Hidalgo County Judge René A. Ramírez, featured left, visits with Gabriel Sánchez, director of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Dallas Regional Office, during the December 21 official grand opening of the Census Bureau’s local office, which is located at the Wells Fargo Building on the corner of Trenton and McColl roads in Edinburg. The federal agency wants to hire up to 2,000 employees through the Edinburg office, and another 2,000 employees out of its La Feria office, to help get the best possible census count in the four-county Rio Grande Valley. A more accurate Census count can translate into hundreds of millions of dollars in additional federal and state funding for area programs. Census Day is April 1. Census workers are needed both in advance of that date – and especially for the field work that will occur after April 1 to follow up on residents who did not submit their Census questionnaires. The types of jobs available include census takers, crew leaders, crew leader assistants, recruiting assistants, and census clerks. "Once every 10 years, local residents who work for the Census have the opportunity to directly improve the quality of life for all of us in the Valley, because every person they count for the Census means more money comes down from Washington, D.C. for every federal program that helps us in South Texas," said Ramírez. "Local census workers are tremendously important for all of our futures." Interested residents may contact the Edinburg office at 956/587-3370 to schedule an appointment for a job interview. Details about the jobs, the application process, and testing sites for qualify for those Census jobs are available toll-free at 1-866-861-2010, for the hearing-impaired at 1-800-877-8339, or by logging on to http://www.2010CensusJobs.gov.
Former Houston Mayor Bill White, center, featured here in Edinburg on Tuesday, January 5, has endorsed a plan proposed by Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, which calls for tapping into two major state funds controlled by the Texas governor to help build a long sought-after Veterans Affairs Hospital in the Valley. White, who is seeking the March 2 Democratic Party nomination for Texas governor, is featured with Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa and former Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García during White’s late morning visit with elected leaders and staff members at the Hidalgo County Courthouse. White agrees with Martínez’ proposal to use money from the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, which together have several hundred million dollars in available revenue for the purposes of funding major projects which can result in jobs creation and economic development.
Former Hidalgo County Judge Eloy Pulido, featured here being interviewed in McAllen following his late December campaign kick-off to regain his former seat, and former Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García (not shown in this image), his Democratic rival for the March 2 party primary nomination, are both featured in exclusive interviews on the Internet at http://www.RGV-Life.com. Shaine Mata, the publisher of the highly-regarded regional news site, said he is providing the interviews as a public service. "Whenever I do these interviews, the question always comes up, ‘How do you make money?’ I don’t," explained Mata. "There are Google Ads on my websites, but they don’t even come close to paying me for my time and effort. At first, I wanted to ask for advertising from candidates. Then, I realized that it might influence or appear to influence my work. I’ll post a video soon explaining why I do what I do." Mata, whose political expertise also includes serving in the Texas Legislature with Rep. Aaron Peña, Jr., D-Edinburg, added: "Please watch both interviews. Make an informed decision at the primaries. Spread the word."
After serving a collective 28 years on the McAllen Medical Center Board of Governors and later South Texas Health System, John Schrock, Sr., a former McAllen city commissioner, celebrates a legacy of successes as he settles into retirement. On Monday, December 21, the STHS Board of Governors, administration and staff proudly provided Schrock with an honorary proclamation highlighting his nearly 30-year volunteer career providing health care opportunities for the people in the Rio Grande Valley. Among the STHS leadership featured in this photograph are, from left: Douglas Matney, STHS vice president/acute care and group director; Lorenzo Olivarez, STHS chief financial officer; John Schrock, Sr.; Joe Riley, chief executive officer for McAllen Medical Center; Linda Reséndez, chief executive officer for Edinburg Regional Medical Center and Edinburg Children’s Hospital; and Mike Adams, chief operating officer for McAllen Heart Hospital. See story later in this posting.
Edinburg’s retail economy during November drops more than 13 percent from same month in 2008
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Edinburg’s retail economy during November 2009, as measured by the amount of local and state sales taxes generated by a wide range of local businesses, was down more than 13 percent from the same month in 2008, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.
The latest figure represents the seventh consecutive decrease when comparing monthly figures between this year and during 2008.
For the month of November 2009, Edinburg generated $1,035,902.80 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,197,370.03 – a decrease of 13.48 percent.
In October 2009, Edinburg’s monthly sales tax figure was 18.46 percent lower than the same month in 2008.
In September 2009, Edinburg’s monthly sales tax figure was 9.95 percent lower than the same month in 2008.
In August 2009, Edinburg’s monthly sales tax figure was 7.77 percent lower than the same month in 2008.
In July 2009, Edinburg’s monthly sales tax figure was 5.39 percent lower than the same month in 2008.
In June 2009, Edinburg’s monthly sales tax figure was 2.46 percent lower than the same month in 2008.
In May 2009, Edinburg’s monthly sales tax figure was almost five percent lower than the same month in 2008.
The report represents the latest figures compiled by the state, and announced on Friday, January 8.
The state and local sales tax figures mostly represent money generated in November, reported to the Texas Comptroller in December, and distributed back in early January to local governments by the comptroller’s office in the form of rebates.
Retail businesses are required to collect both the local and state sales taxes and send them to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. The state government then sends the local share of the sales taxes to the communities in which they originated.
The local sales tax is used to help pay for dozens of major city services, ranging from new streets to city personnel.
Local sales taxes in Edinburg 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 Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.
The EEDC, which is a city government entity, is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It sits on a public treasury of millions of dollars.
