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Texas Transportation Commission officials, joined by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Hidalgo County Judge  René  A. Ramírez, Hidalgo County Commissioner Héctor “Tito” Palacios, and other local transportation leaders, on Thursday, June 24, announced $78.5 million in pass-through funds for two major Hidalgo County transportation projects that will connect NAFTA truck traffic from the five ports to area industrial zones and to U.S. Highway 281. The funds are leveraging an estimated $400 million in local revenue that will be used toward building major components of the proposed Trade Corridor Connector (TCC) and the International Bridge Trade Corridor (IBTC). “My colleagues in the Texas Legislature and I are proud of the progress we’ve made in securing critical funding for building the physical infrastructure in South Texas," said Hinojosa. "We need to sustain that progress, especially during difficult budget times, so that industry and commerce can continue to thrive in this fast-growing region." Featured following the funding action by the Transportation Commission are, from left: Jacinto Garza, P.E.; Michael G. Cano, a member of the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) board of directors; Dennis Burleson, chairman of the Hidalgo County RMA board of directors; Hidalgo County Judge René A. Ramírez; Hidalgo County Commissioner Héctor “Tito” Palacios; and Godrey Garza, executive director for the Hidalgo County RMA. See lead story in this posting. 

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McAllen attorney Gary Gurwitz, featured left in this file photo, on Wednesday, June 23, was selected by his colleagues to serve as chairman of the South Texas College Board of Trustees, setting into play the political leadership structure which soon will have to deal with yet-undisclosed expansion plans for the two-county community college system – and how to pay for it. Gurwitz, flanked by Mike Allen, who he succeeded as chairman, immediately had to deal with other money issues during the trustees’ special meeting, held at the Pecan Campus in McAllen. The STC governing board approved pay raises, effective September 1, ranging from three percent to five percent, for all STC employees, and authorized a five percent cut in its current budget, the result of a mandated $1.5 million drop in state revenues. See story later in this posting. 

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National, state and local leaders on Thursday, June 24, gathered at South Texas College’s Technology Campus in McAllen to celebrate the regional launch of the English for Manufacturing and the Skilled Trades Initiative. The initiative training consists of an interactive, technology-based curriculum derived from the proven and innovative language learning program, Sed de Saber. The program ensures efficient and functional acquisition of workplace communication skills, such as understanding directions and important health and safety measures, using proper manufacturing vocabulary, and reading and interpreting administrative forms. Featured, front from left: Jennifer McNelly, senior vice president for The Manufacturing Institute; Andrés Alcantar, commissioner representing the public for the Texas Workforce Commission; and Blas Castañeda, chief external affairs and economic development officer for Laredo Community College. Featured from left, back row: Rose Benavidez, vice-chair of the STC Board of Trustees; Rafael Vargas, account manager for Sed de Saber; Wanda Garza, executive officer, the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative; and Keith Patridge, CEO for the McAllen Economic Development Corporation. See story later in this posting. 

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Have competitive employees? Want to promote your company while giving your employees an opportunity to bond and have a good time? Sign up for the annual McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Summer Corporate Olympics, scheduled for Friday, August 6 at the La Vista Park. The $500 entry fee will cover 30 employees, friends or relatives with an Olympic company t-shirt, food and beverages. The Summer Corporate Olympics has games for both individuals and for team competition. A limit of 14 teams is allowed. Featured making preparations for the Summer Corporate Olympics and representing the games in the upcoming event, are, front row, from left: Jeanette Noone, Tug-of-War; Dianela Morantes, Volleyball Tournament; Rudy Cordova, Spinning Bat; and Julio García with the Tug-of-War. Back row, from left: Blake Kelley; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki with the Sack Race; Rick Cavazos with the Shot Put and the Horseshoe Toss; and Mireya Lozano and Hilda Solis with the 3-Legged Sack Race. For more information call the MHCC office at 928-0060. 

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Prospective contestants for the Miss Edinburg Pageant, which will be held on August 14, have until Wednesday, June 30 to submit their applications for the event, says Minerva Olivarez, Director for the Miss Edinburg  Pageant, who is featured left. Letty González, president with the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, is featured right during the pageant update. Contestants for Miss Edinburg Teen should be between 14 and 16 years of age, while contestants for Miss Edinburg should be between 17 and 20 years of age. All candidates must be Edinburg residents. Winners will receive scholarships in the Teen and Miss divisions, be awarded a crystal crown, roses, banner and other awards. Winners will have the opportunity to represent the City of Edinburg at various functions such as socials, luncheons and ribbon cuttings. “We are so excited about the upcoming pageant and look forward to meeting all interested applicants. Miss Edinburg and Miss Edinburg Teen will be highlighted throughout the city of Edinburg.  This will be a great honor to receive. We welcome you all,” said Olivarez. More information is available by calling Olivarez at 956/929-0510 or via e-mail at: missedinburgpageant@yahoo.com .  

