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Featured, from left: Hidalgo County 332nd District Court Judge Mario E. Ramírez, Jr. and Robert “Bobby” Villarreal, Economic Development Director for Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García, on Tuesday, March 3, addressing the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court at their meeting at Edinburg City Hall.

Photograph By JACLYN TREVIÑO

Legislation that could raise between $1 million and $2 million a year for the next 30 years to help pay for a new courthouse or renovations of the existing, 64-year-old facility in downtown Edinburg – without increasing property taxes – has been approved by the Senate and is awaiting final action by the House of Representatives. Senate Bill 1964, by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was approved by the Senate on Wednesday, April 29, and will be carried (sponsored) by Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, in the House. As of the end of Wednesday, May 6, SB 1964 or the identical measure, House Bill 2868, authored by Martínez/Canales, had not yet been set for a vote by the full House of Representatives. On Wednesday, May 6, Canales signed on as a joint author of Martínez’ HB 2868, publicly throwing his support for the effort which could result in the construction of a $100+ million courthouse in the heart of his House District 40 legislative district. “The Hidalgo County Courthouse complex is one of the major economic engines, along with the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine, that is part of a tremendous revitalization that is going on in deep South Texas,” Canales said. “Just as important, South Texans need a courthouse that provides a safe and secure environment for the administration of justice for individuals and businesses.” Both measures carry the same language, which would allow Hidalgo County to assess a user fee through certain court cases and recording fees to help fund a new courthouse. The new revenue would be generated by adding a $20 fee to the filing of each civil case in Hidalgo County, and be adding a $10 charge to the fee required by the county government for recording the title, mortgages and other liens against property. “SB 1964 allows Hidalgo County to collect a civil courts filing fee similar to the one currently collected in Bexar, Hays, Dallas, Rockwall, and Travis Counties and other courts to assist with the costs of renovating, improving, or constructing new courthouse facilities,” said Hinojosa. On Tuesday, March 3, the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court unanimously approved endorsing the legislation, with Hidalgo County 332nd District Court Judge Mario E. Ramírez, Jr. expressing the support of the Hidalgo County judiciary. During that public session, Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García explained the importance of securing the support for the Hinojosa measure from the judges who lead the county’s system of district, county, and probate courts. “We want to make sure the community is aware that the judiciary is totally in support of our efforts in trying to do what we can to build a new courthouse here in the county, and one of those efforts involves our legislators, specifically Sen. Hinojosa, that will allow the assessing of user fees, or an additional filing fee, to help come up with with somewhere between $1 million to $2 million (a year) that will be set aside and used for a payment of a new courthouse facility,” said García. Ramírez, the senior judge for Hidalgo County, and the longest-serving, currently presiding judge in the 5th Region of Texas, agreed for the need for the legislation. “Speaking for the judiciary, it is really, really obvious that we need a new courthouse. We try cases over there, Judge (García), with multi-parties, and courtrooms are too small. There is no place to put the jurors, the jurors are uncomfortable, and we are unable to try the large, big cases that we have with multi-parties in the space that we have at the present time.” Ramírez added, “It is unsafe at the courthouse, it is not secure, there are many, many problems, and certainly, the judiciary stands united in supporting this resolution.”

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Legislation to raise millions of dollars, without a tax increase, for construction or renovation of Hidalgo County Courthouse passed by Senate, awaiting action by House of Representatives

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Legislation that could raise between $1 million and $2 million a year for the next 30 years to help pay for a new courthouse or renovations of the existing, 64-year-old facility in downtown Edinburg – without increasing property taxes – has been approved by the Senate and is awaiting final action by the House of Representatives.

Senate Bill 1964, by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was approved by the Senate on Wednesday, April 29, and will be carried (sponsored) by Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, in the House.

As of the end of Wednesday, May 6, SB 1964 or the identical measure, House Bill 2868, authored by Martínez/Canales, had not yet been set for a vote by the full House of Representatives.

On Wednesday, May 6, Canales signed on as a joint author of Martínez’ HB 2868, publicly throwing his support for the effort which could result in the construction of a $100+ million courthouse in the heart of his House District 40 legislative district.

“The Hidalgo County Courthouse complex is one of the major economic engines, along with the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine, that is part of a tremendous revitalization that is going on in deep South Texas,” Canales said. “Just as important, South Texans need a courthouse that provides a safe and secure environment for the administration of justice for individuals and businesses.”

Both measures carry the same language, which would allow Hidalgo County to assess a user fee through certain court cases and recording fees to help fund a new courthouse. The new revenue would be generated by adding a $20 fee to the filing of each civil case in Hidalgo County, and be adding a $10 charge to the fee required by the county government for recording the title, mortgages and other liens against property.

“SB 1964 allows Hidalgo County to collect a civil courts filing fee similar to the one currently collected in Bexar, Hays, Dallas, Rockwall, and Travis Counties and other courts to assist with the costs of renovating, improving, or constructing new courthouse facilities,” said Hinojosa.

For years, Hidalgo county officials have spoken of the need to replace the county’s existing courthouse in the heart of downtown Edinburg,” Hinojosa and Martínez noted.