McAllen finally shows rebound
McAllen – the largest economic engine in South Texas – finally showed an improvement in November, following five consecutive months of decreases in its retail activities.
For November 2009, McAllen generated more than $4.7 million in local sales taxes, compared with more than $4.4 million in November 2008 – an improvement of 6.2 percent.
In October 2009, McAllen’s monthly sales tax figure was down more than 7.4 percent from the same month in 2008.
In September 2009, McAllen’s monthly sales tax figure was down more than 14.5 percent.
In August 2009, McAllen’s monthly sales tax figure was almost 10 percent lower than the same month in 2008.
In July 2009, McAllen’s monthly sales tax figure was almost five percent lower than the same month in 2008.
In June 2009, McAllen’s monthly sales tax figure was more than 11 percent lower than the same month in 2008.
For the month of November 2009, all cities in Hidalgo County generated $9,695,377.85 in local sales taxes, compared with almost $9,766,932.57 in November 2008, a drop of 0.73 percent.
The county itself does not collect a local sales tax.
Comparable cities in Hidalgo County – with the exception of McAllen – also posted negative numbers for November 2009.
• Pharr’s latest monthly retail sales activities showed the biggest drop among major communities. For November 2009, its local economy generated almost $710,000 in local sales taxes, compared with more than $845,000 during the same month last year – a drop of more than 16 percent.
• Weslaco generated $649,274.07 in local sales tax activities in November 2009, compared with $705,091.00 in November 2008, a drop of 7.91 percent.
• Mission registered a 2.63 percent drop, generating $981,995.88 in November 2009, compared with $1,008,522.80 in November 2008;
Also posting decreases were the two key communities in Cameron County.
Brownsville, the Valley’s most populated city, saw its retail economy in November 2009 generate less local sales tax revenue than during the same month in 2008.
In November 2009, Brownsville generated $2,339,461.07 in local sales taxes, compared with $2,421,109.99 in November 2008 – a drop of 3.37 percent.
In November 2009, Harlingen registered $1,342,795.84 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,469,414.80 in November 2008, a decrease of 8.61 percent.
All cities in Cameron County generated a total of more than $4.3 million in local sales taxes in November 2009, compared with more than $4.6 million in November 2008, a drop of 7.59 percent.
Cameron County does not collect a county sales tax.
Texas reports 11.6 percent decrease
According to state comptroller’s office:
The state collected $1.65 billion in sales tax revenue in December, down 11.6 percent compared to December 2008.
December state sales tax collections and January allocations to local governments represent sales that occurred in November.
“Declining sales tax collections, beginning in February 2009, have now extended through December 2009,” said Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs said. “As has been seen the past several months, collections are down across most major sectors of the Texas economy, including oil and natural gas, construction, manufacturing and retail trade. It is expected the double-digit declines in tax collections seen over the last half-year will first moderate with collections returning to growth during the first or second quarter of 2010.”
Combs sent cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts their first sales tax allocations of 2010 — $405.2 million, down 11.8 percent compared to January 2009.
Combs sent January sales tax allocations of $274.4 million to Texas cities, down 11.4 percent compared to January 2009. Texas counties received sales tax payments of $24.3 million, down 16.1 percent compared to last January.
In addition, $16.2 million went to 163 special purpose taxing districts around the state, down 11.5 percent compared to last January. Ten local transit systems received $90.1 million in sales tax allocations, down 11.6 percent compared to a year ago.
For details of January sales tax payments to individual cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose districts, locate the Monthly Sales Tax Allocation Comparison Summary Reports on the comptroller’s web site at:
The comptroller’s next sales tax allocation will be made on Friday, February 12.
Federal health care legislation, including status of proposed Valley VA Hospital, among issues to be reviewed by Sen. Hinojosa
By ARTURO BALLESTEROS
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Thursday, January 14, released his interim charges for the 81st Legislative Interim, including nine recommendations submitted to the lieutenant governor by State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen.
Hinojosa’s submittals include investigating unregulated jails and detention centers in Texas, improving state laws that ensure a safe produce inspection process, and an analysis of property tax exemptions for affordable housing developers.
Eighteen Senate committees and subcommittees received a list of subject areas to be studied during 2010. These committees must submit a report on these charges prior to the opening of the 2011 legislative session in early January 2011.
Hinojosa remarked on his top recommendations that will be studied during this interim: continued improvement of the state’s DNA Crime Lab and a full assessment of how federal health care legislation will impact Texas’ state health delivery systems.
"From the beginning, we knew an audit of our DNA Crime Lab’s policies and methods would be a long-term project. I thank Lt. Gov. Dewhurst for allowing us to continue improving the integrity of our forensic systems," Hinojosa said. "As to the issue regarding a federal health care bill, Texas must be prepared to adapt to any changes made to our health care delivery industry. Texans invest heavily in our health care services. Any changes currently under consideration in Congress should be analyzed and prepared for at the state level."
Last session, Hinojosa passed a constitutional amendment authorizing coordination with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to contribute state resources to improve access to health care for our veterans. Texans approved the amendment in November’s ballot, and now the Veterans Affairs Committee will track the progress of proposing a new facility.
Hinojosa spoke of the busy workload in store for legislators in preparation for the 2011 session.
"With these interim charges, we can begin to dig into the details of these issues," he said. "This will become the basis for many legislative proposals for next year."
