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Robert and Janet Vackar, featured third and fifth from left, are cheered by employees and well-wishers, including Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III (next to Mrs. Vackar) on Tuesday, October 9, during the ribbon-cutting ceremony of their car dealership group’s latest addition, Fiesta Chevrolet, located at the intersection of the U.S. North Expressway 281 frontage road and Trenton Road. The new dealership is the latest economic boom in east Edinburg that is being influenced by the Edinburg City Council and its jobs-creation arm, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa and Mayor Pro Tem Alma Garza on Saturday, October 13, helped welcome Lacks furniture store back into the three-time All-America City during a ribbon-cutting ceremony held in front of the 46,000-square-foot showroom, located in the Fairhaven Subdivision, near the intersection of Canton Road and the U.S. Expressway 281 frontage road. “We have been out of Edinburg since November 2004, and we hated to leave Edinburg – it is a very special city,” said Lee Aaronson, president and chief executive officer of Lacks. “Our business has been in the Valley since 1935, and we had been in Edinburg for most of those years. But at one point, we realized that the store in Edinburg wasn’t as nice as the City of Edinburg, and we had to get another location that would be the kind of store that would befit this beautiful city. We hope that we have brought that to you at this point.” Featured in this photograph are, front row, from left: Garza; Ochoa; Aaronson; Ramón Martínez, store manager; Jackie Moffitt, who designs the layout of the furniture displays; Kris Karr, advertising director; and Cassandra Leal, Miss Edinburg 2008. Second row, from left, are Laura Flores, sales consultant; Michelle Richards, sales consultant; Charles Justis, financial officer; and Al Moffitt, general manager for the 11 Lacks stores and clearance center. See story later in this posting.

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Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, has announced his campaign kick-off, which is free and open to the public, for Thursday, November 8, at the ECHO Hotel, 1903 S. Closner Boulevard in Edinburg. The event will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Peña, chairman of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, is seeking his fourth two-year term as the representative 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. Peña, an Edinburg attorney, is featuring in his campaign his slogan, “The experience to lead, the power to succeed.” He is facing Eddie Sáenz, an Edinburg civil engineer, for the March 4 Democratic Party primary nomination. There are no other announced candidates in that race so far.

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On Thursday, October 25, Winning Mortgage Solutions will host “The ABC’s of Mortgage”, a free home buyers seminar to the general public. Mortgage lending will be explained and experienced loan officers will be on-hand to answer any questions immediately following the presentations. The free seminar will take place at the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, 602 West University from 5:30-7:00 p.m. Please contact Cynthia Bocanegra, featured here, at 956/341-8538 for additional information.

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South Texas College’s A Night with the Stars event recently celebrated 10 years of academic excellence and honored former Valley Scholars scholarship recipients. From left, front, are Valley Scholar graduates Mario Segura; Christopher O. Park; Shalimar Madrigal; Judith Hernández; Cynthia E. López; Constance A. Salinas; Kyndra Nicole Gatton; and José Tomás Calzadias Jr. Back row, from left, are: Dr. Mike Metke, event presenter; Dr. Ramiro Casso, M.D., event presenter; STC president Dr. Shirley A. Reed; Anahid Petrosian, STC Assistant to the Vice President for Instructional Services; Juan E. Mejia, STC Vice President for Instructional Services; Juan E. Mejia; Marie E. Olivárez, STC Valley Scholars Coordinator; and Dr. Dana Cantú, event presenter. Not featured in this portrait shot are Mary De León, event presenter, and Valley Scholars scholarship recipients Amir Esmaeili and José Luis Caraveo. See story later in this posting.

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Sen. Cornyn hosts roundtable on Valley levees: Homeland Security’s Chertoff soon to tour region

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Wednesday, October 10, toured the levees of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) flood control system in the Rio Grande Valley. The Hidalgo County levees are currently under review as part of the FEMA Levee Certification process.

Following the tour, Cornyn hosted a roundtable discussion on the certification process with local mayors, county officials, Border Patrol Agents, and representatives from FEMA, the IBWC, the Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Cornyn also indicated that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has accepted his invitation to visit the Rio Grande Valley soon to tour the border and meet with local officials.