“When the existing courthouse opened in 1954, it housed two state district courts and one county court-at-law. That has grown to 11 district courts and eight county courts-at-law, along with other auxiliary courts that have spilled into temporary buildings and one nearby storefront in downtown Edinburg,” said Martínez. “In the past 24 years, Hidalgo County’s population has doubled and the county is now home to up to 900,000 residents. Further, the dated structure and history of asbestos requires constant maintenance and repairs raising public health and safety concerns as wells as costs.”

On Tuesday, March 3, the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court unanimously approved endorsing the legislation, with Hidalgo County 332nd District Court Judge Mario E. Ramírez, Jr. expressing the support of the Hidalgo County judiciary.

During that public session, Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García explained the importance of securing the support for the Hinojosa measure from the judges who lead the county’s system of district, county, and probate courts.

“We want to make sure the community is aware that the judiciary is totally in support of our efforts in trying to do what we can to build a new courthouse here in the county, and one of those efforts involves our legislators, specifically State Sen. (Juan) “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), that will allow the assessing of user fees, or an additional filing fee, to help come up with with somewhere between $1 million to $2 million (a year) that will be set aside and used for a payment of a new courthouse facility,” said García.

Ramírez, the senior judge for Hidalgo County, and the longest-serving, currently presiding judge in the 5th Region of Texas, agreed for the need for the legislation.

“Speaking for the judiciary, it is really, really obvious that we need a new courthouse. We try cases over there, Judge (García), with multi-parties, and courtrooms are too small. There is no place to put the jurors, the jurors are uncomfortable, and we are unable to try the large, big cases that we have with multi-parties in the space that we have at the present time.”

Ramírez added, “It is unsafe at the courthouse, it is not secure, there are many, many problems, and certainly, the judiciary stands united in supporting this resolution.”

Those themes and concerns were emphasized on Tuesday, April 21, when the legislation was heard by a House committee.

According to the Rio Grande Guardian, one of the state’s leading online news publications that covers the Texas Legislature:

There were three witnesses testifying in favor of HB 2868 when it was heard by the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence.

County Court at Law No. 1 Judge Rudy González testified that Hidalgo County Courthouse was built 61 years ago to accommodate five courts. “We now have 24 courts. I am one of 24 judges that serve the county and there are some health issues and safety issues. The ingress and egress of inmates into the courthouse – they use the same hallways as everybody uses – is a concern.” Another health and safety issue, he said, was flooding.

Sergio Cruz, budget officer for Hidalgo County testified that there is “a great need” for a new courthouse due to the growth in the county.

“This bill will go a long way to addressing the needs we have regarding our judicial facilities,” Cruz said.

In his testimony, Bobby Villarreal, Director of Economic Development for Hidalgo County, said: “We really have no useful life left in this courthouse. Renovating it would not accommodate our space needs. So, really we need to build a new facility that would accommodate those needs. Fire suppression systems would bust the pipes we currently have. We feel these fees would go a long way with our partnership with the City of Edinburg to construct it without any tax increase. We are in favor of the bill.”

According to the bill analysis of both measures:

SB 1964/HB 2868 amend the Government Code to set out provisions relating to an additional filing fee for civil cases in Hidalgo County applicable only to district courts, statutory probate courts, and county courts at law in the county. The legislation, except as otherwise provided by its provisions and in addition to all other fees authorized or required by other law, require the clerk of a court to collect a filing fee of not more than $20 in each civil case filed in the court to be used for the construction, renovation, or improvement of the facilities that house the county civil courts.

SB 1964/HB 2868 require such court fees to be collected in the same manner as other fees, fines, or costs are collected in the case and requires the clerk to send the collected fees to the county treasurer or to any other official who discharges the duties commonly assigned to the county treasurer at least as frequently as monthly. The legislation requires the treasurer or other official to deposit the fees in a special account in the county treasury dedicated to the construction, renovation, or improvement of the facilities that house the courts collecting the fee.

SB 1964/HB 2868 apply only to fees for a 12-month period beginning October 1 if the commissioners court adopts a resolution authorizing a fee of not more than $20; adopts a resolution requiring the county to spend one dollar for the construction, renovation, or improvement of the court facilities for each dollar spent from the special account dedicated to that purpose; and files the resolutions with the county treasurer or other such official not later than September 1 immediately preceding the first 12-month period during which the fees are to be collected.

SB 1964/HB 2868 authorize the county to make the required matching expenditure at any time regardless of when the expenditure from the special account occurs. The legislation continue an adopted resolution from year to year until October 1, 2030, allowing the county to collect fees under applicable terms until the resolution is rescinded.

The legislation authorize the commissioners court to rescind a resolution by adopting a resolution rescinding the resolution and submitting the rescission resolution to the county treasurer or other such official not later than September 1 preceding the beginning of the first day of the county fiscal year. The bill authorizes the commissioners court to adopt an additional resolution regarding authorization of the fee after rescinding a previous resolution.

The legislation abolish a fee established under a particular resolution on the earlier of the date an adopted resolution is rescinded or October 1, 2030.

SB 1964/HB 2868 also amend the Local Government Code to authorize the county clerk of Hidalgo County, if authorized by the commissioners court of the county, to assess an additional fee not to exceed $10 for real property records filing to fund the construction, renovation, or improvement of court facilities.

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The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as President, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, and Felipe García, Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, and Steven Edward Cruz, II. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com or to http://www.facebook.com/edinburgedc

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