EDINBURG, RGV – Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia has hit back against criticism from state Rep. Terry Canales over plans to build a new county courthouse.

Canales agrees with Garcia and Hidalgo County Commissioners that a new courthouse is needed. However, he has a lot of issues with the project the commissioners court is pursuing.

Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia

In an open letter sent to Canales on Wednesday, Garcia said all other possibilities have been considered and the plan to build a new $150 million courthouse on the courthouse square in Edinburg is the best option.

Garcia also says critics are opposed to the County’s plan for political reasons.

“The courthouse project has, for some people, caused some turmoil and brought personal motivations into what should be a logical and necessary project for the County,” Garcia wrote.

“But regardless of what is represented thru social media, at campaign events and thru the media, the courthouse project has been thoroughly vetted and many options have been considered, nonetheless when facts rather than political motivations are considered, the answer is clear, the time is now to build Hidalgo County’s New Courthouse.”

Here is Garcia’s letter to Canales in full:

January 17, 2018

The Honorable Terry Canales

Texas House of Representatives – District 40

101 N 10th Avenue

Edinburg, TX 78541

Dear Representative Canales:

I am in receipt of your letter dated, January 16, 2018. As you referenced in your letter, “[there is little doubt that our current courthouse is not adequate for the actual needs of this community…”, the community which we both represent. The questions you have submitted are extremely important considerations in this project, as such, I will respond accordingly. Please note that these questions have been considered and thoroughly researched over the last 4 years of planning and discussions with community leaders, community groups, elected officials and local municipalities. Furthermore, these questions have been addressed by myself and other commissioners at community events, town hall meetings, chamber meetings, stakeholder meetings, commissioners court meetings and other local outreach events. Nonetheless, my office is grateful for the opportunity to directly answer your questions, as the local representative of District 40. However, so there is no confusion please be advised that this is the first time you or your office have requested information and/or questions regarding the courthouse project (“the Project”), submitted to either myself or my staff.

The County has partnered with numerous cities in tax abatement programs in order to facilitate economic development and encourage growth throughout the County, with City of Edinburg (“the City”) we have entered in multiple partnerships, including but not limited to, the Trenton Shops, La Sienna Development, Bert Ogden Arena, the UTRGV Medical School, and Downtown Drainage Improvements, the total investments committed by the County in these partnerships total to over 60 million dollars. In addition, the County has entered in the programs and development agreements that have directly and indirectly benefited the City of Edinburg and its residents (For example, the Red Gate Power Plant and the Hidalgo County Wind Farm). The City of Edinburg and the County are partners in every sense of the word, in addition the City has been a part of the Project discussions since the beginning, even to the extent that the decor and exterior of the building is to be matched and determined by the City’s Planning Department.

In reference to your questions, I am confident that any misconceptions, false information or concerns that you may have will be addressed fully and accurately in my responses. As such, please see below.

  • In regards to the Economic Impact Study, a March 2016 study was completed by UTRGV, which determined the following: the project will result in 239 million dollars of monetary output, total value added of 97 million dollars, total tax revenue impact of over 7 million dollars per year, addition of 1,020 temporary jobs during construction, the creation of approximately 700 jobs, and 59 million dollars in labor income. These numbers are verifiable thru the University’s Division of Research, Innovation and Economic Development, if you need any further information please feel free to contact the University.
  • The courthouse project was the primary aspect in Commissioner Palacios ‘request to the MPO, in our effort to receive funding for the drainage improvements. The MPO saw the investment as a Countywide benefit, as the Courthouse sits on the County Seat and residents from the entire County utilize the Courthouse. The 20-million-dollar investment will address and alleviate flooding and drainage concerns for the City’s downtown and surrounding areas.
  • Senate bill 1964 has resulted the generation of 2.2 million dollars of revenue thru the 3rd quarter of 2017.
  • As discussed in the 2nd paragraph, the City of Edinburg is a crucial partner in many endeavors and has provided financial support for those projects, however, no monies have been received from the City for construction, renovation and/or improvements. In the event that no funds are provided by the City for the Project, the County will consider all options at that point, as the Courthouse is the responsibility of the County not the City. We are continuing to work with the City in planning the financial aspects of the project. Once again, the City of Edinburg has presented itself as a partner in this project from the beginning; the economic impact of the project will directly benefit the City both in tax revenue, economic development and job creation. The County has given the City considerable deference in the process, including incorporating the new courthouse into Edinburg’s Master Plan.
  • Due to the safety, high cost of renovation, medical concerns with building materials, potential liability concerns due to failing infrastructure, constant water leakage, cost of maintenance, and other relevant concerns regarding the building, the demolishment of the current courthouse seems like the best and safest option, at this time.
  • The new courthouse is designed to last over 100 years and is being built to accommodate the current 24 courts, an extra 6 empty courtrooms and will have the ability and space to add 4 more, should the need arise.
  • The County has reviewed numerous contracts and plans of courthouse projects built throughout the nation prior to the selection and approval of the Project Manager. The Project Manager and Architect have also provided additional Courthouse contracts and plans based on their experiences.
  • The County owns multiple properties around the courthouse square, regardless of any hypothetical multi-level parking garage, the County owns and has enough parking located in the surrounding areas to accommodate courthouse visitors and its employees.
  • First and foremost, let me be clear, based on all relevant information no savings are to be found in the relocation of the Courthouse outside of the town square. Even disregarding the negative impacts of moving the Courthouse from downtown area (depreciation of property values, loss of the town square, and loss of economic traffic for businesses), an analysis was performed by the Architect during the Courthouse Master Planning Phase, which determined the cost of the project would increase by approximately 54 million dollars, should the Courthouse be relocated. As evidence, please review the adverse economic impact of the relocation of the County Jail to El Cibolo Road, which resulted in excess spending and the raising of taxes in 3 out of 4 years, during a previous administration.
  • In the County’s contracts with its Project Manager and Architect, the County has addressed the importance emerging technology in the Courthouse and a court technology expert has been engaged to ensure the successful transition to a state of the art courthouse.

The main question that has been asked regarding this project is “Why now?”. My response is that the County has the following time sensitive benefits in its favor: A $30 million monetary commitment from the City, historically low interest rates, $20 million in MPO monies and all without requiring a tax increase.

The courthouse project has, for some people, caused some turmoil and brought personal motivations into what should be a logical and necessary project for the County, but regardless of what is represented thru social media, at campaign events and thru the media, the courthouse project has been thoroughly vetted and many options have  been considered, nonetheless when facts rather than political motivations are considered, the answer is clear, the time is now to build Hidalgo County’s New Courthouse.

Respectfully,

Ramon Garcia, County Judge

Cc:

Hidalgo County Commissioners Court

Hidalgo County Board of Judges

Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina

Edinburg EDC President Gilbert Enriquez