Congressman Hinojosa secures almost $19 million more for rehabilitation of area levees
By PATRICIA GUILLERMO
Congresman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, January 14, announced the latest rehabilitation of levees contract award, valued at $18,898,768, for a 13-mile segment in Hidalgo County.
This is the fifth contract in Hinojosa’s Congressional District 15 to be awarded by the United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) for the Lower Rio Grande Flood Control Project.
So far, the rehabilitation of levees running through Hidalgo and Cameron Counties have received almost $73 million through funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and awarded by the (USIBWC).
Construction has already been underway on two segments of the Lower Rio Grande Flood Control Project. The (USIBWC) is raising the levee height to comply with standards established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the The Banker Floodway North Levee and the Main Floodway.
The Banker Floodway construction covers three miles of levee between Granjeno and 23rd Street in McAllen. This construction is scheduled to be completed in February 2010.
Construction has also begun on a 43-mile stretch of the Main Floodway in Hidalgo County. This will provide flood protection for the communities of McAllen, Hidalgo, Pharr, San Juan, Alamo, Donna and Weslaco. This project is scheduled to be completed by September 2010.
“This is a fine example of how the Stimulus Act works in that construction contracts are awarded to qualifying companies from the Rio Grande Valley and across the U.S. which they in turn provide local jobs to the people of Texas District 15 which gives a boost the local economy”, said Hinojosa.
The South Texas congressional delegation has worked over the past few years to fund the Lower Rio Grande Flood Control Project to repair and rehabilitate the levees in an effort to bring them up to FEMA standards.
Previous contracts awarded include:
• Main Floodway/Arroyo Colorado $19,169, 159 for a 43-mile segment of main floodway in Hidalgo County;
• North Floodway/Arroyo Colorado $20,988,112 for a 48-mile segment along North Floodway and Arroyo Colorado in Hidalgo and Cameron Counties (south of La Feria);
• Banker Floodway $950,997 for a three-mile segment between Granjeno and 23rd Street; and
• Rio Grande, Hidalgo Levee $7,481,814 for one-mile segment near the City of Hidalgo, including construction of floodwall and flood gate at the Hidalgo-Reynosa Bridge.
Border economic development to be focus of Senate committee led by Sen. Lucio
BY DORIS SÁNCHEZ
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Thursday, January 14, announced the legislative interim charges for the International Relations and Trade (IRT) Committee, whose chairman is Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville.
The interim is the period between regular sessions of the Texas Legislature.
In addition to those committee assignments, Lucio said he was pleased that two of Dewhurst’s top job creation priority issues for were based on recommendations submitted by the Brownsville lawmaker.
One directs the Economic Development Committee to review the effectiveness of state programs aimed at assisting small business growth and development, while the other directs Lucio’s committee to review the state’s efforts aimed at helping distressed areas, coastal regions and rural communities to compete in the international marketplace.
"I am thankful for Lt. Gov. Dewhurst’s leadership in providing my committee a series of broad-based charges that will allow IRT to work on key legislative reforms to address the capacity and resource needs of Texas’ communities, as well as provide necessary guided growth and development in our state," said Lucio.
Lucio explained that the lack of capacity, resources and access to critical development funds are major impediments for some communities in Texas to participate in commerce. This is true not only for distressed regions, but also for coastal and rural communities.
"Overall, these charges provide IRT the forum to work with key county and local officials to craft the needed legislative reforms to address our state’s trade-related needs. We will strive to engender regional development and foster increased trade by addressing the lack of capacity and resources needed to more easily facilitate economic and regional development, as well as tourism, in distressed, coastal and smaller communities," Lucio said. "Our reforms will increase Texas’ competitive edge by allowing every community in our state to participate in the international marketplace. Through improved commerce our state will be the main beneficiary with a more vibrant and energetic economy.
"As it is commonly known, trade and commerce are dependent on the timely transport, as well as arrival of goods," Lucio added. "That is why I welcome the charge to develop proper efficiencies to reduce the crossing time for commerce shipments and expedite trade with Mexico, while not compromising security. This is a great opportunity to look at trade in coastal communities and more fully utilize our Texas ports to reduce shipment delays."
Addressing employment needs, Lucio noted, "Unfortunately, in different parts of the state, trade-displaced workers have confronted many obstacles in terms of the resources available to them so that they can become true participants in the economy. This is especially true for predominantly Spanish-speaking individuals along the border. We will work with key officials and stakeholders to develop initiatives that assist these hard-to-reach citizens with more job opportunities and placement help. This will not only reduce some unemployment in Texas, but will help our local economies."
Over the last two decades, the committee has also developed legislative expertise in homeownership and substandard housing matters, particularly on border colonias and substandard housing conditions in other parts of the state.
Addressing the quality of life of low-income residents has been one of Lucio’s main priorities since he was elected a public official. He feels that although Texas has come a long way to address the plight of those living in substandard housing along the border, much more needs to be done.
"Our charges enable IRT to work with key community, state and local officials to examine the effectiveness of our colonia prevention and remediation efforts, as well as homeownership initiatives geared to distressed areas. The need to provide greater affordable housing opportunities in regions with limited resources will be addressed head-on when IRT works with housing advocates, industry individuals and state officials to develop recommendations for better use and leveraging of our housing funds, including initiatives for new housing funding sources," he said.
“Through the legislative directives IRT has received, my committee has been given the opportunity to comprehensively address regional, economic and trade capacity, as well as development needs of the state. From Brownsville to Beaumont, Laredo to Lubbock, El Paso to Wichita Falls, the needs of distressed, coastal and smaller communities will be addressed through the interim hearings of the IRT Committee,” concluded Lucio.
