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Featured, from left: Councilmember David Torres; Councilmember Richard Molina; Precinct 4 Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios; Mayor Richard García; Precinct 1 Hidalgo County Commissioner A.C. Cuellar, Jr.; Councilmember Homer Jasso, Jr.; Mayor Pro Tem J.R. Betancourt; and Precinct 3 Hidalgo County Commissioner Joe Flores. The elected leaders posed for a portrait on Monday, December 12, 2016 in the Council Chamber at Edinburg City Hall following approving an agreement between the City of Edinburg and Hidalgo County on a Memorandum of Understanding where Edinburg pledged to provide a maximum of $30 million, or 20 percent of the cost, whichever is less, towards the construction of a planned $150 million Hidalgo County Courthouse in downtown Edinburg, next to the existing courthouse.

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

As the calendar year approached its final weeks, a major step was taken by the City of Edinburg to help guarantee that a proposed $150 million Hidalgo County Courthouse will be built downtown, next to the existing courthouse, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. The planned justice center will dramatically increase far-reaching economic growth and improve the quality-of-life for that region of the city, Edinburg and Hidalgo County elected leaders predict. With a unanimous vote by both the Edinburg City Council and the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, the two governing entities on Monday, December 12, 2016 approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which memorialized the commitments made by the County of Hidalgo and the City of Edinburg for the new Hidalgo County Courthouse to remain in the historic heart of the city. According to U.S. legal.com, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) may be used as a confirmation of agreed upon terms when an oral agreement has not been reduced to a formal contract. It may also be a contract used to set forth the basic principles and guidelines under which the parties will work together to accomplish their goals. “We finally have come to an agreement with Hidalgo County to build a new courthouse. It has been long in the process,” Mayor Richard García told journalists following the approval of the MOU. “As one of our councilmembers mentioned during our meeting earlier today, we started on this in 2013. Here we are, 2017 is just a few days away, and we have finally ironed out a lot of the wrinkles.” In the coming months, city and county leaders plan to finalize the language and goals of the MOU into a more formal, legally-binding document, known as an interlocal agreement. In general, an interlocal agreement is a written contract between local government agencies such as a city, a county, a school board or a constitutional office. Any time a public service involves the joint operations and budgets of two or more local government agencies, an interlocal agreement must be drawn up and approved by all sides, with each government’s governing body – a school board, a city council, a county commission – enacting the agreement by vote. Prior to the approval of the MOU, key issues included making sure Edinburg’s financial commitment was acceptable to the county, and that Edinburg would not have to pay more than $30 million towards construction of the new courthouse, which could cost $150 million to build. The city’s contribution could be less than $30 million, if the price tag for the new courthouse comes in lower than $150 million. In that case, the City of Edinburg – along with the Edinburg EDC, which will cover half of the city’s contribution for the construction of the proposed new courthouse – would only have to pay 20 percent of the final price, according to the MOU. The Edinburg EDC Board of Directors is comprised of Mayor Richard García as President, Harvey Rodríguez, Jr. as Vice President, Elías Longoria, Jr. as Secretary/Treasurer, and Richard Rupert and Dr. Peter Dabrowski as Members. Agustín García, Jr. is Executive Director for the Edinburg EDC, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council.

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Edinburg sets $30 million contribution limit to new Hidalgo County Courthouse, but ensures new justice center will remain in the city’s downtown

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

As the calendar year approached its final weeks, a major step was taken by the City of Edinburg to help guarantee that a proposed $150 million Hidalgo County Courthouse will be built downtown, next to the existing courthouse, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

Agustín García, Jr. is Executive Director for the Edinburg EDC, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council.

The Edinburg EDC Board of Directors is comprised of Mayor Richard García as President, Harvey Rodríguez, Jr. as Vice President, Elías Longoria, Jr. as Secretary/Treasurer, and Richard Rupert and Dr. Peter Dabrowski as Members.

