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Edinburg gives initial approval to provide a maximum of $30 million – to be spread out over up to 30 years without raising city property tax rate – to help in the construction of $150 million Hidalgo County Courthouse

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

Featured, from left: Precinct 1 Hidalgo County Commissioner A.C. Cuellar, Jr. of Weslaco; Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García; Mayor Richard García; Councilmember J.R. Betancourt; and Mayor Pro Tem Richard Molina. This image was taken on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 in the Council Chamber of Edinburg City Hall.

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

The Mayor and Edinburg City Council on Tuesday, March 8, 2016, gave their initial approval to provide a maximum of $30 million – to be spread out over up to 30 years and without raising the city property tax rate – to help in the construction of a $150 million Hidalgo County Courthouse, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. If all goes as planned by the county, construction on the courthouse may begin near the end of this year, if weather permits. The county anticipates a completion date of October 2018. The action took place following a 2 p.m. joint work session with the Hidalgo County Judge and Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, held in the Council Chamber of Edinburg City Hall, and sets into motion a plan that will eventually lead to the construction of a state-of-the-art judicial center, which will be located in downtown Edinburg, next to the current county courthouse complex.

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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

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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.”

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Sen. Hinojosa: Edinburg RAHC set up for dramatic growth; could add first two years of medical school

Edinburg City Councilmember Augustín "Gus" García, featured left, makes a point during the Wednesday, March 4 public meeting of the Edinburg Community Health/Medical Care Advisory Committee, whose members received an update on the activities and goals of the Regional Academic Health Center in Edinburg. The $20 million facility – its official designation is the Regional Academic Health Center (E-RAHC), Medical Research Division for The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio – is capable of expanding in order to provide the first two years of a UT medical school, according to Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. Dr. Thomas J. Slaga, Ph.D., featured right, a world-renowned biomedical scientist, a Professor of Pharmacology, and the interim director of the Edinburg biomedical research campus, provided the group with a tour of the state-of-the-art facility. Also featured, center, is Gilbert Mercado, III, another member of the city medical advisory group. See lead story in this posting.

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Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa, chancellor of The University of Texas System, on Friday, March 13, visited The University of Texas-Pan American to talk with key members of the university, community leaders and elected officials about the future of higher education. Cigarroa’s visit was the first to the university since he was selected on February 10 as the 10th chancellor to lead the UT System, but he has been to the campus many times before. Equally important, Cigarroa is the first Hispanic in the nation to lead a major university system. Featured, from left, are: Dr. Bruce Reed, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services; Dr. Dahlia Guerra, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities; Cigarroa; Dr. Paul Sale, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs; and Dr. Van Reidhead, dean of the College of Social and Behavorial Sciences. See story later in this posting. Also, a video of his appearance is available online at http://www.utpa.edu/videos/

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Valley veterans on Saturday, March 14, began their walk from Edinburg to the Audie Murphy Veterans Administration Hospital in San Antonio as part of their ongoing efforts to increase public and political support for the creation of a VA Hospital in the Valley. This represents the second march in about four years, and the veterans’ efforts have resulted in several major improvements for the delivery of medical care to area veterans, but the construction of a VA Hospital remains the top prize. The veterans group is maintaining a website which is chronicling the march, and where supporters can provide moral and financial support. The website address is http://www.marchtosanantonio.webs.com

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The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Tuesday, March 10, appointed Regent Janiece Longoria, formerly of Pharr, to the Board of Directors of The University of Texas Investment Management Company (UTIMCO). Longoria, a daughter of the late Sen. Raúl Longoria, D-Pharr, is a partner in a Houston law firm. She was appointed to the UT System Board of Regents in 2008. She succeeds former regent and UTIMCO board member Robert B. Rowling, who resigned last month. UTIMCO is a 501(c)(3) investment management corporation whose sole purpose is the management of investment assets under the fiduciary care of the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System. Created in March 1996, UTIMCO is the first external investment corporation formed by a public university system in the nation. It invests endowment and operating funds in excess of $18 billion. UTIMCO is governed by a nine-member Board of Directors. The UTIMCO Board of Directors includes three members of The University of Texas System Board of Regents, one member selected from a list provided by The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, the Chancellor of The University of Texas System, and four outside investment professionals appointed by the UT System Board of Regents.