Besides Lucio, the IRT Committee members include Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who serves as Vice Chair; Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Ft. Worth; Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls; Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay; Sen. Mario Gallegos, Jr., D-Houston; and and Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.
The interim charges follow:
• Review the effectiveness of the Coordination of Colonia Initiatives and related measures addressed by the Committee and develop recommendations to better address substandard communities across the state where no potable water or sewage services are provided. Review state and local laws and policies relating to development and growth in unincorporated regions of the state and develop recommendations aimed at providing local units of government the necessary local control tools to curtail the spread of colonia-like developments in their jurisdictions;
• Examine effectiveness of state homeownership programs serving colonia residents. Study the need for contract for deed conversions in the colonias within 150 miles of the Texas/Mexico border. Examine existing statute regarding statewide distribution of the Texas Bootstrap Loan Program and recommend changes to increase the state’s ability to expedite allocation of funds. Develop recommendations to address abusive lending practices in distressed areas and fair housing violations in the colonias;
• Study and make recommendations for state actions to increase efficiencies and reduce wait times in crossing the Texas-Mexico border, while ensuring proper security. Review initiatives to maximize bridge-crossing revenue;
• Assess Texas’ trade-related programs and work with the appropriate state and federal agencies to develop initiatives that will increase NAFTA-related commerce in Texas. Make recommendations to encourage communities currently unable to participate in international trade, due to their lack of resources and capacity, to engage in such trade;
• Review the state’s efforts aimed at helping distressed areas, coastal regions and rural communities to compete in the international marketplace. Work with the appropriate state and federal agencies to develop recommendations to create initiatives that will build regional development and capacity with the goal of better facilitating trade and commerce, as well as tourism, in these communities;
• Review the state’s efforts and policies aimed at addressing the workforce training needs of trade-displaced citizens. Report on the effectiveness of these programs and develop recommendations to better assist hard to reach populations in distressed areas, including Spanish-predominant speaking displaced citizens along the Texas-Mexico border region; and
• Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade, 81st Legislature, Regular and Called Sessions, and make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, and/or complete implementation. Review the housing initiatives addressed by the Committee and work with the appropriate housing officials to develop recommendations to better address the housing needs of smaller and distressed communities in Texas. Develop recommendations for the cost-effective use of existing housing monies, leveraging of funds and initiatives for new funding sources.
Texas A&M breaks ground on medical school, located on 200 acres donated by City of Bryan, that will have $1 billion economic impact
By RICH PARSONS
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Thursday, January 14, toured construction of the new Texas A&M Health Science Center campus in Bryan. Dewhurst was joined on the tour by Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan.
"When completed, this new facility will provide cutting-edge medical training and health professions education vital to caring for the people not only in this region but the entire state of Texas," said Dewhurst. "This new health science center campus will also provide important jobs for the Brazos Valley and will have an economic impact on this area of more than $1 billion by 2015."
The new campus sits on 200 acres donated by the City of Bryan.
Currently in the first phase of construction, the university site is being built in four phases. The first two buildings under construction are the $68 million Health Professions Education Building (HPEB), which is being funded through the Permanent University Fund (PUF) and the $60 million Medical Research and Education Building (MREB), which is being funded with $45 million in Tuition Revenue Bonds and $15 million from the PUF. The buildings will be interconnected.
The HPEB is scheduled to open in July, and the MREB is scheduled to open in April 2011. Completion of the entire Texas A&M Health Science Center Bryan campus is projected for sometime in 2020.
"While this health science center is an important and significant investment in the future of Texas, we must be very prudent with every dollar of taxpayer money we spend, not just in these challenging economic times but always," said Dewhurst. "That’s why the Senate Finance Committee, led by Sen. Ogden, will be reviewing all state spending during the interim to ensure every dollar the state appropriated in the current budget is being spent wisely."
"I share these same concerns about fiscal responsibility with the Lt. Governor," Ogden said. "That’s why I am proud to have him here to see how this innovative partnership between the Texas A&M Health Science Center and the local health care community can provide training in the most effective way across the state."
Most recently, the 81st Legislature appropriated an additional $16 million for the biennium to continue expansion of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine as a means of addressing the state’s current physician work force shortage.
City of Edinburg works with UT-Pan American to improve rain drainage issue near campus
By MELISSA C. RODRÍGUEZ
The University of Texas-Pan American is working with Edinburg city leaders to address the rain drainage matter affecting campus.
James Langabeer, UTPA vice president for Business Affairs, signed a Memorandum of Agreement on Friday, January 8, with Edinburg officials to share the costs of cleaning and repairing the drainage ditch off of Sugar Road, near the UTPA Physical Plant that serves the campus and surrounding area, to allow for better drainage of rainwater.
“The project will clean out and replace the current ditch with a pipe that will be kept clean and drain completely, rather than having trees and plant overgrowth in it like the current ditch,” Langabeer said.
Langabeer said the Edinburg City Council recently approved the memorandum which outlines that the university and city will share the more than $350,000 cost to clean the ditch and replace approximately 1,100-square feet of pipe from Sugar Road to Jackson Road. UTPA will pay half of the construction costs, which are estimated at roughly $200,000.