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Hidalgo County secures $78.5 million state boost for two major transportation projects

By ARTURO BALLESTEROS 

Texas Transportation Commission officials, joined by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Hidalgo County Judge  René A. Ramírez, Hidalgo County Commissioner Héctor “Tito” Palacios, and other local transportation leaders, on Thursday, June 24, announced $78.5 million in pass-through funds for two major Hidalgo County transportation projects that will connect NAFTA truck traffic from the five ports to area industrial zones and to U.S. Highway 281.  

The Commission’s announcement represents Hidalgo County’s portion of more than $300 million in transportation project funds statewide announced that day as part of the Pass-Through Financing Program.  

Pass-through financing is a tool used by the state to stretch limited highway dollars and to allow local communities to fund the upfront costs of constructing a state highway project. The state reimburses a portion of the project cost to the community over time by paying a fee for each vehicle that drives on the new road.  

“My colleagues  in the Texas Legislature and I are proud of the progress we’ve made in securing critical funding for building the physical infrastructure in South Texas," said Hinojosa. "We need to sustain that progress, especially during difficult budget times, so that industry and commerce can continue to thrive in this fast-growing region." 

Ramírez, who called the $78.5 million funding package "historic investments for South Texas," predicted the state action "will yield a positive economic impact not only for our region, but also for Texas and our nation as commerce moves through our ports to its final destination in markets across the country.    

“Hidalgo County is well-positioned to compete and help the Texas economy to recover,” the county judge proclaimed. 

Palacios, whose Precinct 2 includes Pharr, San Juan, Hidalgo and portions of Alamo and McAllen, said the deal represents "strong partnerships between local communities and the Texas Department of Transportation. I am confident that we will do more with limited dollars, we will continue to make investments that greatly benefit our communities for years to come.” 

The funds are leveraging an estimated $400 million in local revenue that will be used toward building major components of the proposed Trade Corridor Connector (TCC) and the International Bridge Trade Corridor (IBTC). The following projects were selected:

• The Trade Corridor Connector (SH 365) or west corridor project was approved for $70 million to provide a route for traffic carrying shipments to move safely between the Pharr, Hidalgo and Anzaldúas bridges and local freight facilities to area industrial sites, foreign trade zones, and up the U.S. Highway 281corridor. The project includes13.38 miles of improvements from FM 1016 to FM 3072; and

• The U.S. 281 (Military Road) project was approved for $8.5 million to improve access to the Pharr Bridge by building an inspection facility and a rural overpass over the connection of the facility and the IBTC or east corridor. The project site is east of SP 600 to FM 2557 (Stewart Road).

The Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority is developing these trade corridor projects as part of its mission to address the long-term mobility needs of the county. 

“I want to thank the Texas Transportation Commission and county’s legislative delegation for their support and for making these important investments in our county,” said Palacios. “These dollars will go a long way towards helping us complete major road projects in our county that keep commerce moving, and families safe, once heavy truck traffic is routed away from neighborhoods.”

More details on the pass-through financing program can be found at: 

http://www.txdot.state.tx.us.  

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Gary Gurwitz selected STC board chairman as trustees cut college budget by five percent but STC staff and faculty get small pay raises

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

McAllen attorney Gary Gurwitz, a founding member of the South Texas Board of Trustees, on Wednesday, June 23, was selected by his colleagues to serve as chairman of STC’s governing board, setting into play the political leadership structure which soon will have to deal with yet-undisclosed expansion plans for the two-county community college system – and how to pay for it. 

Gurwitz, who has previously served as chairman, vice-chairman, and secretary of the board during his long career an an elected community college leader, immediately had to deal with other money issues during the trustees’ special meeting, held at the Pecan Campus in McAllen. 

Two of the major financial decision made that day by the STC Board of Trustees were:  

• Pay raises ranging from three percent to five percent for all STC employees, which go into effect this fall, were unanimously approved; and  

• STC board members authorized reducing the college system’s current budget by five percent – about $1.5 million – to reflect a five percent reduction in state funding, required by the state’s top legislative leaders, affecting all 50 community colleges in Texas.  

Election of STC board officers 

Gurwitz, a managing partner with Atlas & Hall in McAllen, succeeds Mike Allen, best known as the retired president and CEO of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation. 

Rose Benavidez, president of the Starr County Industrial Foundation, was chosen as vice-chairwoman, while  Óscar Longoria, Jr., a Mission attorney, was selected secretary. 