“The IBWC levees are multi-purpose structures that impact several counties and millions of residents in the Rio Grande Valley. Not only are the levees a critical safety measure against flooding, they also serve the U.S. Border Patrol as they seek to monitor and secure the border,” Cornyn said. “Today’s roundtable was an insightful discussion that brought together local leaders and federal agencies to ensure that all voices are being heard as FEMA continues its certification process of the IBWC levees. I have and will continue to push for increased funding in the Senate so that necessary repairs and improvements can be made to the levees to enhance safety in the region.

“I also look forward to having Sec. Chertoff join me in an upcoming visit to the region, where he will have a chance to hear firsthand from local officials and Border Patrol chiefs, and tour the region,” Cornyn added. “As the debate continues on immigration reform and border security, I’m confident this will be a timely visit for Sec. Chertoff that will help to balance the current debate with direct input from those who deal firsthand with the challenges our border poses.”

Cornyn has made several efforts on behalf of the impacted South Texas counties to see that federal funding is increased to make critical repairs and improvements to the IBWC levees. Cornyn added an amendment to the Department of State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that required the IBWC, in coordination with Homeland Security and the Corps of Engineers, to report to Congress on the importance of the levees to U.S. Border Patrol, so Congress is aware of the multiple purposes the levees serve.

Cornyn also sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee requesting the IBWC levees receive the maximum amount of appropriations in the final bill.

Cornyn serves on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Budget Committees. In addition, he is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee’s Airland subcommittee.

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Rep. Gonzáles urges Congress to override President Bush’s veto of SCHIP funding increase

By RICARDO LÓPEZ-GUERRA

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, has contacted the Valley’s congressional delegation and Texas’ two state senators, urging them to vote to overturn President Bush’s veto of the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2007. Gonzáles reiterated her support for expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) in Texas and nationally.

(Editor’s note: Javier Villalobos of McAllen is seeking the Republican Party nomination to challenge

Gonzáles in 2008 for the House District 41 House seat. House District 41 includes southwest Edinburg, most of McAllen, northeast Mission, Palmhurst, Alton and Sharyland. The Democratic and Republican parties hold their primary elections in March 2008, and the party nominees will face each other in the November 2008 presidential election.)

More than a million Texas children have no health insurance, and thousands more are underinsured. SCHIP has provided low-cost health insurance to children of low-income families in Texas and across the nation for the past 10 years. For every $1 invested by the state government, Texas receives $2.64 in matching funds from the federal government.

Recently, the Texas Legislature approved changes in eligibility requirements that are estimated to increase enrollment here in Texas by more than 100,000 children. Those changes are intended to help repair the damage inflicted by the Republican-controlled state legislature in 2003 when more than 200,000 eligible children were cut from CHIP.

“Our congressmen and U.S. senators have a duty to hundreds of thousands of Texas children to vote to override the SCHIP veto,” said Gonzáles. “It doesn’t make sense to deny low-cost health insurance to children from low-income families. These families work hard, but with sky rocketing healthcare costs they just can’t afford doctors’ visits for their children. Doctors groups support CHIP because it allows families to provide a medical home to their children. Without CHIP, these kids are going to end up in our already overcrowded emergency rooms—our representatives in Washington must recognize those facts.”

The SCHIP legislation passed both the U.S. House and Senate with large bipartisan majorities. It also has the support of a broad group of stakeholders, including the AARP, American Medical Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the March of Dimes, and hundreds of others. 43 governors have expressed their support for the legislation.

“Here is the opportunity to do the right thing for children who, through no fault of their own, are growing up without regular health care,” said Gonzáles. “How can we expect a sick child to go to school, much less excel in the classroom? I am proud that Congressmen Rubén Hinojosa (D-Mercedes) and Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo/McAllen), along with Sen. (Kay Bailey) Hutchison (R-Texas) voted to provide children health care access and I applaud the many Texas congressmen that have already put their full support behind expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program,” Gonzáles continued. “I hope that they will be joined by the other members of the Texas delegation in support of overriding this veto. The choice is either to leave millions of children without proper medical care in a time of need, or get those children health insurance.”

The McAllen lawmaker encouraged constituents to contact their federal representatives and senators to voice their support for overriding the President’s veto of the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act.