“I want students to know that help is on the way,” Langabeer said. “We recognize that we have had a drainage issue on campus for years and we are taking positive steps to remedy the problem with the help of the city, particularly Edinburg Mayor Richard García, City Manager Ramiro Garza and City Engineer Isael Posadas.”
The project is expected to be completed within one year.
Gov. Perry, with support from Texas Classroom Teachers Association, declines to apply for $750 million in federal education funding
Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, January 13, announced that Texas will not submit an application for federal Race to the Top education funds. Despite tremendous education successes, Texas’ application would be penalized by the U.S. Department of Education for refusing to commit to adopt national curriculum standards and tests and to incur ongoing costs, the governor contended.
“Texas is on the right path toward improved education, and we would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children’s future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington, virtually eliminating parents’ participation in their children’s education,” Perry said. “If Washington were truly concerned about funding education with solutions that match local challenges, they would make the money available to states with no strings attached.”
Texas’ curriculum standards, which determine what students are taught in Texas classrooms, are set by the elected State Board of Education (SBOE). The SBOE recently adopted one of the nation’s first college- and career-ready curriculum standards in core subjects after receiving widespread input from Texas education and business leaders.
“I wholeheartedly support the governor’s decision,” Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott said. “This one-time grant program would result in mandates for districts that would last for decades.”
Scott was appointed Texas Education Commissioner in the fall of 2007 by Perry.
Through Race to the Top funding, the U.S. Department of Education seems to be coercing states like Texas to suddenly abandon their own locally established curriculum standards in favor of adopting national standards spearheaded by organizations in Washington, D.C., the governor said. While Texas could be eligible for up to $750 million in Race to the Top funding, it would cost Texas taxpayers upwards of $3 billion to realign our education system to conform to the U.S. Department of Education’s uniform vision for public education, he added.
The Texas Classroom Teachers Association, which in mid-January endorsed former Houston Mayor Bill White, a Democrat, for governor, praised Perry’s decision.
“The Texas Classroom Teachers Association supports the decision of Gov. Perry and Commissioner Scott to decline to seek funds under the federal Race to the Top program. Texas public schools need enhanced funding, but the limited funding and potentially harmful policy requirements associated with Race to the Top are, in our view, likely to result in a net cost to Texas education," said Jeri Stone, executive director and general counsel of TCTA. "The loss of autonomy and flexibility that are essential to meet the needs of Texas students is simply not worth it.”
Gov. Perry wrong to refuse applying for up to $750 million in federal education funding
By MARTÍN PEÑA
We are very disappointed that Gov. Perry has chosen not to apply for federal funds, under Race to the Top, that could have provided $350 million ($75 per student) and as much as $750 million ($150 per student) to improve public education in Texas.
The main reason cited was that Texas would have to adopt national curriculum standards in English and math and in doing so would have ceded some control over public education to Washington.
Only Alaska and Texas have decided not to participate in this initiative which is being directed by the National Governor’s Council. Texas already receives billions of dollars in “No Child Left Behind” and stimulus funds and in doing so has agreed to many requirements not previously in state law.
The refusal to apply comes at a time when districts in Texas are being asked by state government to improve student educational achievement in Texas. No additional per pupil funding is being provided by the state for the 2010-2011 school year. Costs for property insurance, health insurance, utilities, fuel, etc., are continuing to rise. School districts can access additional revenues by asking voters to approve an increase in property taxes. Due to very tough economic conditions, most districts will go to voters for permission to raise the property tax rate for school operations beyond the state mandated cap of $1.04 per one hundred dollars of valuation.
School districts welcome the challenge posed by new state academic standards. However, the financial resources must be provided. All districts have drastically cut spending during the past three years. At a time when districts should be reducing teacher-pupil ratios, paying our dedicated teachers more, improving technology, and adding programs to help struggling students, districts will be forced to further reduce staff, cut vital programs, and possibly freeze salaries. Accepting Race to the Top funds could have helped districts meet these new stable standards.
School district leaders are concerned about the future as the economic crisis lingers and state sales tax revenues continue to be over 10 percent below expectations. What will happen when the Legislature meets in 2011 to approve a budget for 2011–2012 and 2012–2013? The 81st Legislature approved a budget for 2009–2010 and 2010–11, which used more than $4 billion in federal stimulus funds to balance the budget. This money went to provide additional funding for public and higher education, health and human services, highways, etc. The 82nd Legislature will have to find $4 billion to maintain funding where it now is before they look at increasing funding to various state agencies. Is now the time to be refusing additional dollars?
Based on current state revenues, increased funding does not appear likely unless the state finds new revenue sources.
While we agree that public education is a state matter, we do not agree with the governor’s decision not to apply for additional federal funds. Up until now, state and local school districts have been working with the state and federal regulations in exchange for receiving billions of dollars to assist with the education of children attending our schools.
Martín Peña is executive director of the South Texas Association of Schools, which represents school superintendents in the Region 1 and Region 2 Education Service Centers.
Edinburg Chamber of Commerce accepting entries for the Fiesta Edinburg Sports Bowl
By EVANA VLECK
The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce is currently accepting entries for food/arts/crafts vendors and parade participants for the Fiesta Edinburg Sports Bowl. The parade fee for schools will be waived.
The annual event will take place on Saturday, February 27 at the Edinburg Municipal Park. There will be live music, entertainment, food, drinks, Family Fun Zone and the Heart of America Carnival.
Entry to the festival is free with only a $10 parking fee.