The planned justice center will dramatically increase far-reaching economic growth and improve the quality-of-life for that region of the city, Edinburg and Hidalgo County elected leaders predict.

With a unanimous vote by both the Edinburg City Council and the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, the two governing entities on Monday, December 12, 2016 approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which memorialized the commitments made by the County of Hidalgo and the City of Edinburg for the new Hidalgo County Courthouse to remain in the historic heart of the city.

According to U.S. legal.com, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) may be used as a confirmation of agreed upon terms when an oral agreement has not been reduced to a formal contract. It may also be a contract used to set forth the basic principles and guidelines under which the parties will work together to accomplish their goals.

“We finally have come to an agreement with Hidalgo County to build a new courthouse. It has been long in the process,” Mayor Richard García told journalists following the approval of the MOU. “As one of our councilmembers mentioned during our meeting earlier today, we started on this in 2013. Here we are, 2017 is just a few days away, and we have finally ironed out a lot of the wrinkles.”

In the coming months, city and county leaders plan to finalize the language and goals of the MOU into a more formal, legally-binding document, known as an interlocal agreement.

In general, an interlocal agreement is a written contract between local government agencies such as a city, a county, a school board or a constitutional office. Any time a public service involves the joint operations and budgets of two or more local government agencies, an interlocal agreement must be drawn up and approved by all sides, with each government’s governing body – a school board, a city council, a county commission – enacting the agreement by vote.

Prior to the approval of the MOU, key issues included making sure Edinburg’s financial commitment was acceptable to the county, and that Edinburg would not have to pay more than $30 million towards construction of the new courthouse, which could cost $150 million to build.

The city’s contribution could be less than $30 million, if the price tag for the new courthouse comes in lower than $150 million. In that case, the City of Edinburg – along with the Edinburg EDC, which will cover half of the city’s contribution for the construction of the proposed new courthouse – would only have to pay 20 percent of the final price, according to the MOU.

COURTHOUSE PROJECT TO BE FINANCED WITHOUT INCREASES IN CITY, COUNTY PROPERTY TAX RATES

The financial strategies by the city and county have yet to be finalized, and the construction of the courthouse still must face future actions by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court.

But Edinburg leaders also have said the city’s financial contribution to the courthouse project will not require any city property tax rate increase.

Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García (no relation to Mayor García), soon after the MOU was approved, also emphasized that the new complex would not involve raising county property tax rates.

“This is another significant milestone in our commitment to construct the new courthouse without raising taxes, and the county is pleased to partner with the City of Edinburg on this very important project,” the county judge reported. “The county courthouse is the heartbeat of the county. Every day, hundreds of people walk through the courthouse doors to conduct business, to serve on a jury, attend a court hearing, register a new business, or to get married. I am proud to be a member o the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court that will bring this project to fruition, and I look forward to breaking ground in early 2018.”

Precinct 4 Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios, who represents Edinburg, provided a timeline of actions in the coming weeks and months that will lead to breaking ground for the new courthouse.

“Every bit of the next few months is to realize what those assumed costs are going to be and realize exactly what we are looking at. We are in that phase now. I am looking forward to get through that so that we can take that back to the taxpayer,” he said. “We do not know what the final price tag will be. But, for the next few months, we will be working through that process to really edge it in stone and know what we are going to be building, and how much it is going to cost.”

Palacios added, “The precursor to everything is, we are not raising any taxes, and we (Hidalgo County) are going to finance it well within our capacity (to pay for it).”

MAYOR GARCÍA: “CHANGING THE FACE OF OUR DOWNTOWN FITS IN WITH OUR MASTER PLAN OF REVITALIZING THE DOWNTOWN SQUARE.”

The Edinburg mayor said moving forward on the agreement is vital so as to help prevent higher costs for the county on what will be one of its larger county projects in recent history.

