Select Page

20150523

Featured, from left: Michael McCarthy with MD Bio Scan; Sabrina Guerra, Senior Accountant, and Nilda VanHook, Chief Deputy, both with the Office of the Hidalgo County District Clerk; Laura Hinojosa, who is Hidalgo County District Clerk; and Jessica Treviño with Congressman Rubén Hinojosa’s Office, during an open house at the Hidalgo County Courthouse on Thursday, April 23, 2015. An additional $40 fee for the filing of civil lawsuits in Hidalgo County, of which the District Clerk Office serves as registrar, recorder, and custodian, is being proposed in state legislation designed to help generate millions of dollars, without raising property taxes, for the construction of a new Hidalgo County Courthouse.

Photograph By HILDA SALINAS

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 House Committee on the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. Senate Bill 1964, by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was supported by that House panel on Wednesday, May 20, after Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, successfully offered an amendment to Hinojosa’s SB 1964 that could generate more money than originally estimated, but without increasing property taxes. Martínez and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, are the primary author and joint author, respectively, of the companion bill for SB 1964. SB 1964, which is now on the way for action by the House of Representatives, has two major changes from the original version of SB 1964 approved by the Senate on Wednesday, April 29. Instead of authorizing the county commissioners court to charge up to an extra $20 for the filing of each civil lawsuit, as originally proposed, SB 1964 doubled that amount to $40. In addition, Cameron County was added to SB 1964, which would give the County Commissioners Court the same authority to raise revenue for their own courthouse plans, whether they involve a new courthouse or renovations to the existing structure in Brownsville. SB 1964, as approved by the House Committee on the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence, also would allow both county commissioners courts to collect an extra $10 fee for each filing of real property records. Real property records are official documents filed with the county clerk’s office such as mortgages, warranty deeds, deeds of trust, power-of-attorney, material liens, notices of foreclosure, oil and natural gas liens, mineral deeds, equity liens, and releases of liens. If the House approves SB 1964, it would have to go back to the Senate for their agreement on increasing the fee by up to $40 for the filing of civil lawsuits. After that, it would go to the governor for his approval. SB 1964 could help raise significant non-tax revenue for the construction of a $100+ million Hidalgo County Courthouse in the heart of Canales’ 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.” SB 1964 allows Hidalgo and Cameron counties to collect a civil courts filing fee similar to the one currently collected in Bexar, Hays, Dallas, Rockwall, and Travis counties 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 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.”

••••••

Plan to raise millions of dollars in non-tax revenue for new Hidalgo County Courthouse is endorsed by conservative Texas Public Policy Action; Cameron County is added to legislation

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 House Committee on the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

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

Senate Bill 1964, by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was supported by that House panel on Wednesday, May 20, after Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, successfully offered an amendment to Hinojosa’s SB 1964 that could generate more money than originally estimated, but without increasing property taxes.

Martínez and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, are the primary author and joint author, respectively, of the companion bill for SB 1964.

The bill, which is now on the way for action by the House of Representatives, has two major changes from the version of SB 1964 approved by the Senate on Wednesday, April 29.

Instead of authorizing the county commissioners court to charge up to an extra $20 for the filing of each civil lawsuit, as originally proposed, SB 1964 doubled that amount to $40.

In addition, Cameron County Commissioners Court was added to SB 1964, which would give the Cameron County Commissioners Court the same authority to raise revenue for their own courthouse plans, whether they involve a new courthouse or renovations to the existing structure in Brownsville.

SB 1964, as approved by the House Committee on the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence, also would allow both county commissioners courts to collect an extra $10 fee on each filing of real property records.

Real property records are official documents filed with the county clerk’s office such as mortgages, warranty deeds, deeds of trust, power-of-attorney, material liens, notices of foreclosure, oil and natural gas liens, mineral deeds, equity liens, and releases of liens.

If the House approves SB 1964, it would have to go back to the Senate for their agreement on increasing the fee by up to $40 for the filing of civil lawsuits. After that, it would go to the governor for his approval.

SB 1964 could help raise significant non-tax revenue for the construction of a $100+ million Hidalgo County Courthouse in the heart of Canales’ House District 40 legislative district.

CONSERVATIVE TEXAS PUBLIC POLICY ACTION ENDORSES FINANCING STRATEGY

The use of non-tax revenues by SB 1964 earned the support of a statewide advocacy group known as Texas Public Policy Action, which monitors key state legislation and provides their assessments of those measures.

The organization describes itself as “a nonprofit, nonpartisan, principle-based organization founded on the idea that government should pursue policies that enhance liberty,” according to its website.

“Our mission is to strengthen the essential pillars of free and civil society and to safeguard liberty throughout Texas and the nation by equipping the public and policy makers with tools to promote and defend individual liberty, personal responsibility, free markets, private property rights, and limited government,” the group’s introduction adds.

During the legislative session, Texas Public Policy Action explains that the organization “issues a Daily Floor Report with vote recommendations on most legislation scheduled for a vote on the House floor. Every bill we evaluated is graded against the five liberty principles above. We commend legislation that is in alignment with those principles and we recommend against legislation that is not. We apply the liberty principles equally to every bill without regard for party affiliation or authorship.”

Regarding SB 1964, Texas Public Policy Action issued the following statements:

“This bill affirms the principle of limited government. While the bill does carry a fiscal impact, it is an appropriate one. A legitimate function of limited government is to provide the justice system. It is important that courthouses carry out that justice system that are adequate to society, and that do not require cost and maintenance because of their age, which would potential cost more than simply updating the building. SB 1964 achieves these goals while placing the financial burden on those who actively use this system by filing cases or real estate recordings. Therefore, we support this legislation.”

HIDALGO COUNTY COURTHOUSE VITAL TO EDINBURG ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

“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.”

SB 1964 allows Hidalgo County and Cameron 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 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.”

NEW COURTHOUSE ADDRESSES POPULATION GROWTH, HEALTH AND SAFETY ISSUES

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, which is the companion bill for SB 1964, 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.”

BILL ANALYSIS OF SB 1964

According to the bill analysis of SB 1964, as approved by the House Committee on the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence:

SB 1964 amends the Government Code to set out provisions relating to an additional filing fee for civil cases in Hidalgo County and Cameron County applicable only to district courts, statutory probate courts, and county courts at law in each county.

The legislation, except as otherwise provided by its provisions and in addition to all other fees authorized or required by other law, requires the clerk of a court to collect a filing fee of not more than $40 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 requires 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 applies 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 authorizes each 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 authorizes each 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 each commissioners court to adopt an additional resolution regarding authorization of the fee after rescinding a previous resolution.

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

SB 1964 also amends the Local Government Code to authorize the county clerk of Hidalgo County and Cameron County, respectively, if authorized by the commissioners court of each 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.

•••••

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, Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, Ronnie Guerra, Mark Iglesias, and Harvey Rodríguez. 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

Share This

Share this post with your friends!