Also, don’t miss the IBC Bank Fiesta Edinburg Sports Bowl Parade beginning at the County Courthouse and traveling south on Closner, ending at the CATS Stadium. The parade will take place at 10 a.m., and then the festival will proceed at noon the same day.
Sponsors for the event include The City of Edinburg, the Law Office of Cynthia Gutiérrez, IBC Bank, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, Memorial Funeral Home, Elsa State Bank, Security First Credit Union, L&F Distributors, HEB #2, and South Texas Health System
For more information or to register, interested persons may call the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 383-4974 or sign onto http://www.edinburg.com
Former DPS trooper Higgins convicted for violating civil rights of Hispanic motorists
Michael Anthony Higgins, a former Department of Public Safety trooper, whose jurisdiction was in Kleberg County near Corpus Christi, on Wednesday, January 13, was convicted for depriving a number of Hispanic motorist of their civil rights.
The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas E. Pérez.
The jury returned guilty verdicts on all four counts of the indictment convicting Higgins of violating federal law by willfully stealing money from motorists he stopped on the highway while working as a trooper.
The jury’s verdicts were returned on January 13 after one and one-half hours of deliberation in federal court in Corpus Christi.
Higgins was prosecuted for stopping motorists who appeared to be of Hispanic descent and stealing their money, usually in amounts of several hundred dollars. As a result of the civilian complaints, the Department of Public Safety (DPS), in conjunction with the Texas Rangers, initiated an undercover operation to investigate Higgins.
An undercover officer posed as a civilian of Hispanic descent with limited English language ability.
The undercover officer was issued several pre-recorded $100 bills.
While being monitored by DPS aerial surveillance, the undercover officer drove past Higgins’ duty area in Kleberg County and was eventually stopped by Higgins. Upon making the traffic stop, Higgins asked the undercover officer for money in his possession and then took the money behind the passenger side door of his patrol vehicle.
After Higgins returned bills to the undercover officer, the undercover officer realized that some of the money was missing. Texas Rangers and DPS officers confronted Higgins and, upon inspection of the patrol vehicle, found two of the pre-recorded $100 bills secreted in the passenger side door pocket, which was next to the area where Higgins had gone to count the money.
“This defendant’s duty was to protect and defend motorists, not to profile drivers and steal their money,” said Johnson, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. “We commend the action of the Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers to investigate the civilian complaints quickly and that of the FBI to further the investigation leading to today’s convictions.”
“The defendant abused the power granted to him as a law enforcement officer to prey upon unsuspecting motorists for personal gain. He violated not only the law, but also the public trust,” said Assistant Attorney General Pérez. “I commend the Department of Public Safety and the FBI for their thorough investigation.”
Higgins faces a maximum sentence of up to four years in prison, restitution and a $400,000 fine. Sentencing has been set for April 20, 2010.
The case was investigated by the FBI, Texas Rangers and Officers of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rubén Pérez of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas and Trial Attorney Jim Felte from the Civil Rights Division.
Former McAllen City Commissioner John Schrock, Sr., honored by South Texas Health System
By DALINDA GUILLEN
After serving a collective 28 years on the McAllen Medical Center Board of Governors and later South Texas Health System, John Schrock, Sr., a former McAllen city commissioner, celebrates a legacy of successes as he settles into retirement.
The STHS Board of Governors, administration and staff on December 21 proudly provided Schrock with an honorary proclamation highlighting his nearly 30-year volunteer career providing health care opportunities for the people in the Rio Grande Valley.
Schrock was renowned for the formation of the McAllen Medical Center Foundation in 1993, serving as the initial trustee of the corporation.
Through his efforts, the McAllen Medical Center Foundation helped expand the Rio Grande Valley nursing workforce with its yearly scholarship fund for students seeking a nursing degree at the University of Texas Pan American or South Texas College. It’s investment over the
years has totaled more than $500,000, and has helped graduate hundreds of nurses.
As of 2008, The McAllen Medical Center Foundation maintained a record of $837,000 in contributions dispersed to health care education programs, with $717,000 allocated to UTPA and STC.
“Our goal is to helpincrease enrollment in the school’s nursing programs and to promote a professional workforce to meet the health care needs of our community,” said Schrock. He added that the funds are used at the university and college’s discretion to aid in faculty development and
Schrock was also applauded for having brought expertise, combined with integrity, enthusiasm, and commitment to the STHS Board of Directors.
“He has served with dedication and compassion and believedthat McAllen Medical Center has always supported our local economy and best of all delivered the quality healthcare to our community," said Allan Mercado, M.D., a member of the STHS Board of Governors.
Prior to his position on the STHS Board of Governors, Schrock served as Chairman of the Board for McAllen Medical Center, and was an integral part in assisting South Texas Health System parent company, Universal Health Services, Inc. (UHS) in its business development in the Rio Grande Valley over his tenure.
“Mr. Allan Miller, the UHS Chairman of the Board, President and CEO, joins us in gratefully acknowledging, respect and admiration to John Schrock, Sr., for his many contributions to
the success of McAllen Medical Center, South Texas Health System, and Universal Health Services,” said Douglas Matney, STHS Vice President-Acute Division. “We extend our best wishes to him for his future success and happiness.”
Schrock is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Lifetime Industries Inc.
He has served on numerous boards in the Rio Grande Valley and was also recently reappointed by Gov. Rick Perry to the Texas Emerging Technology Advisory Fund Committee.