“As for the partnership between the City of Edinburg and Hidalgo County, I think that the delay has cost all of us, but we had to get it right. We believe it is right,” the mayor reflected. “We are very happy with the way it has evolved. Of course, for us, changing the face of our downtown fits in with our master plan of revitalizing the downtown square.”

The proposed new courthouse complex is being coordinated around the goals of the Downtown Master Plan of the City of Edinburg, a vision approved by the city leadership and the Edinburg EDC Board of Directors in 2010 to promote business development, cultural activities, transportation, and tourism for that portion of the city.

The idea is to develop a downtown where people just don’t park, go on to the courthouse, then leave. The idea is to have people walk through downtown to be able to get to the courthouse, thereby creating more of a vibrancy for retail and commercial development, and really help the downtown area of Edinburg.

Mayor García outlined several of the key concepts for the Downtown Master Plan.

“We are interested in the greening of downtown and our area because we expect to rezone to where we have retail establishments and residential developments coming to the area,” he explained. “We are also creating a pedestrian corridor between The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and McIntyre Street. It all ties together.”

Regarding the downtown square, which is owned by Hidalgo County, “there is a lot of asphalt and parking. Now there will be parking for people with physical disabilities,” he continued. “The rest of it is going to be green and wooded. I think, aesthetically it will be great, and it will follow with our Master Plan for the city.”

EDINBURG SECURES OTHER KEY PRIORITIES IN MOU WITH HIDALGO COUNTY

The MOU approved on December 12, 2016 additionally includes the roles to be played by the Edinburg EDC in the development and funding for the planned county courthouse.

Among other priorities successfully sought from Hidalgo County by the City of Edinburg were:

• The new courthouse would serve the existing courts in Hidalgo County, and allow for consideration for future courts;

• The new courthouse would serve the County Clerk and District Clerk and other offices to support court operations;

• The new courthouse would improve safety and health conditions for all visitors, employees, and those who conduct business at the Courthouse;

• The new courthouse accommodate parking for employees and others with business at the Courthouse;

• The new courthouse would increase opportunities for economic development; and

• The new courthouse would benefit the citizens of Edinburg and Hidalgo County.

DANNENBAUM ENGINEERING TOP CHOICE FOR PROJECT MANAGEMENT DUTIES

On Friday, October 21, 2016, a week after hearing from five companies vying for the project management contract, the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, meeting in a special session, presented their scoring sheets to the Purchasing Department to select for negotiations a firm for the design and construction of the new Hidalgo County Courthouse.

After the tally, Dannenbaum Engineering Corporation was ranked highest among the firms and the county commissioners court voted to commence negotiations to finalize a professional service agreement.

Below is the ranking and average score for the five firms:

1. Dannebaum, 95.4
2. Jacobs Project Management Co., 92.8
3. Broaddus & Project Control,92.4
4.Hill International, 92.0
5. JLL 86.8

Hidalgo County Purchasing Agent Martha Salazar pointed out that if the negotiations fail with Dannebaum, the county will proceed to negotiate with the second-ranked firm, Jacobs Project Management Co.

During the presentation of qualifications at the Thursday, October 13, 2o16 county commissioners court, Louis Jones, who serves as Principal/Director, South Texas Region, for Dannenbaum, said his firm will partner with B2Z Engineering of Mission, Moca of San Antonio, Farmsworth Group, of San Antonio, and Naylor Wentworth Lund Architects, of Salt Lake City, Utah.

“The Hidalgo County Courthouse Team is a uniquely qualified group of design, program and construction management and inspection professionals with the necessary expertise required for this pursuit,” Jones said during the presentation.

HIDALGO COUNTY COMMISSIONER A.C. CUELLAR, JR., WHO VOTED FOR COURTHOUSE MOU, HONORED FOR HIS PUBLIC SERVICE

Surrounded by friends, family, and colleagues, Precinct 1 Hidalgo County Commissioner A.C. Cuellar Jr. humbly sat and listened on Tuesday, December 13, 2016, as County Judge García read about a resolution in honor of Cuellar and his service to the residents of Hidalgo County.