“Call your federal representative and call Sens. Hutchinson and (John) Cornyn (R-Texas). Let them know that you support the children’s health insurance program because we shouldn’t leave sick children behind,” said Gonzáles.

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Bert Ogden family deepens Edinburg roots, celebrates grand opening of Fiesta Chevrolet

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

The Edinburg economy received its own version of “Dale gas”, (Spanish slang for “Give it the gas), the famous slogan for the Bert Ogden Automotive Group, when one of the most successful vehicle dealerships in Texas on Tuesday, October 9, held a grand opening ceremony for its latest addition, Fiesta Chevrolet.

Bert Ogden Automotive Group, which now has major dealerships throughout Hidalgo and Cameron counties, began in Edinburg under the leadership and with the vision of its namesake, the late Bert Ogden.

Since his untimely death years ago, the dealership group has been led by his son-in-law and daughter, Robert and Janet Vackar.

Edinburg area business, community, and political leaders all were on hand for the late afternoon celebration, held inside the 32,000-square-foot showroom, which is located on a six-acre site at the intersection of the North U.S. 281 Expressway frontage road and Trenton Road.

The new facility, which includes a service department, replaces the former Roberts Chevrolet dealership, located about a block north of the Hidalgo County Courthouse, which for decades was a fixture of the local economy.

In December 2006, the Bert Ogden Automotive Group purchased Roberts Chevrolet, renamed it Fiesta Chevrolet, then began making plans to move it next to the heavily-travelled expressway, which give it tremendous visibility from a sales perspective.

With the move came new and high-paying jobs, and increased sales and property tax revenue for local governments, said Robert Vackar, CEO of the Bert Ogden Automotive Group.

The new Fiesta Chevrolet officially opened for business on September 1, and already, plans are on the drawing board to increase its presence.

“This facility is Chevrolet-only, it is about six acres,” said Vackar. “We are adding four acres to expand to 10 acres because we have already outgrown this facility. In the first month here on the expressway, we sold 100 new Chevrolet cars and trucks. Our buying potential, we are right on target. We think we will build up to 125 to 150 new Chevrolets per month, that’s from about 30 they were selling downtown.”

The location along U.S. Expressway 281 – which has been undergoing a major expansion into U.S. interstate highway standards – was a major selling point to bring the new dealership into east Edinburg, he noted.

The expansion of U.S. Expressway 281 for years has been a legislative and political priority of the Edinburg City Council and its job-creation arm, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

The EEDC board of directors includes Mayor Joe Ochoa, with former Mayor Richard García serving as president of the governing board. Fred Palacios, Mike Govind, and Dr. Glen E. Martínez, Ph.D., round out the membership of the EEDC board of directors.

In addition, The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley – one of the largest outdoor shopping centers in South Texas – is being built on the other side of U.S. Expressway 281, and will also help draw a large amount of traffic – and potential clients – to the new dealership.

“You get all the visibility of all the north-south traffic coming in and out of the Valley, but the new mall is going up right across U.S. Expressway 281, at 1.1 million square-feet, it will be the biggest shopping mall in the area. We think that will really drive the traffic into this area. It is going to be a great benefit to us.”

The new facility also represented a major investment of private money, which translated into jobs during the construction phase of the new complex.

“If you took it at today’s market value, the property and facility – just the Chevrolet dealership, we are looking at a $4 million investment,” Vackar said.

As a bonus, they are planning to bring a major portion of an existing Bert Ogden dealership, to the new site.

“Next door, we are going to move the Buick/Pontiac/GMC truck store out here from U.S. Business 281 and Trenton in Edinburg to the south eight acres,” Vackar said. “When this complex is complete, we are going to have Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac, and GMC trucks. It will be an 18-acre facility. We are probably looking at a total investment of $8 million or $9 million.”

As for the existing Edinburg dealership on U.S. Business 281 and Trenton, that complex will be revamped to focus on Mazda vehicles, he said.

“We are going to demolish the north part of that dealership and build a brand new, state-of-the-art Mazda facility, identical to the one we have in Mission at Shary Road and Expressway 83,” Vackar said. “Right now, we are looking at going to 160 employees when everything is complete, including the second dealership.”

