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Good afternoon.

On behalf of the Pharr City Commission, I want to welcome you to the 2021 “State of the City” address.

As you might have noticed, we are doing things a little bit differently this year, in an effort to bring you the same level of expectation that you have enjoyed in previous years, but in a manner that lets you safely enjoy from the comfort of your screen.

We want to extend our most sincere appreciation to the generous sponsors who made today’s event possible. We are grateful for your support of this event. Your generous contribution has helped us celebrate Pharr’s accomplishments and future goals, safely and virtually.

We have put together a multimedia, virtual experience to celebrate the successes and accomplishments over the last year, and we look forward to the hope and promise that this New Year brings.

To begin, I want to first extend our most heartfelt appreciation for taking the time out of your busy schedules to join us this afternoon. I hope that you and your loved ones are healthy and that you safely and happily enjoyed the holiday season as we closed this chapter to a most unprecedented year.

Our theme for this year’s “State of the City” is, Together: Honoring our First Responders. And we could not think of a more fitting tribute!

We pay homage to the first responders, front line, and healthcare workers who so deservedly merit all the accolades and praise for their dedication, devotion, and drive to fight this pandemic…

But we also pay a very special tribute to those heroes of September 11, 2001, on the twentieth solemn anniversary of one of the most devastating and tragic intentional attacks on our nation. Today’s ceremony is also dedicated to every life that was lost on 9/11 and during the coronavirus pandemic.

On behalf of every life that has been touched, every life that has been saved by our first responders, to all the front-line workers, doctors, nurses, medical support staff, law enforcement officers, emergency service providers, military service members, and more… Thank you!

You are our heroes! Thank you for answering your calling to service, for putting yourselves in harm’s way every day, and for keeping our communities and our families safe. Today, we salute you.

As in 9/11, the front-line workers battling the coronavirus pandemic have sacrificed so much. Those who are not directly in the line of duty cannot ever imagine or comprehend the tragedies to which they have borne witness. You represent the core values of America: service of self for others.

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you. We salute you. We honor you, on this day, and on every day.

As your mayor, I am honored to announce that Pharr’s “State of the City” is healthy. It’s recovering from the worst outbreak in our nation’s history, and getting stronger and better every day thanks to our frontline workers and our heroes who we honor today.

Now, what an interesting and unprecedented year 2020 was!

COVID


In early March, when we first learned of the novel coronavirus that was making its rounds across the world transmitting silently and rapidly, immobilizing countries, and fatally infecting thousands. Here, in the United States, we did not know what to expect.

Little did we know then how COVID-19 would impact us here in our community.

As a medical professional, I had a sense of what we were up against. We live in an era with the most advanced technological scientific breakthroughs. But this miniscule, microscopic virus could still penetrate our sense of safety and security and bring us all to a stunning halt.

On March 13, 2020, I declared a “state of emergency” in our community, the first Mayor in South Texas to do so. Under this emergency order, certain emergency measures could be taken and funds allocated for our city to put up as best of an offense as we possibly could to combat the virus.

We began with an aggressive communications campaign, heading to the airwaves and social media to warn our community members of the danger that the virus posed, and the measures we would need to put in place to prevent the spread.

Pharr swiftly set up a 311 call center to answer all calls, questions, and concerns from the community related to COVID-19. Your city leaders joined our county, state, and federal officials in devoting all resources, energy, and efforts to best protect our community and our citizens.

Our city leaders and bridge partners met with federal agencies such as Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and our federal representatives to determine the benefits and cost for reducing international travel as the federal government announced border closures.

As the virus spread rampantly and the numbers of infections continued to rise, we had to take more stringent measures. We closed all non-essential businesses, the international port of entry to non-essential travel, closing all in-person learning, and following the county’s shelter-at-home orders.

We know that these were trying times… For all of us.

Still, we persevered. We joined forces with our local school districts to ensure that our students had the necessary resources, technology, nutritional assistance, and support they needed as they transitioned to virtual learning.  We supported efforts by working to bridge the digital divide and provide high-speed internet service to areas that were lacking; building upon efforts that began years ago to provide free WiFi to Pharr families in need. 

We partnered with the Rio Grande Valley Food Bank and other community organizations to provide groceries for families in need.