On January 1, 2017, David Fuentes of Weslaco will succeed Cuellar as Precinct 1 Hidalgo County Commissioner.

Cuellar has served the community with distinction and honor for since January 2013. He began serving his second term after having previously been appointed to the post in 2010.

For the past four years, Cuellar has dedicated his time and effort to improving the lives of Precinct 1 residents. His accomplishments include acquiring $6 million in new equipment, which allows for multiple projects to be handled simultaneously; garnering $8.4 million in FEMA monies to reconstruct and repair 38 roads; and collaborating with Urban County, Drainage District No. 1 and other departments on a $15 million East Lateral Project, which will provide drainage improvements to approximately 55,000 residents who live in the 56-square-mile-area that the project serves.

Following the resolution, the county judge presented Cuellar with a plaque of appreciation on behalf of the Commissioners Court for his accomplishments throughout his years of service.

“Commissioner Cuellar we thank you for your outstanding leadership and to your commitment to this court,” said García.

Upon receiving the resolution, Cuellar graciously thanked the commissioners court for the prestigious honor and shed tears as people in the audience took turns at the podium thanking Cuellar for his tireless years of committed service.

“On behalf of the State of Texas and the Texas House of Representatives, I would like to honor you with this official plaque,” said Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco. “One thing I can say is that you are a humble man who has always placed others before yourself.”

“I’d like to wish you luck on what lies ahead, and I know they will be great things. You’ve always been a good man,” added District Attorney Ricardo Rodríguez, Jr. “We go way back and I can’t say enough good things about you. Thank you for what you’ve done for the DA’s office.”

Sheriff Eddie Guerra presented Cuellar with a plaque of appreciation and recognition for his years of public service.

A large group of residents from multiple colonias were on hand to pay their respects to their commissioner, who they credit for transforming and improving their communities. Representatives from four different colonias were present: El Obispado, Los Ouvares Acres, Goolie Meadows and Spanish Palms.

“You helped us with light, drainage and always lent a hand to us. You opened new doors. My colonia is beautiful and clean now,” said Manuela Luna, a resident from Spanish Palms.

Also present were representatives from VFW Post 7473 in Elsa.

Senior Vice Commander Efrain Solis spoke through tears on what Cuellar has meant to their post.

“We don’t have much to say, but what we say comes from the heart,” said Solis. “We want to thank you for what you’ve done for us and for all veterans.”

Several others shared their personal and professional stories, including Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramón, H&HS Chief Administrative Officer Eddie Olivarez, Drainage District #1 Manager Raúl Sesin, Sheriff’s Office Chief Óscar Montoya, Precinct 1 PIO Mario Cano, and Precinct 1 Chief Administrator Raúl Lozano.

Cuellar’s oldest sister Sylvia Saldaña spoke on behalf of her family.

“I knew you would do great things in life, but I never would have dreamed you’d do and accomplish something so wonderful that would affect the lives of thousands of people,” she said.

Teary-eyed, Cuellar also thanked his family for their constant support.

“Thank you for allowing me to do what I love to do, and everyone else, we’ll be seeing you. My number won’t change. I’ll still be around,” he said.

Cuellar was also recognized for his perfect attendance to all 158 Regular Commissioners Court meetings since taking office in January of 2013. Hidalgo County Clerk Arturo Guajardo Jr., the official record keeper for the county, presented Cuellar with a certificate honoring his momentous achievement.

As a public servant, Cuellar recognizes the imperative significance and value of attending meetings where important decisions are made for the residents of Precinct 1 and all Hidalgo County citizens.

“It was a pleasure working with you. Your commitment not only shows in your attendance, but by your actions, and your dedication to what you do,” said Guajardo.

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Julie Benítez Sulivan contributed to this article. For more information on the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation and the City of Edinburg, please log on to http://edinburgedc.com or to http://www.facebook.com/edinburgedc

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