South Texas Health System facilities include: Edinburg Children’s Hospital, Edinburg Regional Medical Center, Edinburg Regional Rehab Center, McAllen Medical Center, McAllen Heart Hospital and South TexasBehavioral Health Center and Cornerstone Regional Hospital.
For moreinformation visit:
Carmen Pagan, a McAllen resident and graduate of UT-Pan American, named as vice-chair of Governor’s Commission for Women
Gov. Rick Perry has named Carol Foxhall Peterson of Alpine as chair and Carmen Pagan of McAllen as vice chair, and appointed 10 members to the Governor’s Commission for Women for terms to expire December 31, 2011.
The commission addresses issues affecting Texas women through outreach, education, research and referral services.
Pagan is a certified speech and language pathologist, and co-owner and executive board member of Milestones Therapeutic Associates. She is a member of the American and Texas Speech–Hearing associations and Neuro-Developmental Treatment Association. She is also a member of the Junior League of McAllen. Pagan received a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in communication disorders from the University of Texas-Pan American.
Peterson is event and marketing director at the Gage Hotel in Marathon. She is former owner of Foxhall and Co., a women’s fashion manufacturer and a past divisional vice president of Neiman Marcus in Dallas. Peterson received a bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech University and a culinary arts degree from the French Culinary Institute in New York.
Other prominent Texans appointed or reappointed by Perry to this state board were:
Claudia Abney of Marshall, who is a certified public accountant, partner at Abney, Simmons and Co. PLLC, and vice president of Abney and Company PC;
Gina Bridwell of Abilene, who community volunteer;
Stephanie Cavender of San Antonio, who is president of the Charity Ball Association of San Antonio. She is being reappointed.
Cris Graham of Fredericksburg, who is president of Hondo’s, a restaurant and entertainment venue, and vice-president of Luckenbach Texas Inc.;
Cynthia Tyson Jenkins of Irving, who is a board member and vice president of CTJ Maintenance Inc., vice president of Janitors Market LLC, and chairman of the City of Irving Housing and Human Service Board. She is being reappointed;
Lisa Lucero of Austin, who is a staff member of the Texas Oil and Gas Association. She is being reappointed;
Becky McKinley of Amarillo, who is a cookbook author, caterer and a food journalist for Accent West Magazine and other publications. She is being reappointed;
Tresa Rockwell of Austin, who is the culture marketing manager for Red Bull North America. She is being reappointed;
Connie Weeks of Austin, who is president of the Beacon State Fund, the non-profit financial arm of the Governor’s Commission for Women, and illustrator of “Ocean Surprises.” She is being reappointed; and
Daisy White of Houston, who president of Daisy Sloan White Inc., a special event consulting business. She is being reappointed.
New state laws to improve appraisal process for Texas property taxpayers go into effect
Gov. Rick Perry is highlighting several new laws that took effect on January 1, 2010, which institute important reforms to the appraisal process to help property taxpayers.
“In addition to cutting taxes for 40,000 small business and leaving billions of dollars in our Rainy Day Fund this last session, we also implemented measures that will provide greater protection for property owners by adding transparency and fairness to the appraisal process,” Perry said.
House Bill 8 and House Bill 3612 by Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, and Senate Bill 771 by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, are among several bills that will improve the appraisal process, and include provisions that impose limits on what is considered a comparable sale for appraisal purposes; create an expedited arbitration process; and require substantial evidence to increase an appraisal after a successful appeal. These changes will improve the fairness and accuracy of the appraisal process and increase the oversight of appraisal districts to ensure they are following uniform appraisal practices and procedures.
House Bill 1038 by Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, ensures appraisers continue to consider all comparable properties when appraising a home, including those recently sold at foreclosure or that have decreased in value.
Additional measures to strengthen the appraisal process include the passage of Propositions 2 and 3 by Texas voters in November.
Proposition 2 will ensure that residential property is appraised only based on its use as a homestead (instead of being appraised based on a hypothetical alternate use).
Proposition 3 will allow the Legislature to adopt uniform statewide appraisal standards in the future. Both of these measures will increase transparency and accountability in the appraisal process.
For a list of all Texas laws effective on January 1, 2010, please visit:
Former Brownsville dental worker sentenced for aggravated identify theft of patients
By ANGELA DODGE
The financial clerk of a Brownsville dentist has been sentenced to prison for using patient identifying information to open and bill credit card accounts for services while pocketing cash payments made by the patients, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced on Wednesday, January 13.
In a statement to the court, the victimized dentist detailed the 35-year effort by he and his father before him to build trust with their patients only to have the actions of Claire Batsell, 25, destroy it in nine months.
Batsell was sentenced on Tuesday, January 12, by U.S. District Judge Hilda Tagle to a total of 69 months in federal prison without parole. Batsell pleaded guilty in January 2009 to using fraudulent means of identification and aggravated identity theft. The sentence imposed represents 45 months for the fraudulent use of dental patient identification information conviction and a mandatory 24-months for the aggravated identity theft conviction which is to be served consecutively.
In addition, the court ordered Batsell to serve a three-year-term of supervised release following her imprisonment and to pay $110,000 in restitution.
Batsell, a U.S. citizen and Brownsville resident, was employed by a local dentist as a receptionist/financial clerk from May 2006 until she was fired in July 2007 when her thefts were discovered. As part of her duties in the dentist’s office, Batsell received checks and cash payments from patients for services rendered. She also prepared and submitted credit applications for patients who wanted to pay on credit. Without the dentist’s or the patients’ knowledge, Batsell used the identifying information of patients who paid with cash to open unauthorized credit accounts, then falsified account ledgers to show the credit account being billed and pocketed the cash. Where a patient had a valid credit account but paid cash, she would pocket the cash and bill the credit account.
