PHARR, RGV – Pharr City Commission stands ready to become the county seat of Hidalgo County, should the City of Edinburg not wish to participate in the building of a new county courthouse.
At a special city commission meeting on Thursday, Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez and city commissioners expressed interest in helping build a new courthouse. Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, who gave a video presentation of the county courthouse project, did not discourage Pharr from taking an interest.
In his presentation, Garcia said a new county courthouse is very much needed. He cited health and safety concerns with the current courthouse, and said the existing facility is far too small for a fast-growing county like Hidalgo. Garcia also said that with interest rates so low, now was the best financial time to build a new courthouse.
After watching the video, Mayor Hernandez said: “I have been to that facility and I don’t appreciate having inmates passing through or family members sitting outside, whether it is inmates or the victims. It is not safe for either party to be involved. It definitely needs to be updated. Parking is horrible to say the least.”
Hernandez said there is “no question the time is now for us to move forward in Hidalgo County.”
He went on to say: “I am not an expert in construction, I am not an expert in law, and I am not an expert in any of these designs, but our experts tell us this is time for us to move forward with this project. I think the only real question is if the powers that be are mobilizing together to be sure they all push forward to get this endeavor done. We know this has been in Edinburg since its inception.”
Judge Garcia responded that Edinburg has been the county seat since about 1908.
“It has been a beacon there and we welcome the City of Edinburg’s assistance in this project,” Mayor Hernandez replied. “Having said that, I would not be fair for me to leave this out, but obviously everybody wants this to succeed. We as the City of Pharr want to see it succeed by whatever means necessary and we are prepared to make that investment as well to help you out, so if that comes to fruition and comes to the table, know that we are prepared to be involved with this endeavor.”
Hernandez added: “I am happy with the progress made. I am sure it will be a great success.”
Pharr City Commissioner Ricardo Medina had questions for the county judge about parking and cost.
Will it be in the same area, Medina asked. “Yes, in the courthouse square,” Judge Garcia replied.
“And the parking, how are you going to address that?” Medina asked.
Garcia answered: “The county owns about two and a half blocks that we intend to use for parking, adjacent to the facility. The City of Edinburg has discussed the idea, I guess they are not necessarily committed to it, but they have discussed the idea of a parking garage across the street that they intend to build. Hopefully, that will alleviate the parking.”
“And the price?” Medina asked. Garcia answered: “$150 million. We are trying to keep it under that.”
“And you are not going to raise taxes?” Medina asked. Garcia answered: “No.” Medina responded: “That is pretty good.”
Pharr City Commissioner Robert “Bobby” Carrillo asked: “How committed is Edinburg to this project?”
Judge Garcia responded: “As you know, as all elected officials know, elections have consequences. The previous administration was fully committed to the project. The present administration is conducting their own evaluation and they are supposed to let us know in January.”
Carrillo replied: “That is the only concern I had because I know the change in politics in Edinburg and I know their platform was basically, kind of, not completely against a (new) courthouse but they were kind of running on their campaign based on that, because of taxes and yada, yada, yada.”
Garcia responded: “Right. There were several projects that they discussed during that campaign that they felt, the money could have been better used for something else, I guess. But, I don’t necessarily feel like the courthouse is similar to the other construction projects that they were talking about. I mean, this one, the need is there, it generates a tremendous amount of activity for the city of Edinburg and Edinburg has been known and hopefully will still be known as the county seat.”
The previous city administration in Edinburg committed $30 million to a new county courthouse. The new administration, led by Mayor Richard Molina, is looking at the issue.
Pharr City Commissioner Eleazor Guajardo thanked Garcia for the information he had provided. He said the citizens of Pharr would appreciate the information. “That way they can make the correct decision if they get to vote for it or participate on it in any way. I certainly appreciate it,” Guajardo said.
Guajardo said he had one comment to make. “We need to start thinking a little bit more original. The county is very wide. It has a lot of land available for this particular project. I am sure that the citizens of Pharr might be appreciative of being considered for it. (There are) other areas. Edinburg is land locked. You might have a lot of logistical problems doing the project there. There are always other options and the City of Pharr is certainly willing to help.”
Garcia responded: “Well thank you, thank you commissioner. I do want to state that right now we are committed to Edinburg, but things could change and hopefully know sometime in January.”
Pharr City Commissioner Ramiro Caballero also asked about the City of Edinburg’s commitment to a new courthouse.
“Judge, you said you would hear from Edinburg in January. If it is positive, what you hear, you know that is great for your project. If it is negative, is there a mechanism by which you would look at other areas that are already in place or is it something you are going to have to rethink and strategize about?” Caballero asked.
Garcia answered: “No. At that point everything will be on the table. It will be a matter of evaluating the situation. But, no, we are not committed to any secondary project.”
Judge Garcia was also asked how many acres are needed for a new county courthouse.
“I would think there would be a minimum of 20 but I do not want to give you a specific number because we just don’t know at this point,” Garcia said.
With Garcia at the special city commission meeting were his top assistants, Mike Leo and Bobby Villarreal. Garcia said both are heavily involved in the new courthouse project.
Here is the video Judge Garcia played to Pharr City Commission:
Pharr and Edinburg, what a competition. However it is not unexpected that there should be political competition for this cash cow. Equally expected is the erroneous thought that it is needed. Take a journey to the Courthouse any day. Turn left at the entrance and you will see 100 ft of employees waiting to serve the public and no one there. Possibly there are parts of the building that are crowded but that is only due to lack of efficient use of existing space. Possibly it needs some work but that can be cured with proper future maintenance. Use the money they have allotted to pay the hospitals the 8% for the indigent care where I believe it was supposed to go. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bd17adde881fc7bb169a494f7631e72f47ceb9bad57ca1594a8cdb765cb924de.jpg