Two of the seven STC board members were not present for the vote on Gurwitz – Longoria and Jesse Villarreal – which came soon after the 5:30 p.m. meeting began. 

However, Longoria did show up for the late afternoon board session, which included several dozen other agenda items, a few minutes after Gurwitz was elected chairman. 

Villarreal, who was excused on important business, missed the meeting. 

Gurwitz, the District 4 representative on the board, represents a portion of Edinburg, north McAllen, northwest Pharr, Palmhurst, and northeast Mission. 

He succeeds Mike Allen, the District 3 trustee on the board, whose constituents live in south McAllen, southwest Pharr, Hidalgo, Sharyland, southeast Mission, and Granjeno. 

Gurwitz and Allen were the only STC board members who were up for reelection on May 4, with the two men posting impressive victories over worthy opponents. 

Allen a powerful symbol for STC students 

Before dealing with the business at hand, Gurwitz expressed his admiration for Allen’s public service and personal conduct. 

He praised Allen for leading the STC Board of Trustees during the previous two years, alluding to the life-and-death battle Allen has been fighting with cancer. 

"Mike has done an absolute phenomenal job during a very trying time. He has worked hard. He’s had to overcome some personal physical problems. He has even persevered when I know physically he would have rather not have done his job," Gurwitz reflected. "He has been a great asset to this board. He did a great job as chairman." 

While STC board trustees are proven successes, both in their professions and in politics, Gurwitz suggested that Allen – because of the monumental medical challenges he has endured – is a powerful symbol for STC students, many who are struggling against their own obstacles, such as social and economic barriers, in their drive for a college degree. 

"He has done great work for the college in communications and community relations," Gurwitz said. "He knows everybody, everybody knows him, they like him. Wherever he goes, they welcome him, they are glad to see him." 

But Gurwitz also predicted that STC, like Allen is already enduring, is about to be undergo its own test of fire, with state budget cuts and dramatic student enrollment looming in the not-too-distant future. 

"We look forward to continue to work in what is going to be an even more trying times," Gurwitz acknowledged. 

STC employee pay raises quietly approved 

With little fanfare –  and even fewer college employees in attendance for the board meeting – STC trustees were low-key in authorizing a 3.19 percent pay raise for its faculty, which will go into effect on September 1. 

The faculty pay raise will increase the base salary for a master’s degree by $582 a year, from the current $38,754 level to the planned $39,336 annual salary, according to STC President Shirley Reed. 

Overall, the pay hike will see the average annual faculty salary increase by $1,684. 

The combined pay boost for STC faculty will total almost $740,000 for the year. 

According to figures also released by Reed, STC has been ranked 15th in total salary range among the state’s 50 community colleges during the past two years. 

STC non-faculty employees – those identified as executive, administration, professional/technical, non-exempt, and professional/technical, exempt – received three percent pay raises.  

Classified staff – who were awarded four percent pay hikes – as a result will see their average hourly rate increase to $12.62 per hour. 

Reed noted that although the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, no workers at STC make less than $8.10 per hour.   

STC pays at least $8.10 per hour for direct wage employees, while all salaried workers receive no less than $8.59 per hour, she noted. 

State’s lean times affecting STC budget 

Mindful of continued bad news that the Texas Legislature – which provides significant state funding for all Texas community colleges – is facing up to an $18 billion state budget shortfall when lawmakers return to work at the Capitol in January, STC board members were required to make a five percent cut in its budget. 

The reduction came in the form of an amendment to STC’s Fiscal Year 2009-2010 Unrestricted Fund Budget, a 12-month period which ends on August 31. 

In her memorandum to STC trustees, Reed laid out the sequence of events that forced the budget cut.  

According to Reed: 

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has notified STC that the Fiscal Year 2010 state appropriations, known as contact hour revenue, is being decreased by that state agency by five percent. 

As a result, total budget revenues and expenditures for STC will drop from almost $128 million to about $126.5 million, Reed estimated. 

STC is not alone in having to tighten its financial belt. 

On May 28, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and Speaker of the House Joe Straus –  all Republicans – directed all state agencies to cut their budgets by five percent in the next two fiscal years, which begin on September 1. 

“As we move into the upcoming budget cycle, state leadership will continue to identify ways to trim spending, just as families and businesses across the state have done, in order to balance our budget,” Perry said. “This request for 10 percent reduction proposals for the next biennium builds on our ongoing call on state agencies to tighten their belts so Texas can continue our commitment to keep taxes low, attract businesses and create jobs as we continue to lead the way out of the national economic downturn.” 