Vackar noted that their employees command good salaries, adding to the positive impact the new dealership brings to the three-time All-America City.

“We have mechanics who are making $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 a year. We have a lot of jobs that bring in, some close to $100,000 a year,” he noted. “We have some very high-paid people, executives, so we are bringing a lot to the city, such as disposable income, housing, everything else.”

The EEDC has helped spark economic growth in east Edinburg by helping pay for infrastructure, such as water and wastewater lines, to make possible the construction of new businesses and residential neighborhoods in areas that for decades have been underutilized.

“We have had the mayor of Edinburg behind us, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, everyone has helped to make this happen,” Vackar said. “You talk about a team effort, we couldn’t ask for a better bunch of people to work with. This has been a team effort all the way down the line, and I appreciate it.”

Vackar said it was fitting that his father-in-law’s legacy continues to grow in Edinburg.

“Edinburg was our first dealership, the Buick-Pontiac store, that was the original Bert Ogden store,” Vackar recalled. “I grew up in Edinburg and we wanted to expand in Edinburg, and we thought if we could get Chevrolet, we could dominate the General Motors market in Edinburg. Once we were able to secure Chevrolet, then we were ready to go ahead with our expansion plans.”

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Attorney General Abbott, helped by Sen. Lucio legislation, takes action against Cameron County colonia development

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, October 15, charged the developer of Tierra Linda Garden, a subdivision in Cameron County, with violating the state’s colonia-prevention laws.

According to court documents filed by the state, Manuel J. Montemayor and his company, MG Joint Venture, failed to install or bond sewer and water services on residential lots offered for sale in the subdivision. The state also charged the defendants with failing to obtain plat approval from local officials

“This enforcement action charges this defendant with failing to comply with the state’s colonias-prevention laws,” said Abbott. “Texas law requires border-area developers to guarantee that basic water and wastewater infrastructure will be installed before lots are sold to unsuspecting purchasers. Thanks to new resources available to the Office of the Attorney General with the support of Sen. Eddie Luci (D-Brownsville), our ability to enforce colonias-prevention laws is dramatically improved.”

According to the Attorney General’s petition, which was filed in Travis County district court, Montemayor subdivided a tract into 26 approximately half-acre lots for residential use without obtaining the Cameron County Commissioners Court’s approval.

In Texas, residential subdivisions near the U.S.-Mexico border that lack adequate water or wastewater services are commonly referred to as colonias. Most colonias lie outside city limits or in isolated areas of a county and lack basic infrastructure.

Earlier this year, Lucio supported a measure that provides the Office of the Attorney General with additional resources to fight colonia developments.

In 2006, Attorney General Abbott concluded a similar case in Cameron County against Eric Solís, who sold lots in a colonia known as Toribio Estates. Like Montemayor, Solis failed to obtain plat approval for the lots and to install or bond water and wastewater services.

In 1995, colonias-prevention laws were strengthened in Texas. These laws enhanced platting, selling and utilities requirements for residential land sales outside city limits in any county within 50 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. The laws also require that residential subdivision developers either install water and sewer service facilities or provide a financial guarantee to cover the utilities’ cost if the installation is not completed by a promised date. Local officials will not approve the subdivision until that infrastructure is created or the required bond is paid.

Before purchasing residential property outside the city limits, border area home buyers should check with county officials to determine whether the property was legally subdivided and whether the developer has made the necessary arrangements to supply water and wastewater infrastructure. Developers that violate Texas platting laws are subject to civil penalties of up to $15,000 per lot.

The Office of the Attorney General’s Colonia Geographic Database stores geographic and descriptive data on more than 1,800 colonias. To access the database, or for more information regarding Attorney General Abbott’s colonias-prevention efforts, visit the “Texas-Mexico Border” page on the Attorney General’s Web site at http://www.oag.state.tx.us.

Consumers can also file complaints with the Attorney General against developers or sellers who fail to provide water and wastewater services, or who subdivide land without first obtaining necessary county approval. Complaints can be filed on the Attorney General’s Web site or by calling (800) 252-8011.