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Sales for the premiere of The Red Queen are going very briskly, according to the film’s writer-director David Carren. "With time to spare before its performance at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 22, tickets are going very well." Tickets for the charity showing of UTPA’s Summer Workshop Film were being sold at the Box Office of University Theatre Productions. "We were out of our stack of tickets by Thursday, March 12," Theatre Manager Elva Galván stated. "Carmike in Edinburg still has them. The management will open two theatres for each of the two showings if the demand is great enough." The special showing is a benefit, arranged by Carmike of Edinburg, for two non-profit organizations, the Children’s Miracle Network and the theatre television film unit of The University of Texas Pan American Communication Department. Carmike is located on Canton Road just west of Highway 281. The University Theatre Productions Office will be open at least part of each day during spring break. If anyone wishes to contact the office, they may call 956/381-3581 and leave a telephone number or an e mail address. Their questions will be answered as soon as possible. The Red Queen is an action-adventure film, approximately 110 minutes long. Suitable for family viewing, it is the story of a college student who goes on the internet to research her family background. She meets adventure, excitement and the Red Queen. See story later in this posting.

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South Texas Nonprofit Summit continues mission to help bring resources to Valley

Dr. Roland Arriola, Ph.D., (featured at the podium), president of the Texas Valley Communities Foundation in Edinburg, praised the growing role of nonprofit organizations in the Valley for the key role they will continue to play in helping thousands of South Texas residents. Arriola made his remarks during the opening on Wednesday, October 15, of the South Texas Nonprofit Summit, held at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen. Texas Valley Communities Foundation, headquartered in Edinburg, is helping spearhead efforts, such as the summit, to help area nonprofit organizations improve their chances of landing millions of dollars for the region.  “We are going to be seeing a lot more activity in the non-profit sector. The crucial element in any community is what we call ‘civil society’ – that’s what differentiates us from totalitarian states and dictatorships,” he said. In the end, the power of human compassion will always rise to any challenge, he suggested. “We have people who get involved, whether it is in their church or clubs or other organizations, and they do it as volunteers.  That’s what gives us our democratic values,” Arriola said. “We take that for granted, but actually it is so important to our structure as a people.” Featured with Arriola, from left, are Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Will Ripley, news anchor for KRGV-TV Channel 5, and César Maldonado, the new president of TSTC in Harlingen. See story later in this posting.

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In commemoration and recognition of the 100-year anniversary of the arrival of Hidalgo County’s court records and subsequent founding of the county seat in present-day Edinburg, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, on Saturday, October 18, dedicated and planted a seedling from “Treaty Oak,” one of the country’s most historic trees, in the Hidalgo County Courthouse Square. The tree is a southern live oak grown from an acorn hand-selected from the historic Treaty Oak in Austin. Treaty Oak is believed to be more than 500 years old and is the lone survivor of the “Council Oaks” a grove of 14 trees that served as a revered meeting place for Apache and Comanche tribes of Central Texas. Featured during the dedication, from left, are: Ed Kuprel; Charlene Kuprel; Mark Peña; Michelle Peña; Esteban Peña; Sofía Montero-Aguilar; Anna Peña; Juliette Peña; Harlan Bentzinger; and Aaron Peña. See story later in this posting.

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Rey Anzaldúa, featured standing, a South Texas College business computer systems instructor, ain’t no dummy, but he writes for them. His bestselling new book (#1 in the Forensic Category on Amazon.com), Computer Forensics for Dummies, hit the shelves in October 2008 and is helping consumers sleuth their own digital trails. “People underestimate the amount of digital information they leave behind on digital devices and throughout the Internet during the course of their lives,” said Anzaldúa. “Computer forensics gives people the ability to retrieve data and literally piece together their lives and, sometimes, highlight their mistakes. The book will help you understand your digital footprints and how you can take steps to protect your privacy.” Anzaldúa, who has earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Texas-Pan American, is shown here at STC assisting student Sergio Rodríguez.  See story later in this posting.