"Essential services" to be protected 

The Republican leaders explained that the state budget cuts provide a starting point for state agencies as they prepare their budget requests for the 82nd Legislative Session, which begins in January. It is similar in scope to directives provided by leadership in previous years to begin the budget writing process.  

“Texans demand the same kind of fiscal responsibility with their tax dollars that they exercise at home with their hard earned money. Now is not the time to waver from the conservative budgeting decisions we’ve made over the past eight years that have kept taxes among the lowest in the nation, our economy outpacing the rest of the country and helped make our state a national leader in job creation,” Dewhurst said. “While we face challenges to our budget, Texans can rest assured we will preserve essential services as we identify further savings for taxpayers.” 

The Republican legislative leaders also detailed certain exceptions to the baseline request limitation, including funding for the Foundation School Program, funding to satisfy debt service requirements for bond authorizations, and funds to maintain eligibility in Medicaid entitlement programs, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the foster care program, among others. 

“These requests are a continuation of efforts to meet our constitutional duty to balance the state budget,” Straus said. “We take our responsibility to Texas taxpayers very seriously, and I believe, together, we can make the necessary choices to help the Texas economy rebound and grow stronger.”  

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Rep. Ríos Ybarra, D-South Padre Island, proclaims innocence following her indictment for alleged health care fraud kickback scheme

By ANGELA DODGE 

Rep. Tara R. Ríos Ybarra, D-South Padre Island, on Wednesday, June 23, was indicted for allegedly illegally refering Medicaid beneficiaries to Gary Morgan Schwarz, DDS in exchange for remuneration, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced. 

Ríos Ybarra, who is a dentist, said she was innocent in a statement she released soon after the felony charge was announced. 

"I am shocked, surprised and disappointed at the allegations made agains me," she stated. "I have devoted myself to my dental patients and to following high ethical standards in my professional capacity as a dentist for 12 years. I would respectfully ask that people not rush to judgment until all the facts are disclosed." 

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. 

The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.  

Diana Woo Paparelli DDS, 57, and Colbert J. Glenn DDS, 49, of McAllen, also were indicted for allegedly illegally refering Medicaid beneficiaries to Schwarz in exchange for remuneration. 

The 22-count indictment returned under seal on Tuesday, June 15, was partially unsealed on Tuesday, June 22, following the arrest of Schwarz, along with two of his office employees and two other area dentists.  

Ríos Ybarra, 38, who has her own private dental practice in Brownsville and also represents District 43 in the Texas House of Representatives, surrendered herself to U.S. Marshals Wednesday morning, June 23 at the U.S. Courthouse in Brownsville.  

Paparelli and Glenn surrendered themselves to federal authorities in McAllen just before noon on Wednesday, June 23. As a result of the surrender of these three defendants, the indictment has now been ordered unsealed as to all defendants.  

Ríos Ybarra appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Felix Recio in Brownsville and ordered released on a $100,000 unsecured bond. Paparelli and Glenn appeared before a U.S. Magistrate in McAllen.

Ríos Ybarra is charged in counts 17 through 19 of a 22-count indictment with allegedly illegally referring Medicaid beneficiaries to Schwarz in exchange for 15 percent of the total payment made by Medicaid to Schwarz for all referred beneficiaries.  

Paparelli and Glenn are similarly charged in counts 11 through 13 of the same indictment. 

All three defendants face a maximum punishment of up to five years in prison and a fine not to exceed $25,000 for each offense upon conviction.     

The investigation leading to the charges in this case  was conducted by the FBI and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Carolyn Ferko is prosecuting the case. 

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Federal government approves use of unmanned U.S. aircraft to patrol Texas-Mexico border

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Wednesday, June 23, announced that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved the flight of an unmanned aerial vehicle over 1,200 miles of the Texas-Mexico border, in addition to the Texas Gulf Coast.  

As a result of the decision, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can now move forward in permanently stationing a remotely-piloted aircraft in Texas. This will be the first UAV-based and operated in Texas to help combat illegal activity along the Texas-Mexico border. 

“Today marks a critical next step in securing the Texas-Mexico border. By permanently positioning this aircraft in Texas, CBP can further combat illegal activity along our southern border,” said  Cuellar. “For five years, other southern border states have benefited from this technology and this will ensure Texas has the same tools in the box to combat the spectrum of threats we face.”  

Earlier this month, CBP began flying a remotely-piloted aircraft based in Arizona over a portion of West Texas. FAA’s most recent approval will allow CBP to fly over the remainder of the Texas-Mexico border between El Paso and Brownsville along the Rio Grande.  

In addition, CBP will patrol the state’s coastline along the Gulf of Mexico. 

The remotely-piloted aircraft, known as a Predator B, can fly for up to 20 hours and provide to CBP real-time critical intelligence information from attached cameras, sensors and radar systems. 