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Lacks furniture returns to Edinburg, opens 46,000-square-foot showroom

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

An Edinburg fixture in fine home furnishings for decades until they closed about three years ago, Valley-based Lacks Valley Stores, Ltd. returned in grand style on Saturday, October 13, celebrating the opening of its $3.5 million, 46,000-square-foot showroom with a gala ribbon cutting at the Fairhaven commercial subdivision in the three-time All-America City.

The newest Lacks, which represents the 11th store in its retail system, features the latest in home furnishings, accessories, appliances and electronics. It has 20 employees on its payroll.

It is located near the intersection of Canton Road and the frontage road of North U.S. Expressway 281.

Lee Aaronson, president and chief executive officer of Lacks, told a 10 a.m. gathering of more than 100 people that he was glad that he and his store were back in Edinburg.

“We have been out of Edinburg since November 2004, and we hated to leave Edinburg – it is a very special city,” Aaronson said. “Our business has been in the Valley since 1935, and we had been in Edinburg for most of those years. But at one point, we realized that the store in Edinburg wasn’t as nice as the City of Edinburg, and we had to get another location that would be the kind of store that would befit this beautiful city. We hope that we have brought that to you at this point.”

Mayor Joe Ochoa and Mayor Pro Tem Alma Garza, along with Ramiro Garza, executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, were among the dignitaries who attended the grand opening celebration, which marked the first day the store was open for business.

Ochoa said that economic data compiled by the EEDC had encouraged leaders of Lacks to make their return to the city.

“I was just talking to management a little while ago, and I told them I was very impressed with the fact that we have just come up with a study for this area, and had asked citizens what they would like to see in this particular development area,” Ochoa said. “One of the top five developments was this development.”

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board includes Ochoa, along with former Mayor Richard García, who serves as board president, along with Fred Palacios, Mike Govind, and Dr. Glen E. Martínez, Ph.D.

Kris Karr, advertising director for Lacks, echoed the sentiments of both Ochoa and Aaronson.

“We are just happy to be back in Edinburg to serve the community. I think we were needed in that area since there is so much growth in Edinburg,” Karr said. “We are always looking to expand, and Edinburg was definitely one of the cities we had targeted. It seems to be a booming city.”

Lacks has stores in McAllen, Weslaco, Pharr, Laredo, Harlingen, Brownsville, and now, once again, Edinburg, she said.

The layout of the Edinburg store is different, though, she explained, noting that it uses an “open concept” in its showroom, rather than having different sections partitioned with walls into separate rooms.

“We got a lot of good response” from the hundreds of customers who flocked to the first day of business, Karr said.

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Edinburg retail economy up more than 10 percent through August

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg’s retail economy between January and August, as measured by the amount of local and state sales taxes generated by a wide range of local businesses, was up more than 10 percent over the same eight-month period in 2006, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Joe Ochoa, former Mayor Richard García, who serves as board president, Fred Palacios, Mike Govind, and Dr. Glenn E. Martínez, Ph.D.

The figure translates into more than $1 million generated in local sales taxes in August, which were collected in September, then sent back to the Edinburg city government on October 12 by the state comptroller of public accounts.

The local sales taxes are generated by the city’s 1 1/2 cent local sales tax and the 1/2 cent economic development sales tax that is administered by the EEDC.

Retail businesses are required to collect both the local and state sales taxes and send them to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, which soon after returns the local sales tax back to communities in the form of a rebate.

The local sales tax is used to help pay for dozens of major city services, ranging from new streets to city personnel.

Between January and August 2007, Edinburg’s economy generated $11,140,300.48 in local sales taxes, compared with $10,091,024.70 during the same eight-month period last year, an improvement of 10.39 percent.

For the month of August, Edinburg’s economy generated $1,045,385.78 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,031,417.97 in local sales taxes in August 2006, an improvement of 1.35 percent.

McAllen’s economy generated more than $4.1 million in local sales taxes in August, compared with more than $4 million during the same month last year, an increase of 1.19 percent.

Between January and August, McAllen posted a 6.86 percent improvement, generating more than $48.1 million in local sales taxes, compared with more than $45.1 million during the first eight months of 2006.

According to the comptroller’s office, Hidalgo County also showed continued prosperity. In August 2007, all cities in Hidalgo County generated more than $9 million in local sales taxes, up almost five percent over August 2006, which reached more than $8.6 million.