Prior to handing down the sentence, the court heard the victimized dentist explain how Batsell’s wrongdoing almost destroyed his dental practice, causing a loss of about one-third of his practice and damaged his professional reputation. The dentist told Judge Tagle Batsell’s thefts adversely affected the credit of some of his patients and imposed a huge financial burden on him and his family to pay back the credit card company for the fraudulent charges made by Batsell. Additionally, the dentist and his staff suffered much embarrassment and stress having to explain to patients what Batsell had done.
The court ordered Batsell into the custody of the United States Marshals to begin serving her sentence immediately following the hearing.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Service and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Óscar Ponce.
Affiliated Media, Inc., owner of Denver Post, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections
Affiliated Media, Inc. on Friday, January 15, announced that it has obtained the approval of its lenders for a financial restructuring of the company that will sharply reduce its debt, boost its cash flow and allow greater financial flexibility. The plan will be implemented in the near future through a "prepackaged" chapter 11 filing.
In general, Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a federal court procedure for businesses to reorganize their affairs. The Chapter 11 plan will outline how the business will repay its creditors either partially or in full.
Affiliated Media, Inc. is the holding company for the MediaNews Group family of newspapers, the nation’s second-largest newspaper publisher by circulation and owner of 54 daily newspapers, over 100 non-daily newspapers, as well as websites, television and radio broadcasters that serve markets in 12 states.
Unlike other media company reorganizations, this one does not involve the newspaper operations or have any effect on employees or vendors of the newspapers. Only the holding company will restructure.
The reorganization, structured in consultation with the company’s senior lenders, provides for the swap by senior lenders of debt for equity, and reduction of the company’s debt of approximately $930 million to $165 million. There will be no management change or change in control of the company.
William Dean Singleton, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of MediaNews Group, will continue to select a majority of the members on the Board of Directors. The Singleton led management will be authorized to own 20% of the company through stock and warrants. Singleton and company President Joseph J. Lodovic IV will control the company through their ownership of all class A shares of the company, which entitles them to elect a majority of the board of directors. Other stockholders will own class B and class C shares.
"In our search for a new model that reflects the realities of today’s changing newspaper environment, we have come up with a solution that restores financial strength and flexibility to our balance sheet," said Singleton. "It does not affect the operations of any of our newspapers or vendors or other operations. It gives us one of the strongest balance sheets in the industry. It gives us breathing space to create a new model for the newspapers we publish."
Singleton added: "One critical advantage of our plan, compared with those by some other media companies, is that it is a prepackaged plan that has the approval of lenders and unlike other filings, this one does not involve our newspaper operations." He noted that the plan allows for claims of Affiliated Media’s trade creditors, suppliers and employees to be unaffected by the filing and paid in the ordinary course as they come due. Almost all of the company’s trade creditors, suppliers and employees are totally unaffected in any event since none of the individual newspaper operations are involved in the reorganization plan.
"For them, it’s business as usual," he said. The company is current on all vendor payments, he said, and expects to remain so. He said the company has adequate cash to fund all its operations in a normal fashion.
At present, senior lenders to the company are owed approximately $590 million, guaranteed by certain affiliates. The company also owes an aggregate principal amount of about $326 million to holders of subordinated notes. By accepting the prepackaged plan, senior lenders will trade their existing claims and guarantees for a pro rata share of the new secured term loan, in a smaller principal amount but with more collateral and a more financially sound borrower, as well as ownership of a majority of the new equity of the reorganized company, subject to a gradual dilution as a result of grants of restricted stock.
Subordinated note holders will receive warrants for future equity. All existing equity interests in Affiliated Media will be cancelled.
In contrast with most filings, where creditors may oppose the proposed plan for re-organization, a prepackaged filing means that affected creditors have already seen and accepted the plan prior to the time it is filed, so that it can proceed with little debate or negotiation, and can swiftly win approval from the court.
The newspaper industry is undergoing a major transformation, exacerbated by the current recession, which is causing falling advertising, a slumping retail market and significant drops in classified advertising. About 80 percent of the company’s revenues are generated by advertising sales, and those sales will likely continue to be affected by the economic downturn. In recent years, the company has undertaken a number of strategic initiatives to improve operating cash flow and to reduce costs. But it became clear yesterday’s balance sheet couldn’t be sustained by today’s business environment.
Even as the newspaper environment has badly deteriorated over the past three years, MediaNews newspapers have performed better than the industry as a whole. Circulation of the company’s newspapers grew for the September Audit Bureau of Circulations 6-month reporting period, while industry circulation dropped 10.6 percent. The growth included gains by the Denver Post after its primary competitor ceased publication. Excluding the Denver gain, the company’s circulation dropped 4.8%, still well below the industry’s 10.6% decline.
And the company’s innovative advertising sales initiatives have resulted in advertising declines lower than the industry as a whole. December quarter advertising results have shown substantially smaller declines than were experienced in the first nine months of the year.
All but one of the company’s newspapers are profitable.
"This reorganization does not come without pain," Singleton said. "Current shareholders will be losing the value of their holdings. But we believe that adopting this plan will give us a far better platform from which to develop, grow and participate in the consolidation and re-invention of the newspaper industry."