“Increasingly these aircraft will become a familiar means for providing homeland security,” said Cuellar. “By putting eyes in the sky, we can provide real-time information to our law enforcement on the ground. This combination of technology and manpower keeps our law enforcement a cut above the challenges they face.” 

CBP has indicated to Cuellar plans to place the Texas-based UAV at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi.  

For six months, Cuellar and other Texas congressional leaders have been working in coordination with CBP and FAA to bring the UAV program to Texas. As Chairman of theSubcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism, Cuellar is committed to ensuring the most effective, cutting-edge, cost-effective technology as a means to help secure the nation’s borders. 

According to CBP, since 2005 Predator Bs have flown more than 1,500 hours in support of border security missions and have assisted in the apprehension of more than 4,000 illegal aliens, in addition to the seizure of more than 15,000 pounds of marijuana. 

“These aircraft are a force multiplier for our border law enforcement,” said Cuellar. “They have the endurance and flexibility required to patrol our border and they collect critical information to protect our country.” 

More information on the CBP UAV program is available online at: 

http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/border_security/air_marine/uas_program/uasoverview.xml 

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Texas senators say the pressed FAA leaders to expand aerial security along Mexican border

By COURTNEY SANDERS  

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)  approval on Wednesday, June 23, for the expanded use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to bolster security along the Texas-Mexico border was the result of political influence wielded by the state’s two U.S. senators. 

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) has authorized increasing the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to the entire Texas border beginning September 1.  

The announcement comes after U.S. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn – both Republicans – pressed FAA Administrator J. Randolph Babbitt to allow UAV patrols to expand to the rest of the Texas border and to pursue additional ways to enhance our border security. 

“This is another important step in efforts to secure our southern border,” said Hutchison. “I am very pleased with today’s decision to expand UAV patrols to the entire Texas-Mexico border, but we still have more progress to make. I will continue working to ensure that the FAA and Customs and Border Protection improve their coordination on border security issues so we can end the unspeakable brutality that is occurring at the hands of the drug cartels in Mexico.” 

Earlier in June, UAVs began patrolling the southwest Texas border following a letter Hutchison and Cornyn sent Administrator Babbitt encouraging him to give priority consideration to CBP’s pending Certificate of Authorization (COA) for UAV operations in Texas. In a meeting with Administrator Babbitt in May, Hutchison and members of the Texas congressional delegation pressed him to approve a new pending COA that would authorize UAV operations along the entire Texas-Mexico border. 

“While the approval process should not have taken this long, I’m pleased to see the FAA moving forward,” said Cornyn. “The FAA needs to implement a system that will reflect the great importance of border security as well as the growing significance of UAVs in homeland security and national defense. Today’s announcement is an important step forward, but much work remains to secure our border.” 

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Property taxes from statements issued last fall by Hidalgo County must be paid by Thursday, July 1, to avoid additional financial penalties 

By CARI LAMBRECHT 

Hidalgo County tax officials are reminding all property owners that all taxes, penalties and interest must be paid in full to the Hidalgo County Tax Office by Thursday, July 1 to avoid additional fees.  

Paying taxes is now easier than ever. There are five office locations, or property owners can choose to pay online at https://actweb.acttax.com/act_webdev/hidalgo/index.jsp for a small convenience fee.  

Additional tax information is available at http://www.hidalgocountytax.org or by accessing the county’s primary online portal http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us.  

The July 1 deadline is set by Section 33.07 of the Property Tax Code, which states that all taxes, penalties, and interest that remain unpaid as of July 1 will incur an additional attorney fee to defray the cost of collection.  

That means if a person’s 2009 property taxes have not been received by the Hidalgo County Tax Office, an additional 15% to 20% attorney fee will be assessed, depending in which taxing entity your property is located. The Hidalgo County Tax Office collects taxes for various taxing entities, including many cities, school and special districts, around Hidalgo County. Tax rates vary and are not set by the Hidalgo County Tax Office.  

Owners of any  type of property in Hidalgo County who have not received a statement should call the County Tax Office immediately at (956) 318-2157.  Failure to receive a statement does not affect the validity of penalties, interest, or attorney fees.  

Call or visit in person at any of the following county tax office locations:  

Hidalgo County Tax Office    

2804 S. Bus 281        

Edinburg        

(956) 318-2157          

Mission Tax Sub-Station 

722 Breyfogle Rd.

Palmview  

(956) 205-7050 

Alamo Sub-Station

1429 S. Tower Rd.

Alamo, Texas 78516

(956) 784-8688 

Weslaco Tax Sub-Station

1902 Joe Stephens Dr.

Weslaco

(956) 973-7825 

San Juan Tax Sub-Station    

501 Earling Rd.   

San Juan              

(956) 283-1773          

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Rio South Texas companies partner with Manufacturing Institute, Texas Workforce Commission, to launch initiative to prep advanced manufacturing workers 

South Texas College (STC) has partnered with The Manufacturing Institute, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and other regional partners to implement an English language proficiency program to boost literacy, educational attainment and career advancement for workers in the Rio South Texas Region.    