We partnered with county, state, and federal partners to provide access to free testing services, a necessary component of finding, isolating, and treating cases. Eventually, federal funds became available to assist with the response.

Pharr immediately set up a COVID-19 recovery center, the first South Texas community to do so, which provided residents and businesses with important information and resources regarding funding for small business grants, mortgage and rental assistance, utility assistance, and more.

We surveyed local businesses to assess the impact and responded accordingly, making hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding available for business grants to help our local economy recover.

When Texas eventually re-opened, we implemented “Live Safe, Work Safe”- measures to ensure that our local Pharr businesses were complying with the necessary health and safety guidelines to keep our residents safe.

We met with our local college and university partners to discuss issues such as prevention, testing, and how to move forward as a community.

We continued to work with our local school districts to ensure that our student’s needs were being met and that they had everything they needed to be successful in their learning during this time.

We did everything we could to keep our community safe.

I am proud of our Pharr community as we came together as one in an effort to fight and recover from this pandemic. We honor the memories of the lives that we lost, and we all have a newfound appreciation for our lives, and our health.

As we ended 2020 with the hope and promise of the COVID-19 vaccines ending this crisis, we remain appreciative of our front-line, healthcare, and first responder heroes who battled the pandemic and sacrificed everything to keep our community safe.

Many of our first responders, including our Fire and Police Department, have been fortunate to have taken the first round of the vaccine, and we are hopeful for the promise that the vaccine will bring for our community.

Finally, if COVID taught us anything, it is the importance of having reliable technological infrastructure to connect our students to schools, our employees to their jobs, and to do government business safely and virtually.

That is why, in Pharr, we have worked over many years to ensure that our network infrastructure is available, accessible, and affordable, to all our residents – through high-speed broadband internet network infrastructure.

For too long, our area has been behind the digital divide, and our residents deserve a permanent solution to connect to the world, not a temporary “fix” that doesn’t solve the bigger issue.

Rest assured, we are committed to providing a long-term, permanent, and inexpensive broadband internet solution for all Pharr families.

Looking to the future, we will take the lessons learned and accommodate accordingly. And we will continue to take every necessary measure to keep our community safe!

Census


This year began with much anticipation for the decennial census. Pharr had devoted a considerable amount of time, energy, and resources to be prepared with a strong response to the 2020 Census.

In late 2019, we trained and deputized Parent Ambassadors in partnership with our local school districts, so that they could share the importance of responding to the census with their neighbors, families, and community members.

We started the year on a positive note, spending time recruiting and training our city’s outreach team. We had plans in place to canvass neighborhoods in our community to ensure an accurate census response and count.

Then, the pandemic hit. After months of relying on self-reporting and phone-banking to constituents sheltered-at-home, our team ramped up our city’s efforts to ensure an accurate count, armed with personal protective equipment and being trained on appropriate health and safety measures to resume door-to-door canvassing and outreach.  

We were creative in our efforts, rewarding those who completed their census form with free food, a chance to win gifts, and a raffle for credit towards utility payments.

Our efforts paid off.

Pharr’s census response ultimately demonstrated a considerable increase in participation as compared to the 2010 Census.

We anticipate that our census numbers will help Pharr and South Texas keep our federal representation and ensure our fair share of federal allocation of funding and resources for our priorities, our projects, and our community. Rest assured that should there be any deviation from what we deserve, your city leaders will demand a seat at the table and continue to fight for what is right… For you!

Economy


In terms of our economy, despite the challenges that the pandemic spurred, such as the closing of our economy during the time that the stay-at-home orders were in effect, Pharr nonetheless emerged resilient.

As restrictions were loosened, our Pharr residents continued to support and preserve the vitality of our local economy by patronizing and buying from our local businesses.

And our businesses were flexible, swiftly adapting to the needs of the moment, the new health and safety guidelines, and customer demands.

They turned to curbside, drive-thru and delivery food services. Our retail community adopted masking requirements and enforced social distancing in their stores. And a large number of our businesses turned to online retail.

Most importantly, your Pharr leaders, including the Pharr Economic Development Corporation and the Greater Pharr Chamber of Commerce, continued to provide resources, support, and technical assistance for businesses to find financial support and funding through the various means that were available.

Resources like small business grants and information for businesses to apply for funding from the Payroll Protection Program to keep their businesses running and their employees working.

