roads, drain the water from homes when it rains and immunize our children,” Handy said.

Elected officials and department heads were given the same four percent cost of living adjustments as everyone else.

“I am really quite proud of the balanced budget the court adopted today,” Palacios said. “It represents months of hard work and the dedication of dozens of county employees who’ve spent a lot of time away from their families and have even worked through the wee hours of the morning to develop a budget that is respectful of every penny of taxpayers’ money.”

“In the $148.2 million budget for next year, we’ve addressed funding for two new courts, law enforcement and indigent health care. We’ve been able to finance two new sheriff’s substations, a vehicle replacement program and a new commissioners’ court/county judge’s office, the latter of which will allow for expansion of the courts into the old administration building. We’ve committed ourselves to providing the same or greater level of service to the people of Hidalgo County, all the while being financially responsible with those hard-earned tax dollars,” Garza said.

“This court is operating during a time of unprecedented growth in Hidalgo County,” Flores said. But with growth comes an increased demand for services — there are more crimes, more court cases, more inmates, more cars driving on the roads, more trash to collect and so on.”

It was for this reason, the Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court voted to maintain the current tax rate.

“We did explore the possibility of decreasing the tax rate by one cent or a half cent,” Salinas said. “But after due diligence and intense study, we decided that it was not feasible at this time or smart. With uncertainty in the national housing market, we don’t know how long Hidalgo County will continue to enjoy its good fortune. It would furthermore be irresponsible to dip into savings built up over several years to afford taxpayers with an average $7.69 savings on their tax bill. That’s how much taxpayers on average would save if the rate would have been dropped one cent, while the largest businesses in Hidalgo County would have reaped up to $40,000 in tax savings. Hidalgo County residents would have been the biggest losers of all, having to deal with a budget shortfall of $2.2 million.”

“The adoption of the balanced budget today is historic and an important step for the future fiscal health of this county. We are already looking toward next year. Next year, we would like to see cuts in the budget instead of increases. To do that, we instructed the budget office to start conducting performance reviews of each department, similar to what the Legislative Budget Board does for the state budget. As always, wherever we can find waste and duplication, we want to get rid of it,” Salinas said.

Valde Guerra, the county’s budget officer, said the court has listened to its constituents in their decision making.

“What the people wanted is for us to be accountable, and with the first balanced budget in over 20 years, we are demonstrating a high level of accountability by working within our means. The court has listened. We will stick to this balanced budget,” Guerra said.

••••••

STC President Reed provides roadmap for future at college-wide event

By HELEN ESCOBAR

South Texas College President Shirley A. Reed presented a roadmap for the future of the college to more than 1,700 faculty and staff at the college’s Professional Development Day on Friday, September 21.

“I want to congratulate every person in this room because you each contributed to giving 19,973 students an opportunity to earn a college education,” said Reed, referencing the college’s fall 2007 enrollment. “We should be proud of this tremendous growth. I remember just a few years ago that we grew to an enrollment of 10,000 students and that was the headline in all the local papers. Who would have thought our institution would have doubled in size just four years later?”

Reed took the opportunity to reinforce the college’s mission and vision.

“I want to emphasize the idea that college is not for a select few, it is for everyone and we can make a difference in that perception,” said Reed. “We are a world-class institution leading the charge to create a college-going culture in the Valley, where every child grows up believing that they will go to college. STC is committed to providing the tools and guidance to make those beliefs reality.”

The college is not only growing in enrollment, but also in new programs and buildings. Pending approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, STC will offer a new bachelor’s of applied technology degree in computer information technologies beginning spring 2008. STC is also growing through construction, including a new Communication and Creative Arts Building at the Pecan Campus in McAllen, a Rural Technology Center at the Starr County Campus in Rio Grande City and a Student Recreation Center at the Mid-Valley in Weslaco.

Reed also highlighted some of the college’s accomplishments during the previous academic year. She discussed STC’s ranking as first in the nation among community colleges in awarding associate’s degrees in education and ranking third in awarding associate’s degrees to Hispanics. She also discussed that the college ranked 73rd out of 1,195 community colleges across the nation in awarding associate’s degrees.

Capping off the event, Reed reinforced the strength of the college – its students.

“It only takes one person to reach out to a student and make that personal connection that will give them the courage to persist and graduate,” said Reed. “Our students struggle each day, making the choice to come to college. They are the heroes in this story. We applaud that heroism and know it is the foundation of our success.”