The English for Manufacturing and the Skilled Trades Initiative is an English acquisition program targeting underemployed and unemployed workers across Texas. Through the program, participants will develop core English language skills required for entry-level careers in the region’s developing rapid response, advanced manufacturing workforce.  

“In order for U.S. manufacturers to stay competitive in today’s complex global economy, we must remain committed to developing the talent and skills of the manufacturing workforce and create strategies for each challenge they face,” said Emily Stover DeRocco, president of The Manufacturing Institute. “Foundational skills such as English language communication and applied math and science are necessary for all careers in manufacturing, and a worker who faces barriers in these areas will not be able to advance in the workplace.”   

Rio South Texas cities McAllen and Mission join initiative pilots already underway in Laredo, San Antonio and Houston. In total, 350 Texas workers will be trained through the initiative. STC’s Institute for Advanced Manufacturing, representing the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative, will manage the training for 45 workers from McAllen- and Mission-based companies including Palmer Steel Suppliers, AM-MEX and Hi-Tech Plastics, to name a few.  

“We are always excited to create new pathways for learning that will benefit the regional goal of leading the world in advanced, rapid response manufacturing,” said Carlos Margo, regional manager for STC’s IAM. “Upon completion of the training, participants will be well-positioned to pursue additional career and academic trainings. By participating in this ground-breaking initiative, we continue to lead the nation in planned workforce sustainability, thus increasing our global competitiveness.”  

The initiative training consists of an interactive, technology-based curriculum derived from the proven and innovative language learning program, Sed de Saber. The program ensures efficient and functional acquisition of workplace communication skills, such as understanding directions and important health and safety measures, using proper manufacturing vocabulary, and reading and interpreting administrative forms.  

“We have several production floor operators that understand and speak some English, however they rarely use it due to a lack of confidence. I am sure this not only affects them in the workplace, but also in the community,” said Kevin Coleman, production and distribution manager for Smead Manufacturing. “This program offers an opportunity to those that see their weakness in the language, have a desire to learn, but have no time or means to attend formal classes to improve their skills. With this initiative, they can work at their pace at home or work, comparing notes and progress with co-workers. This will certainly boost the desire to learn more and results will be evident.”  

Dignitaries from across the Rio South Texas Region gathered at STC’s Technology Campus in McAllen to celebrate the local launch of the initiative. Special guests included Andrés Alcantar, commissioner representing the public for the Texas Workforce Commission, and Jennifer

McNelly, senior vice president for The Manufacturing Institute. 

“The Texas Workforce Commission supports collaborative initiatives that provide Texans with the skills and competencies for success in the workplace,” said Alcantar. “We are pleased to be a part of this regional partnership that combines adult literacy and skills attainment in the manufacturing industry.”   

More information about South Texas College’s Institute for Advanced Manufacturing is available at 956/872-6197 or on the Internet at: 

http://manufacturing.southtexascollege.edu/iam/news.html.  

Additional information about The Manufacturing Institute is available at 800/814-8468 or on the Internet at: 

http://www.nam.org/Manufacturing-Institute/Manufacturing-Institute.aspx.  

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Healthcare.gov to launch July 1, provide Americans with unprecedented information on availability and costs of health care policies

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Thursday, June 24, announced that a new health care website will go live on July 1 to provide Americans a place to compare and research health insurance plans online.  

The Department of Health and Human Services is scheduled to launch the website at: http://www.healthcare.gov

“This website will become the nation’s main portal for health insurance information,” said Cuellar. “Healthcare.gov will empower Americans with comprehensive information on their health care choices.” 

The nation’s new health care law, passed by Congress earlier this year, requires the creation of the new online health insurance portal. The website will give consumers a list of all private and public health care plans available in their region and will display detailed costs and side-by-side benefits information by October. 

Healthcare.gov will also list detailed information regarding premium increases among insurance companies. 

“By shining light on insurance premium hikes we will give Americans valuable information,” said Cuellar. “By putting all this information in one place, we provide Americans the comprehensive access they don’t have right now.”  

The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury have issued regulations protected in the new Patient’s Bill of Rights under the health care law. Beginning September 23, new rules take effect to strongly limit insurance companies from capping lifetime limits on coverage, and individuals will become eligible to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until they turn 26.