From January through August 2007, all cities in Hidalgo County generated more than $100 million in local sales taxes, up almost 10.5 percent over the $91 million mark set during the same period in 2006.

Neighboring Cameron County registered smaller economic growth, according to the state figures.

In August, all cities in Cameron County generated more than $4.9 million in local sales taxes, compared with almost $4.8 million during the same month in 2006, an increase of 2.89 percent.

Between January and August 2007, al cities in Cameron County generated more than $50.7 million in local sales taxes, a four percent improvement over the same period in 2006, which resulted in more than $48.7 million in local sales taxes.

Other major cities in Hidalgo and Cameron counties reported the following sales tax figures:

•Brownsville’s retail economy generated almost $2.6 million in local sales taxes in August 2007, more than 8.3 percent better than the August 2006 level of almost $2.4 million.

•Harlingen’s retail economy generated more than $1.4 million in local sales taxes in August 2007, compared with almost $1.5 million in August 2006, an decrease of 1.79 percent.

•Pharr’s retail economy generated more than $902,000 in local sales tax activities in August 2007, compared with more than $939,000 during the same month in 2006, a decrease of almost four percent.

•Mission’s retail economy generated almost $943,000 in local sales taxes in August 2007, compared with $872,000 in August 2006, an increase of more than eight percent.

•Weslaco’s retail economy generated almost than $669,000 in local sales tax activities in August 2007, compared with almost $622,000 in August 2006, an increase of more than 7.5 percent.

Statewide, state sales tax collections increased seven percent, according to Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, who on October 12 delivered $443 million in local sales tax rebates to local governments such as Edinburg.

According to Combs:

The state took in $1.62 billion in sales tax in September, a seven percent increase over September 2006.

Combs sent $443.7 million in monthly sales tax payments to Texas cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts, up 6.8 percent compared to last October. So far in 2007, local sales tax allocations are 6.9 percent higher than last year.

“Growth in September sales tax collections slowed slightly, but continue to increase at a healthy rate,” Combs said. “Receipts from the mining, manufacturing and retail sectors continue to demonstrate the current strength of the Texas economy.”

Combs sent sales tax allocations of $300.8 million to Texas cities, 6.4 percent more than October 2006. Calendar year-to-date, city sales tax allocations are up 7 percent. Texas counties received October sales tax payments of $27.8 million, up 9.6 percent compared to a year ago. Calendar year-to-date, county sales tax allocations are 8.4 percent higher than last year.

The 122 special purpose taxing districts throughout Texas received $14.7 million in sales tax, up 20.2 percent compared to last October. So far this year, sales tax allocations to special purpose districts are up 17.9 percent compared to 2006.

Ten local transit systems received $100.2 million in October sales tax allocations, up 5.4 percent compared to a year ago. Year-to-date, transit sales tax revenues are up 4.9 percent.

September state sales tax collections and October allocations of local tax revenue represent sales that occurred in August and were reported to the Comptroller in September.

For details of October sales tax payments to individual cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose districts, locate the Monthly Sales and Use Tax Allocation Comparison Summary Reports on the Comptroller’s Web site http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/allocsum/compsum.html.

The Comptroller’s next sales tax allocation will be made on Friday, November 9.

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State of Valley real estate to highlight forum, which will feature EEDC, during October 30 in Mission

By ELVA JACKSON GARZA

Edwards Abstract and Title Co. is hosting the Fourth Annual State of Real Estate Forum on Tuesday, October 30, at the Cimarron Country Club in Mission.

Registration will begin at 8:30 and the forum will be held from 9:00 a.m. to noon. A special feature of the event will be keynote speaker Ted C. Jones, PhD and former chief economist of Texas A & M University’s Real Estate Center.

Jones will target his presentation on national, state and local economic update and touch on interest rates, the internet and the real estate industry in general. Jones currently serves as Senior Vice President and Chief Economist for Stewart Title Guaranty Company headquartered in Houston.

“We are very pleased with the relationship that Edwards Abstract and Title Co. has developed with Ted Jones over several years. He travels throughout the country regularly and gains first hand knowledge and expertise regarding the real estate industry,” said Byron Lewis, president of Edwards Abstract and Title Co. “All of us in the real estate market are very fortunate that Ted makes time to schedule a visit to the Rio Grande Valley, especially at this critical period that we are presently experiencing.”