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The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was awarded the “2008 National Medium Hispanic Chamber of the Year Award” at this year’s annual United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Convention in Sacramento, California in September. The MHCC also won the Regional III award in August. “We are fortunate to have hard working directors, staff and committees who are abreast on the issues that concern our chamber members. The workshops and events that the MHCC promotes focus on key issues that concern business, education, legislation, health, women’s issues, etc.” said Cynthia Moya Sakulenzki, MHCC Pres/CEO.  “Our partnership with the Small Business Administration, the University of Texas Pan American HUB Program, the UTPA Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the Women’s Business Center makes it easier for us to accomplish our Program of Work that focuses on business and women’s issues. We owe a lot of our success to our partnerships.” For more information on how to join or become active in the MHCC, call 928-0060. Featured with the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce National and Regional Awards are, from left: Diana González, Vice Chair of Education; Hari Namboodiri, Chair Elect; Sakulenzki; and Rose Ramírez, Vice Chair of Health Issues.

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Sen. Hinojosa applauds recommendation to change leadership at Texas Department of Transportation

Edinburg City Councilmember Alma A. Garza, flanked by her parents, Dr. Omar and Dora Garza, took her oath of office on Monday, May 12, for a three-year term on the five-member governing body. Alma Garza, who for the first time in her young political career had faced an opponent, generated 63 percent of the vote, a significant margin of victory.  She was sworn in by Hidalgo County 206th District Court Judge Rose Guerra Reyna. Garza also raised more than $29,000 in campaign funds in the second phase of her campaign to help secure her victory, according to her campaign finance report filed with the City Secretary’s Office. See story later in this posting.

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Gene Espinoza, left, who was reelected to a new three-year term on Saturday, May 10, is congratulated by his uncle, Justice of the Peace Charlie Espinoza, after the city councilmember, who was joined by his immediate family, was sworn in to office on Monday, May 12.  In addition to his own many supporters, Espinoza was helped in his reelection bid by generous contributions for several prominent Edinburg-area business leaders.  The most recent list of his contributors, along with the campaign financial supporters for Councilmember Alma Garza, are featured in a story later in this posting.

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Edinburg Municipal Court Judge Toribio “Terry” Palacios, featured left, on Monday, May 12, was sworn in for another three-year term as presiding judge of the local court by  his nephew, Hidalgo County 92nd District Court Judge Ricardo Rodríguez, Jr.  Palacios, who is also a partner in the law firm of García, Quintanilla and Palacios in McAllen – which includes former Edinburg Mayor Richard García – serves a key role in the administering of justice in the community. Rodríguez was  a former Edinburg City Councilmember before resigning that post in October 2005 to make his own successful bid for district judge. According to CourtReference.com, municipal courts in Texas have original and exclusive jurisdiction over criminal violations of certain municipal ordinances and airport board rules, orders, or resolutions that do not exceed $2,500 in some instances and $500 in others. Municipal courts also have concurrent jurisdiction with the justice courts in certain misdemeanor criminal cases. In addition to the jurisdiction of a regular municipal court, municipal courts of record also have jurisdiction over criminal cases arising under ordinances authorized by certain provisions of the Texas Local Government Code. The municipality may also provide by ordinance that a municipal court of record have additional jurisdiction in certain civil and criminal matters. Municipal judges also serve in the capacity of a committing magistrate, with the authority to issue warrants for the apprehension and arrest of persons charged with the commission of both felony and misdemeanor offenses. As a magistrate, the municipal judge may hold preliminary hearings, reduce testimony to writing, discharge the accused, or remand the accused to jail and set bail.

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Dr. Scott Cook, one of the world’s expert on Mexican brick culture, has a unique window on Valley’s history, and he will be in Edinburg on Wednesday, June 11, to share those perspectives at the Museum for South Texas History, located at 200 N. Closner, immediately northeast of the Hidalgo County Courthouse. Accompanying him will be local musicologists and “North of the Border” radio show hosts Joe and Rosa Pérez (singing songs of the brick-makers).  The presentations will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and wine and hors d’oeuvres will be provided.  Cook is professor emeritus of anthropology and interim director of the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut. He lives in Willimantic, Connecticut. There is a $5 donation requested, and the event calls for business casual attire. To RSVP or obtain more information, interested persons may call 956/ 776-0100, extension 311.

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