For a comprehensive list of new protections taking effect this fall, please visit:  

http://www.cuellar.house.gov/UploadedFiles/New_Patients_Bill_of_Rights_Fact_Sheet_Final.pdf 

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Deadline extended to June 30 for prospective cooks who wish to compete in 5th Annual Texas Cook’-em High Steaks in Edinburg

By EVANA VLECK 

The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce on  extend the deadline for cooks for the 5th Annual Texas Cook’em High Steaks in Edinburg. Texas Cook’em takes place on Saturday July 3 at the Edinburg Municipal Park, located on 714 Raúl Longoria. 

Cooks should register by Wednesday, June 30,  by downloading an application online at http://www.edinburg.com or by calling 956/383-4974. 

Up to $15,000 in prize money awarded to the best in the following categories: T-bone steak, Chicken, Ribs and Brisket! 

Prize money is as follows:  

For each individual category (steak, ½ chicken, pork spare ribs & brisket) 

1st – $1,000; 2nd – $750; 3rd – $500; 4th –  $350; 5th – $250; 6th through 10th – $100. 

Overall Grand Champion Prize Money:  

1st – $1,000 (Grand Champion); and 2nd – $500 (Reserve Grand Champion). 

Free live music and Concerts all day including Texas Heat, Zereno, Elida Reyna and La Mafia with only $10 parking per vehicle. 

Fun Kids Zone with face painting and more, plus mouth-watering barbeque cooked up Texas style, and a free fireworks show at 9 p.m. 

Residents may bring blankets and chairs to spend a fun day under the sun and under the stars. 

•••••• 

Hidalgo County to lend $2 million in unexpected state funds to help Weslaco expand portion of key road, says Commissioner Cuellar 

By CARI LAMBRECHT 

Weslaco residents have endured narrow, bumpy and congested rides along Westgate Road for quite some time, and for years city and county leaders have been attempting to secure adequate funding for expansion. On Friday, June 25, it was announced at a meeting with Pharr District Texas Department of Transportation Engineer Mario Jorge that the expansion of Westgate Road will get underway this fall thanks to a $2 million infusion of state funds.    

“I have always been supportive of this road project,” said Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner A.C. Cuellar Jr., who was at the meeting along with Weslaco Mayor Miguel Wise, City Manager Leo Olivares and Andrew Cannon, director for the Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization  

The expansion of Westgate Road will see it transform from a two-lane road from U.S. Highway 83 to Mile 9 (Sugarcane Road) to a four-lane road with a dedicated left-turn lane that will bolster economic development in the eastern part of the county and increase safety along this busy corridor, which is home to many residential areas, schools and businesses.  

Traffic studies from TxDOT indicate that 9,000 vehicles travel the U.S. Highway 83 to Mile 9 portion of the road daily.   

“Today, we managed to move the project start date up by nearly a year. Working together with the state, the city and the MPO, we were able to find a solution that allowed the county to keep its funds, too, to obligate them to other much-needed road projects in the area,” said Cuellar.    

When hard economic times befell TxDOT a few years ago, many road projects were put on hold, including Weslaco’s portion of Westgate. According to the MPO, the soonest any construction would start on Westgate would have been 2012, which was “too long for everybody,” said Mario Jorge, P.E., who is the disrict engineer for the Pharr district of the Texas Department of Transportation.

Cuellar said the county government is willing to loan $2 million to Weslaco in earmarked federal stimulus funding set aside for a northern portion of Westgate in order to begin construction on the southern portion of Westgate. The county’s section of Westgate had still not undergone environmental clearance, so while the money was allocated, it was not spent.   

“All along, Hidalgo County and Precinct One wanted to help Weslaco grow. City limits don’t matter to us. A wider Westgate Road helps us all,” said Cuellar. “We — the City of Weslaco and the county — were getting ready to meet this week with our legal departments to iron out the transfer of funds, but today Mr. Jorge announced that TxDOT had found $2 million in unspent funds in the Lubbock region. When money is scarce, you can’t leave any on the table. Our region had a project ready to go, so today, that $2 million is ours. In 2014, our MPO will give $2 million back to the Lubbock region, interest free. Dollar for dollar, it was a simple exchange, and it makes everybody happy.” 

Bids for the expansion of Westgate Road from U.S. Highway 83 to Mile 9 Road are expected to open in November 2010 with construction starting soon after. Residents can expect the relocation of utilities to begin soon.  

“It makes me most happy because we don’t have to transfer any county funds to the city. We can use our federal funding for its original purpose — to expand Westgate Road from Mile 9 to State Highway 107. Ultimately, our projects will meet up and provide residents a seamless corridor from the interior of Weslaco to the growing Delta region,” Cuellar said.  