Another highlight of the forum is a panel of economic development experts from the cities of McAllen, Edinburg, Mission and Weslaco, who will share general comments regarding construction permit activity, and the factors that are contributing to the continued commercial and industrial growth of the region.

Participating in the economic development panel are Keith Patridge, President and CEO, McAllen Economic Development Corporation; Ramiro Garza, Executive Director, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; Pat Townsend, Jr, President and CEO, Mission Economic Development Association and Hernan Gonzalez, Executive Director of the Weslaco Economic Development Corporation.

The 1031 exchange program has been a topic of interest for many investors and others in the real estate industry. Greg Lehrmann, Division Manager with Asset Preservation, Inc. will focus his presentation on recent changes and update of the rules and regulations regarding 1031 Exchanges.

“The main goal of Edwards Abstract and Title Co. is to offer a unique resource to all of us who serve the residential, commercial and industrial real estate needs of the Rio Grande Valley so that we have the tools to better serve those who we do business with.” Lewis added.

Due to the overwhelming response and reservations made to date, the public is encouraged to make a reservation by contacting Elva Jackson Garza, Vice President and Marketing Manager, by October 24 at 383-4951 or via e-mail at elva.garza@edwards-titleco.com.

Only those who register will be given first preference on seating at the event. There is no cost to attend.

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South Texas College’s Night with Stars a stellar celebration

BY HELEN ESCOBAR

South Texas College’s Valley Scholars Program kicked off its 10th anniversary in stellar style with its annual A Night with the Stars. The event celebrated the program’s 10 years of academic excellence, paying tribute to outstanding Valley Scholar alums that have continued on to successful careers and have made positive changes in their communities. It also offered the program an opportunity to raise money to fund future scholarships.

“It was an amazing evening and a great way to pay tribute to the students that are the foundation of the program,” said Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president of South Texas College. “As I listened to the stories of our honorees and how they persevered to accomplish so much, I was overwhelmed by feelings of pride. These alums are truly the best and brightest that South Texas College and the Rio Grande Valley have to offer and it is an honor that we were able to provide an opportunity for them to succeed and realize that any dream can become reality if you try hard enough.”

During the evening, 10 Valley Scholars were honored for their accomplishments, dedication to academic excellence, and service to the community. Honorees included alums Shalimar Madrigal of McAllen; Christopher O. Park of Donna; Judith Hernández of La Joya; Constance A. Salinas of Rio Grande City; José Tomás Calzadias Jr. of Weslaco; Kyndra Nicole Gatton of Weslaco; Amir Esmaeili of Mission; Mario Segura of McAllen; José Luis Caraveo of Pharr; and Cynthia E. López of Mission.

“The Valley Scholars Program at STC opened the door to a higher education by providing me with the resources, support and guidance necessary to be successful,” said Calzadias. “I am both honored and grateful to be a part of this prestigious organization.”

The event also featured performances by the La Joya High School Mariachi Los Coyotes and Grupo Folklorico “Tabasco.” More than 55 program sponsors were celebrated at the event including executive sponsors Charles Clark Chevrolet Co., Clark Knapp Honda and Texas State Bank and diamond sponsors City of McAllen and the McAllen Chamber of Commerce.

“Through last year’s event we were able to raise funds for an additional 40 scholarships for very deserving students and this year we have doubled the proceeds,” said program coordinator Marie Olivárez. “Since our inception in 1997, more than 500 students have gone through the program, graduated STC and gone on to amazing accomplishments. Our sponsors from across the community really stepped up their support this year and, through their generosity, are ensuring that we can make many more dreams come true.”

In order to be eligible for the program’s scholarships, students must rank in the top 10 percent of their high school class and who show an interest in scholastic achievement, leadership and community service. Once admitted students must maintain a 3.25 grade point average at STC and full-time enrollment status during the fall and spring semesters. Each student is also required to be actively engaged in a variety of community service projects throughout the academic year.

For additional information about program visit http://www.southtexascollege.edu/ keyword “Valley Scholars” or call 872-2621.