Our economic numbers are reassuring, the sales tax numbers rebounded late in the year.

Despite the pandemic, sales tax revenues showed a growth of approximately 2.1% overall compared to last year; Pharr remained number 4 in growth compared to the other 9 surrounding cities in the Rio Grande Valley.

Property tax appraisals and collections have shown positive trends; this tax year the city experienced a growth of 8.61% in net taxable value, which is the highest increase the city has had in the last seven years.

This means that our financial situation remains healthy. For FY 2020-2021, the City of Pharr’s budget is balanced.

We are in this together, and we continue to support a strong business community and a thriving economy, here in the city of Pharr.

We look forward to a prosperous 2021 as the resilient nature of our community persists.

Bridge


2020 began with strong numbers at our international port of entry. With the passage of USMCA in late 2019, we began to see the effects of the new, improved trade deal in our area.

The “Bridge” hosted several notable international events, such as the Pharr Bridge Business Park and Distribution Center Grand Opening, as well as the Binational Bridges and Border Crossing Group East Regional Meeting, which put Pharr on the map, bringing to attention our area as a major player in international trade.

The Pharr International Bridge was forced to close to non-essential business and travel during the height of the pandemic in the summer, we modified schedules to allow for trade and commerce to continue crossing uninterrupted. Bridge crossings continued to rise, and our bridge staff and partners responded accordingly.

However, our bridge continued to educate and inform the trade community virtually through our Bridge Connect Live Streaming Seminars, which addressed issues and challenges affecting the trade and manufacturing community with the impact of COVID-19, and with the implementation of the USMCA.

In September, we hosted a groundbreaking partnership with the federal government to assist in funding new projects to commemorate the start of new bridge projects under the Donation Acceptance Program.

Through this program, the city is investing $40 million in port infrastructure projects – additional commercial entry and exit lanes including booths which will help alleviate traffic and expedite crossings.

The city is also working with partners including the South Texas Assets Consortium, and UTRGV for an agriculture lab and training center that will provide the first of its kind opportunities for agricultural students to train in real-life laboratory scenarios with agricultural inspectors, building the skills and capacity to become employed in this field.

This fall, we safely celebrated the annual Start of the Produce Season. The yearly national event celebrating Pharr as the #1 produce bridge in the United States, crossing over 65% of all produce from Mexico.

This September we had our best month ever in our almost 26-year history. We had over 120,000 crossings from the U.S. to Mexico, both North and Southbound.

Thanks to our produce community, our sponsors are enjoying a basket of our fresh produce during today’s event.

While we continue to face our challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are doing everything we can to ensure that our crossings continue safely, expediently, and efficiently as we continue to adapt. But there is no stopping our success!

In fact… 2021 began with the exciting news that the presidential permit for the expansion of the Pharr International Bridge was approved!

This was due to the diligent efforts of Pharr bridge and government staff, in coordination with our engineering consultants and with the support of our U. S. Senate Delegation from Texas, their staff, and more than 60 acknowledgments of support from key stakeholders.

This will double our trade capacity, more efficiently crossing goods, significantly reducing wait times, and leading to an increase in overall revenues.

We are ecstatic as we continue to be a regional, statewide, national, and international leader of moving goods and services across borders and throughout our country.

Public Safety


During a year that has brought about much attention to law enforcement issues across the country, the community of Pharr has taken a novel approach to policing under the leadership of our new police chief Andy Harvey, one that is grounded in compassion.

Harvey was selected to head the Pharr Police Department in July 2020, bringing to the department a wealth of military and transformational law enforcement leadership experience.

In November 2020, Chief Harvey unveiled the department’s new policing strategy, core values, and social contract aimed to foster positive community relations among residents in Pharr.

The adopted core values, under the acronym C.A.R.E., represent the department’s commitment. We emphasize to serving with compassion, respect, and dignity; community accountability; having the resiliency to meet the demands of the citizens while addressing the overall well-being of officers, and aiming for excellence in everything they do.

In October 2020, the department launched its own bike patrol.

Pharr’s police department continued engaging with the community, hosting safe back-to-school supplies and Halloween trick-or-treat distribution, among other notable community events.

Pharr took an innovative approach to the low-level misdemeanor offense of possession of less than two ounces of marijuana. The cite-and-release policy, which is allowable under Texas law, gives law enforcement officers the ability to cite and release individuals who meet certain criteria as an alternative to arresting at the scene.