•••••• 

Francisco "Kiko" Rendón sworn in as new Texas Southmost College trustee

Francisco “Kiko”  Rendón on Wednesday, June 23, was sworn in as the newest member to the Texas Southmost College Board of Trustees. 

The swearing-in ceremony took place in The Arts Center on the Fort Brown Campus in Brownsville following the regularly scheduled meeting of the TSC Board of Trustees in the Gorgas Hall Board Room. The votes were officially canvassed at the meeting. 

Voters elected Rendón to Place 5 on Saturday, June 12. Out of 38 precincts, Rendon received 2,120 votes while incumbent trustee Rosemary Breedlove received 1,554. 

With his wife, four children and mother by his side, Rendón held one of his sons as he took the oath of office from Judge David Sánchez of the Texas 444th District Court. Many of his supporters were in the audience. 

“I want to thank everybody for their support and for being here today. This would not have been possible without you.” Rendón said. 

A reception followed the swearing-in ceremony. 

Rendón works for Herrera & Hunt, Inc., of Los Fresnos as a general project manager. He is the past president of the Brownsville Literacy Center Board of Trustees. 

“I will work hard to represent you, the tax district and the students to the best of my ability,” Rendón said. “I’m not going to let you down.” 

Rendón is a native of Brownsville, and graduated from St. Joseph Academy. 

He received a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University in College Station and took summer classes at Texas Southmost College. He has a master’s degree in engineering from Texas A&M University in College Station and is pursuing a doctorate in leadership studies at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. 

Rendón joins new trustees Dr. Robert A. Lozano and Trey Méndez.  

In May, Lozano was elected to Place 3 and Méndez to Place 4. They replaced longtime board members Chester González and Eduardo Campirano, both of whom did not seek re-election. All three positions are six-year terms. 

•••••• 

Hispanic journalists call on media to improve coverage of immigration issues

By IVÁN ROMÁN 

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists on Friday, June 25, called on the U.S. Justice Department to take legal action to block Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, legislation that invites racial profiling of immigrants and Latinos because of its standard of “reasonable suspicion.” 

NAHJ, an organization that represents the nation’s Latino journalists, called on its members and all news organizations to provide the kind of comprehensive, nuanced, balanced and accurate coverage that this measure and the entire issue of immigration requires. Narrow coverage that focuses purely on the passions excited by these issues ill serves the cause of knowledge and an informed citizenry. 

We speak out today as journalists in both this call for action by the Justice Department and our call for comprehensive coverage. We believe that our members, Latino journalists, are as prone to be subjected to the requirements of SB 1070 as are immigrants or other Latinos. It is difficult enough for journalists to do their jobs, often in already intimidating situations, without being asked to produce “papers” proving citizenship or legal residency. 

We are also mindful that many of our members are threatened by a subsequent proposal that would have the state of Arizona ignore the clear language of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees citizenship to all people born in this country. 

NAHJ stands ready to lend its expertise in immigration coverage to news organizations at this critical moment with such a polarizing issue. The coverage the press provides can help or it can hinder. Using terms like “illegal alien”, “illegals” as a noun, and “anchor babies” is dehumanizing and by their bias and loaded nature, eliminate any semblance of fairness when covering the debate.  

Language choices are part of this picture, but the bigger picture involves the ability for news organizations to provide the kind of comprehensive, nuanced coverage that helps readers, viewers and listeners make the most sense of what is undeniably a complex issue. This is not a story that can be boiled down to a he-said, they-said type debate. 

We have another fear. Because of the passions provoked by this debate, it might be tempting for news organizations to shy from allowing Latino journalists from taking the lead or participating in such coverage. However, Latino journalists, who work under the same rules of ethics and standards as do other journalists, often offer an understanding and expertise that might otherwise go lacking. In any case, a reputable news organization would not remove someone with an expertise in legal or health matters from reporting on those issues because “they are too close to the issue.” The same standard should apply to those who, by virtue of study or life experience, can bring the same kind of expertise to immigration coverage. 

The Justice Department must act to block SB 1070 as a matter of equity for all Latinos, Latino journalists included. And news organizations must act in the interest of providing the kind of coverage that brings the highest level of understanding to this complex issue. 

About NAHJ 

Founded in 1984, NAHJ’s mission is to increase the percentage of Latinos working in our nation’s newsrooms and to improve news coverage of the Latino community. NAHJ is the nation’s largest professional organization for Latino journalists with more than 1,400 members working in English and Spanish-language print, photo, broadcast and online media. NAHJ is a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit organization.  

For more information, visit http://www.nahj.org

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