For additional information about South Texas College call 872-8311 or visit:

http://www.southtexascollege.edu.

••••••

South Texas College nears 20,000 students for fall 2007

By HELEN ESCOBAR

Enrollment at South Texas College increased 8.2 percent from fall 2006 to fall 2007, with 19,973 students attending classes, an increase of 1,507 students.

“This record enrollment reflects STC’s commitment to provide high quality, affordable and accessible higher education for our region of Texas,” said Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president of STC. “It signals to us that although there are many work opportunities readily available, students understand the importance of continuing their education and see that higher-ed provides the pathway to a brighter future.”

The college also sees an increase in the number of full-time students registered for the fall semester. Approximately 46 percent of the student body population is currently registered for a full course load of 12 or more hours of study.

“Our focus for fall enrollment was to help students understand the benefits and importance of attending college full-time and these numbers show that students got the message,” said William Serrata, vice president for student services and development for STC. “Studies show that students who attend college full-time are more involved in their education and are more successful in completion. They are focused on achieving their goals and are able to take full advantage of our support services. This is a key milestone for long-term student success.”

In addition to these successes, STC’s Dual Enrollment Program, which offers high school students across Hidalgo and Starr counties to earn college credit, grew more than 19 percent from fall 2006 to fall 2007. Offering one of the largest dual enrollment programs in the entire Rio Grande Valley, STC and its school district partners are giving 5,719 students the chance to get a jumpstart on their college educations.

“This is another critical area of our enrollment because many of these students would not be able to go to college without this program,” added Serrata. “Whether the students earn an entire associate’s degree through the program or just get a few courses completed, this opportunity provides these students confidence that they can attend college and be successful. We are proud to continue to grow this program and know that it is making an impact on higher education attainment in our community.”

Enrollment also increased in the college’s Nursing and Allied Health Division and Distance Education Program. The NAH Division saw a 19 percent enrollment increase from fall 2006 to fall 2007. The college’s Distance Learning Program saw an increase of 20 percent from fall 2006 to fall 2007, which signals the increasing popularity of Web-based courses.

••••••

South Texas College adds 29 new full time regular faculty to address continued college growth

By HELEN ESCOBAR

In response to ongoing student enrollment growth, South Texas College has hired 29 new full time regular faculty for the 2007-2008 school year to fulfill student course demands.

“With STC at almost 20,000 students this semester we wanted to ensure courses are available at the times and locations convenient for students,” said Juan E. Mejía, vice president for Instructional Services.

He added, “I commend the contributions of our faculty search committees who worked through the spring and summer to truly identify and recruit exceptional educators from throughout the country, all focused on student learning and success. “

The academic deans at STC added that the new faculty will greatly enhance the already diverse and talented academic team who are experts in their disciplines.

The college’s Nursing and Allied Health Division welcomes Associate Degree Nursing Program instructors Marisa Smolarski, Jennifer Brewster, María Elisa Ríos, Paul Gora and Joanne Edwards. Sylvia M. Vargas and Cynthia Salinas join the Vocational Nursing Department and Johnny Galán joins the Respiratory Therapy Department faculty.

STC’s Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Division showcases 11 new instructors. Pamela Lynn Hoke, Lanessa Poulton, Darci Cather, Robin Bell and Juan Ochoa join the English Department. Víctor Gómez and Sean Kennedy join the History Department and Rogelio Escaname is a Criminal Justice instructor. The Psychology Department welcomes Orlando Rodríguez and Wilfrido Sarabia, and the Speech Department welcomes Rosalinda Cantú.

The college’s Business, Math, Science and Technology Division features 10 new instructors. Rosalba De Zenea has been brought on to be an Administrative Office Careers instructor and Cynthia Sánchez will be a Business Administration instructor. Mehrzad Mahmoudian Geller and Jaime Rodríguez join the Biology Department and Vicente Sauceda and Margarita Vanguelova join the Computer Aided Drafting and Design Department. The Math Department brings four instructors into the fold including Joseph Chance, Todd Meisel, Christopher Neely and Alda Punsalan.

For additional information about South Texas College call 872-8311 or visit

http://www.southtexascollege.edu.

••••••

Eddie Sáenz says Rep. Peña’s “poor environmental record” endangers family health, local economy

Democratic state representative challenger Eddie Sáenz on Thursday, September 20, said that he will support legislation and efforts to clean up toxic pollution on public school buses that puts children at risk of asthma and other debilitating illnesses caused by exposure to dangerous chemicals and emissions.