In December, Pharr took its new policing strategy and responsibility a step further, announcing the launch of the department’s Mental Health Unit. The department trained 15 officers as licensed mental health officers, trained to encounter situations where individuals are in crisis; and to get them the help they need.

These types of progressive and forward-thinking initiatives add value to the police department’s presence and relationship to our community, while still ensuring the safety and security of Pharr families.

Pharr’s compassionate strategy to policing is certain to have a positive impact on law enforcement relationship with the Pharr community.

Emergency Preparedness/Disaster


As if being stricken with a global pandemic wasn’t enough, this summer, Mother Nature had her sights set on South Texas. Hurricane Hanna ripped through our area, bringing devastation and destruction to many homes, businesses, and properties.

Fortunately, we had already taken swift action after the historic rain and flood events of 2018 and 2019.

We worked with county leaders and the drainage district to identify and evaluate areas that could be addressed with funding from the 2018 drainage bond and invested a considerable amount of city funds for the expansion of the capacity of our drainage system.

We had the foresight to make preparations to accommodate our capacity for a 500-year storm, well beyond what was being done at the county level.

We spent the majority of this year ahead of hurricane season dredging and expanding our city canals, widening approximately 5 miles of city ditches to allow for more floodwaters to pass through, and connecting to the county drainage system, totaling more than 10 miles of drainage improvements within the city of Pharr.

We will continue making improvements to our drainage infrastructure a priority to ensure that our community is prepared and ready in anticipation of any future flooding events.

Our intent is to save homes, businesses, and properties from damage and destruction caused by rain and flood events.

Transportation


Pharr’s Transportation and Infrastructure projects continue improving traffic and easing congestion along the Pharr international corridor.

As you can see, construction has already begun on the Pharr I69-I2 Interchange, a $300 million dollar project that was secured through funding from our federal and state partners, which will help to alleviate the traffic congestion through safer and smoother traffic flow.

In 2020 the city paved more than 20 miles of roads.

Pharr has had the foresight and strategic planning to develop the infrastructure that will remove large commercial traffic from our residential thoroughfares, adding to the safety of our community and more easily accommodating the growth in trade by redirecting large commercial vehicles through the overweight corridor to the new State Highway 365.

As your voice on the Rio Grande Valley’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, I continue to work with my colleagues on regional projects that will help to ease transit, bring in funding and resources, and overall, improve the quality of life for Pharr and our entire South Texas Region.

Parks/Quality of Life


Though 2020 was the year that kept us quarantined at home, it was also the year that brought our families outdoors as a way to keep our bodies and minds healthy and safe.

Here in Pharr, we have worked for years on plans to improve the quality of life for our Pharr families to enjoy a variety of outdoor recreational spaces.

We improved and expanded our parks footprint in both the northern and southern parts of the city. We partnered with local school districts and Hidalgo county on innovative parks projects such as the first all-inclusive park for individuals with disabilities, a city-school park with a zipline, a nature and birding center that includes a guided walking trail, and of course, the Hike and Bike Trail.

Pharr leaders also continued expanding the downtown parks area for our families to enjoy, which now includes the Hub Food Truck Park.

As many of our indoor recreational activities and options were no longer available, Pharr also took family time outdoors, offering drive-in Movies in the Parking Lot, and more.

We were able to adapt our entertainment options to meet the needs of our Pharr families during the pandemic.

The need to meet the growing recreational desires of the residents of Pharr is ongoing and a priority for us on the City Commission.

Out of a growing desire from the community to provide a new and unique recreational activity, the City of Pharr constructed a new Cricket Field at Dr. William Long Elementary City/School Park.

Pharr also improved our community recreation and entertainment facilities. In June, we celebrated the grand opening of the newly-renovated Pepe Salinas Recreation Center, with a modern, welcoming, and inviting design.

In November, the public used the Pepe Salinas Center as a voting location, and with our newly-adopted ordinance regarding electioneering, voters were able to enjoy a safe and secure election process in our beautiful new facility.

As we look toward the future, Pharr will continue to develop and provide opportunities for Pharr families to enjoy.

Coming soon, Pharr will have a state-of-the-art Wellness and Innovation Complex – a facility that will serve the community as a space for numerous initiatives aimed at health wellness and entrepreneurial innovation.