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Gov. Perry names Robert Scott as Texas Commissioner of Education

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, October 16, named Robert Scott as Texas Commissioner of Education. Scott, who has served as interim Education Commissioner since June 2007, has been an integral part of raising the bar for scholastic achievement and success in Texas for more than 15 years.

“Robert Scott is the right choice to lead Texas’ education system toward continued success and new benchmark achievements,” said Perry. “With an unmatched record of service and commitment to Texas’ students, Robert has the experience and dedication needed to raise the bar in classrooms and make sure students receive a top-notch education that prepares them for success in and out of school.”

Scott served four years as Chief Deputy Commissioner of Education, managing daily operations for the Texas Education Agency (TEA). By overseeing development of new assessment and accountability systems, Scott championed efforts to raise standards and promote rewards for effective teachers. During that time he also established initiatives to strengthen early childhood and high school education.

In 2003, Scott served as interim Commissioner of Education and oversaw a massive restructuring of the TEA, which resulted in more than $37 million in savings for Texas taxpayers. Previously, Scott served as a senior advisor for public education to Gov. Perry, acting as a liaison between the Governor’s Office and various education groups and entities throughout the state. He has served as an education advisor in the Texas Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, and as an advisor to Commissioners of Education Mike Moses and Jim Nelson.

“With Robert Scott at the helm of the Texas Education Agency, I am confident Texas will continue to be a national model for student achievement, accountability and innovation,” said Perry.

Scott received a bachelor’s and law degree from the University of Texas and is the father of two children who attend public school in Austin ISD.

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Refugio County’s Precinct 4 Commissioner Raymond Villarreal resigns in election fraud scheme

A sitting Refugio County Precinct 4 commissioner on Tuesday, October 9, pleaded guilty to felony election fraud charges in Refugio County and will also plead to an associated misdemeanor charge next week. Commissioner Raymond Villarreal, 57, admitted to tampering with governmental records during the March 2006 primary election. Last February, a Refugio County grand jury indicted Villarreal for violating state law as a candidate for the county commissioners court.

Under the plea agreement, Villarreal pleaded guilty today to one count of tampering with a governmental record, a state jail felony. Villarreal will also plead guilty to possessing the ballot of another person, a Class B misdemeanor. He will serve 90 days in jail, be placed on five years probation, immediately resign his position on the commissioners court and pay a $1,500 fine. He will pay an additional $1,000 fine on the possession-of-ballot charge and may be obligated to pay restitution to the county for theft of services.

“Today, a county commissioner admitted to tampering with state documents during an election,” said Attorney General Greg Abbott. “Texans will not tolerate candidates or activists who violate the law in order to illegally influence the outcome of an election. We are grateful to Refugio County District Attorney Michael Sheppard and Sheriff Earl Petropoulos for their assistance with this case.”

Abbott added: “Free and fair elections are critical to the success of our democratic system. We will continue to prosecute criminals who commit election fraud.”

Villarreal was indicted after the Refugio County Sheriff’s Office conducted an investigation and filed a complaint with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, which referred the case to the Office of the Attorney General.

The Attorney General’s prosecutors determined from the initial sheriff office’s investigation that Villarreal had developed a complicated scheme to influence the outcome of the 2006 Democratic primary in Refugio County. According to investigators, Villarreal obtained numerous mail-in ballot applications and took these to various residents around the county for their signatures. Villarreal then filled in the address block of these in-county voters with out-of-county addresses that belonged to his supporters.

As a result, when the county elections office mailed absentee ballots to those voters, the ballots were not mailed to the addresses where the voters would receive them during the mail-in ballot period. Instead, the ballots were mailed to the homes of Villarreal’s friends and supporters, who notified him when the ballots arrived by mail. Then, Villarreal picked up the blank ballots, which he took to the “original” applicants inside the county. According to the investigation, those voters marked the ballots in his presence.

The conclusion of these charges is the latest in a series of recent election fraud prosecutions. Last June, five Starr and Hidalgo County residents were indicted in Brooks County on various charges of voter fraud for their conduct during the 2006 election cycle. A grand jury returned felony indictments against the five defendants in an investigation that began with a complaint filed by Starr County Elections Administrator. That case is ongoing.

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