Sáenz is challenging Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, in the March 2008 Democratic Party primary.

So far, both men are the only announced legislative candidates for House District 40, which includes all but southwest Edinburg, La Joya and Sullivan City in western Hidalgo County, Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa, and San Carlos in eastern Hidalgo County, and northern Hidalgo County.

“Clean air should be a family value in South Texas, too,” Sáenz said.

Sáenz said that efforts to adequately fund the clean-up of emissions inside old diesel school buses failed to pass during the legislative session earlier this year, even though House District 40 taxpayers contribute to the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) that would have paid for the project.

Sáenz said that his opponent, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, voted against the clean up and was named the worst Democratic member of the House on environmental issues according to a report the previous week by the watchdog group, Environmental Texas.

“While other states are acting to protect their children from toxic pollution levels inside the school buses they ride every day, some Texas politicians are ignoring the problem,” Sáenz said. “My opponent’s vote against cleaning up school buses is another example of the cost of betrayal. If voters send me to Austin, I will be one of the votes that has been missing to make sure we stand behind our children’s health instead of the status quo.”

Sáenz said local taxpayers contribute money to the TERP fund through a $20 fee any time they purchase or transfer the title on a vehicle but see little return for their dollars when it comes to fighting pollution in South Texas. State leaders in Austin use the vast majority of TERP funds to reduce emissions in urban areas of the state like Dallas and Houston.

In addition, Sáenz called for more aggressive environmental protection at the state level to protect area parks and recreation facilities, saying that ecotourism is now a vital component of the South Texas economy.

“Tourists spend millions each year for the chance to see our unique natural heritage — and create jobs in the bargain,” Sáenz said. “Making our air cleaner and increasing the number of protected acres in the Rio Grande Valley is good for business and good for the environment.”

Owner and chief executive officer of one of South Texas’ leading civil engineering firms, Sáenz is a recognized expert in helping cities, school districts, and other public entities improve their operations and basic services.

As chairman of the Board of Governors of the Edinburg Regional Medical Center and Edinburg Children’s Hospital, an award-winning network of acute-care hospitals specializing in children’s care and cardiovascular health, Sáenz has been active in addressing local health challenges. He also served as chairman of Avance, a non-profit organization whose focus is to strengthen families. Avance helped initiate the CHIP enrollment process in the valley.

Sáenz is a former chairman of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Border Infrastructure Coalition Transportation Committee, and the Edinburg 2020 Action Committee. A graduate of McAllen High, he earned his degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 1982. He is a member of the National Society of Professional Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Texas Society of Professional Engineers. He and his wife, Sandra, and their 16-year-old daughter live in Edinburg.

••••••

Rep. Peña appointed by Speaker Craddick to the Texas Access to Justice Commission

By ALEXIS DeLEE

Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, on Wednesday, September 19, appointed Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, to the Texas Access to Justice Commission, which creates policy initiatives to improve access to legal services for under-served individuals and communities in Texas.

“Prior to the creation of this vital commission, many low-income families in Texas could not afford legal services or simply didn’t receive the quality of service necessary to see justice served,” Craddick said. “I am pleased to appoint Rep. Peña to this commission as he has shown such leadership and passion for legal justice issues during his time in the Texas House of Representatives.”

The Texas Access to Justice Commission was established by the Supreme Court of Texas, in 1999, in response to a statewide planning process for legal services to the poor. The Commission’s responsibilities are to: identify current and future needs for access to justice in civil matters by low-income families; develop a plan to deliver these services; build up a statewide delivery system of these services; create initiatives to improve access to civil justice; address court rules, procedures and policies that negatively affect justice for the poor; and, monitor the effectiveness of the Commission.

“I am proud that this community has earned an important voice in ensuring justice for all Texans,” Peña said. “Serving on this select committee is a reflection of the growing strength and experience this region brings to the table as we strive to improve our judicial system.”

Peña is chairman of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and also serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means. He is an attorney with the law firm of Rodríguez, Colvin, Chaney and Sáenz, and is board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Labor & Employment Law.

The Texas Access to Justice Commission is made up of 15 members. Peña will serve as an ex officio member of the Commission for a term at the pleasure of the speaker.

The organization maintains a website at: http://www.TexasATJ.org

Share This

Share this post with your friends!