This space will have the ability to expand and accommodate numerous initiatives relative to health wellness and entrepreneurial innovation.

Additionally, the facility’s outdoor space will provide an excellent recreational haven for Pharr families, including an outdoor amphitheater, walking trails, and native plants and foliage.

Pharr has plans to expand our popular Hike and Bike trail, connecting it to the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge and creating an extended corridor for recreational, educational, and physical enjoyment.

Partnering with UTRGV and PSJA ISD, Pharr’s new Natatorium is well under construction and will be one of the highlights of this upcoming year.

Rest assured, we are on a mission to help provide and promote a healthy way of living and a better quality of life.. for YOU, and for all Pharr families!

2021 turns a new page on this chapter of our history. I, for one, am filled with excitement and great expectations of this new year and the opportunities it presents.

We know that we can’t let our guard down, but we can certainly be optimistic about our future.

We are Team Pharr. We will persist. We will endure.

We will get through this together. We are flexible, adaptable, better prepared, and more equipped with the lessons learned to face whatever challenge or obstacle that may present itself in the future.

Polo Palacios Award


As has become a tradition, every year we honor an individual that embodies the spirit of service, leadership, and pride, that its namesake Mayor Polo Palacios did throughout his life.

This year’s recipient of the Leo “Polo” Palacios Service Award is Dr. Narciso Garcia, Superintendent of Schools at Vanguard Academy..

Dr. Narciso Garcia joined Vanguard Academy in 2017 after serving as deputy superintendent of PSJA schools. 

Garcia previously served as Superintendent of Schools for La Villa ISD, and was recently selected as a leadership fellow by the prestigious Pahara-Aspen Institute. Garcia has led efforts to partner with the City of Pharr on many initiatives, and was instrumental during the pandemic this year, providing free meals to ALL Pharr students in the community.

Congratulations, Dr. Garcia!

Nonprofits


Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, we are grateful to our general sponsors who have made today’s event possible.

Every year, we are committed to donating excess funds from this event that is 100% funded by sponsor donations. 

We select nonprofit organizations that are working to improve conditions and the quality of life of families in Pharr and the surrounding areas.

The first organization to receive a grant in the amount of $5,000 is The Food Bank of the RGV.

The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley is passionately committed to improving lives through food assistance, nutrition education, and access to community services. During the pandemic, the Food Bank has been instrumental in providing nutritional sustenance, including fresh produce and dry goods, for families across the Rio Grande Valley.

The next organization identified to receive a grant in the amount of $5,000 is Mujeres Unidas.

Mujeres Unidas provides shelter and support services to battered women and their children. Mujeres Unidas is committed to providing services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Lastly, an organization whose headquarters is located in Pharr and provides support for orphaned children that come into their care. The mission of Children’s Haven International is to fully provide for each of the youngsters who come under our care; so that his or her physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs may be met.

Department “Team Pharr Award”


2020 was a year in which we were all asked to go above and beyond our normal duties and responsibilities. While we honor the efforts of our frontline workers – emergency responders, medical professionals, and law enforcement – it is also important to recognize the contributions of some of our heroes that worked to keep us safe.

In the spirit of honoring those workers that typically remain behind the scenes but are instrumental to our health and safety, this year, we wanted to award a new recognition that we will be having each year.

This year, The Team Pharr Award goes out to the Parks and Recreation Department, headed by Director Sergio Alanis.

The Department is home to the numerous custodial staff that cleans and disinfects our government offices and public facilities, keeping us and the public safe from the spread of COVID. The Department also houses many of our parks part-time and temporary workers whose roles were redirected from acting as Census canvassers to manning the COVID-19 call center during the height of the pandemic.

Thank you for your dedication and diligence to serving our community. Each of the department’s employees will be awarded with a keepsake medal and a department recognition to be displayed with pride. Congratulations to the Parks and Recreation Department… We are TEAM PHARR!

Conclusion


Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of my colleagues on the Pharr City Commission and all our employees…

Thank you all for joining us virtually today!

The City is Pharr is healthy, our economy is thriving, and our future is promising!

Thank you, and God Bless!

Editor’s Note: The above commentary was given by Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez in his virtual 2021 State of the City Address. The address is republished here with the permission of the author.


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