LAREDO, Texas – Defending the border, promoting a more diverse economy, working together, and sharing numbers that show a growing city, were among the themes expounded in Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz’s third State of the City address.
Saenz, who was first elected in 2014, considered his term in office as a “amazing, challenging and rewarding journey.”
Having as background the song, “We Built this City,” Saenz punctuated his speech with some motivational words in Spanish.
“We must safeguard NAFTA, and oppose the construction of a border wall,” Saenz said. “My visit for President Trump’s inauguration on January 20 and the City’s annual legislative trip in March to Washington will present opportunities to pursue those important border discussions.”
Saenz expressed the need to capitalize being a “logistics and distribution center, a major hub, a regional center of influence,” with over $200 billion in annual international trade of goods and services.
With regards to the “Viva Laredo Plan,” Saenz said the idea is to guide city leaders in their policy making and funding of infrastructure projects for the next 25 years.
“In fact, this is the 13th year in a row without a tax hike. The adopted property tax rate for fiscal year 2017 remains at $0.637 cents per $100 dollar assessed valuation,” Saenz said. “Council also approved the 2017-2021 five-year capital improvement plan which identifies community-wide projects totaling $533 million.”
He also pointed out that the city council approved a balanced budget of $620.2 million.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Laredo has a population of 282,000, an increase of 19.5 percent over the last five years. Of that population, 111,000 are employed. The unemployment rate is at 4.2 percent, one of the lowest along the Texas-Mexico border. The city also has an excellent credit rating, earning “AA” from Moody’s and “AA” from Standard & Poor’s.
“Comercio Internacional es nuestro pan y frijoles” (International Trade is our bread and beans), Saenz said. As an example, he said the City’s International Bridge System is estimated to collect a projected $61 million in this new fiscal year.
“Laredo’s port of entry crosses 66.1 percent all trade through South Texas and remains the largest inland port on the U.S.-Mexico border and the second largest in terms of trade value in the country,” Saenz said. “It is also the third largest customs district in all of the United States with $284 billion in trade.”
Saenz pointed out Laredo receives 27.6 percent of all 18.9 million non-commercial vehicles crossing the 19 South Texas border port of entry. And, he said, the level of pedestrian traffic has remained steady at just over three million, an increase of 1.5 percent.
Laredo International Airport handled 496.5 million pounds of cargo, up 16.1 percent from the year before, said Saenz, proudly.
“Our State Comptroller, Glenn Hegar, has highlighted the Port of Laredo as a major contributor to the Lone Star State’s economy, creating an estimated 363,000 Texas jobs and contributing $52 billion to the Gross Domestic product,” Saenz said.
With regard to public safety, the current year’s budget for police and fire departments combined totals $115 million dollars, the mayor said.
“As noted in the 7-Year Uniform Crime Report, Laredo continues to report significant decreases in the number of (…) homicides, robbery and assaults,” Saenz stated.
When talking about the veteran population, he said it needs more attention.
“The City has adopted a rental policy that grants housing priority to veterans, as units become available through its Municipal Housing Division,” Saenz said. “These efforts are a start. We need to do much more as a community to make sure everyone has access to safe, decent, and affordable housing.”
During the 2015 election, voters passed various propositions, some of which included strengthening the voice of the mayoral position by amending the Charter to allow for the initiation of motions, adding items to a city council meeting agenda, consulting with the city manager on agenda items, and casting a fifth and deciding vote if required.
Possible future plans, Saenz said, include construction of a convention center with full service hotel and parking, and a museum in downtown Laredo.
The Outlet Shoppes at Laredo, with a private investment of $100 million and the construction of 357,000 square feet of retail space, will open on March 16.
Finally, Saenz said, on January 27, Laredo will celebrate a Border Summit along with Texas border leaders, with the goal of developing a unified border message to be delivered to President Trump and members of Congress.
“Juntos todo es posible (Together, everything is possible),” the mayor concluded.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Melva Lavín-Castillo