Good afternoon, and welcome to Pharr’s State of the City!
When I made the decision to run for office as Mayor, almost exactly four years ago to the date, there were some people who said it could not be done. There were those that said that a Pediatric surgeon DID NOT have the time nor the know-how to run a city. I respectfully disagree with that belief. I’ve always imagined doing the impossible.
So, when they said it couldn’t be done, I always asked, why not?
I imagined the possibility. Why couldn’t I run a city with the same precision, skill, and clarity that I have used to surgically treat our most precious gifts — our children?
Imagine what it takes spending long, grueling hours conducting a life-saving operation on a young child to give them a chance at life, or being a parent of this child, and entrusting their beloved little one’s entire life to a person like myself. Imagine knowing what a heavy responsibility that may be for one person to bear on a daily basis, but also knowing that this person is confident that he has been blessed with the ability and talent to get the job done.
Imagine coming from nothing and becoming an example of what hard work and education can get you.
Imagine the possibility.
Compared to my day job, it turns out, managing a city actually is possible for a pediatric surgeon. But I don’t do it alone. When you surround yourself with talented people, like we have in Pharr, together, we can accomplish great things!
Today, I want to take this time to thank my patients – from babies to teenagers – the thousands who I have treated over the years, for allowing me to care for my hometown just as I have cared for them.
To all my patients I have had throughout the years: Thank you for believing in me, for continuing to inspire me, and most of all, thank you for helping me imagine the endless possibilities we can accomplish together.
Now, four years later, look at all that we have been able to accomplish!
As the city’s primary care provider, I am proud to report that, due to the hard work and dedication of our diligent City Commission, administration, and employees…
Healthy, Vibrant and Flourishing
The diagnosis of state of the city of Pharr is HEALTHY, VIBRANT and FLOURISHING, and its prognosis is excellent and expected to move forward on a continued path of success!
I want to thank all of you for joining us today, and especially, my family and my beautiful, supportive wife Cristina. Thank you to my City Commission, city leadership team, and employees. Thank you, Julian, for that kind introduction. Thank you, Alex, the Pharr Police and Fire Departments Joint Honor Guard, Rebecca, RGV College nursing students, Sister Norma, and all those that represented every facet of our city. Thank you to our generous sponsors for supporting our State of the City. Just like in previous years, thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, this event is being put on with 100% sponsored funds, and at no cost to the city. Thanks for continuing to support Pharr!We also want to extend a special thank you to all our produce sponsors, who have provided these produce samplings for all of you to take home and enjoy! Finally, thank you to all those individuals behind the scenes who have worked to make today’s event possible.
Just as the organs within the body contribute to the overall health and wellbeing of an individual, the components represented by these banners here up front all contribute in a very special way to the overall effective function and operations at the City of Pharr. They represent the people who have their boots on the ground on a daily basis, behind the scenes, making sure that the City is run efficiently. Hand in hand, day after day, we work to ensure that our city operates in optimal health. Ultimately, our patients, our Pharr residents, and families deserve our best efforts, our most focused attention, and our dedication in addressing their needs.
Here are some of the successes that we were able to accomplish together in 2018.
In Pharr, we have implemented successful working relationships with our state, federal, and local officials, agencies, and organizations. By fostering these key relationships with our state and federal leaders, Pharr is able to attract attention, funding, resources, and assistance down to our area to help move our projects forward. In 2018, several notable officials visited Pharr, including United States Senators and Congressmen, Texas Governor Gregg Abbott, state legislators, and Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller, who just this week, visited us again as we hosted his swearing-in ceremony at the Pharr International Bridge. We hosted events of statewide significance and partnered with our county and local officials on issues of mutual importance. I testified before state legislators and at committee hearings for funding for key projects and regarding issues such as transportation, housing, and intergovernmental affairs. With our leadership at the helm, we have had access to key decision makers in Austin and in Washington, D.C., and we finally have a seat at the table. Pharr has established itself as a regional leader in Texas and in the national arena, and we will continue to advocate for the Rio Grande Valley, bring attention and awareness to our issues and needs, and fight for our fair share.
We also continue to enjoy strong partnerships with our local educational institutions, such as the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, South Texas College, RGV College, and the many public and private schools that call Pharr home. This year, the South Texas College Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence was officially dedicated, with Governor Abbott attending the ceremony. The Center opened its doors for the fall semester. Thank you to STC for continuing to raise the level of educational attainment in our South Texas communities.
Pharr continues to partner with UTRGV on several major initiatives. This year, Pharr fulfilled its commitment to contribute to the UTRGV School of Medicine, again presenting a five-hundred-thousand-dollar grant to UTRGV in June. Plans are moving forward for the UTRGV Satellite Campus, which propose to include a Multi-Specialty Clinical Campus and a Sports Medicine Institute and Aquatic Center. These projects will enhance educational, health care and athletic opportunities, as well as contribute to having a significant economic impact in our area. Thank you to UTRGV for your continued partnership as we work to advance educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, and especially, in Pharr.
Continuing to expand opportunities for educational advancement in Pharr, RGV College announced the addition of a new Associate Degree in Nursing program to train future nurses, in addition to the multiple health science programs already in place. Another first for Pharr.
One of the most highly-anticipated venues to come to the Rio Grande Valley opened its doors just a few weeks ago in Pharr to much excitement. Our Pharr community has welcomed this one-of-a-kind entertainment venue with open arms, and we have some information to share about Topgolf Pharr:
- Topgolf Pharr was ranked #1 in Overall Guest Satisfaction for the entire company in 2018 and currently for 2019;
- Topgolf Pharr won The Culinary Cup for The Texas Region; and
- More than 160,000 games were played! Impressive!
We are proud to have Topgolf call Pharr home, and we look forward to continuing this relationship that will undoubtedly contribute to the economic health and well being of our area for years to come. For those of you who haven’t made it out to Topgolf, we highly encourage you to visit and contribute to Pharr’s sales tax activity!
Pharr continues to support workforce development initiatives for our residents and families. From job fairs to training, promoting skills development, and supporting efforts to employ individuals with disabilities, we here in Pharr continue to promote efforts to keep Pharr working!
Our Pharr International Bridge continues to be the number one land port of entry in the country for produce, crossing 60 percent of all fresh produce traveling northbound to destinations across the United States. The Bridge is the 4th largest U. S. Port of Entry with Mexico. The bridge is also ranked number one in exports for petroleum gases. Approximately thirty-three-Billion Dollars in Total Trade cross annually through our Pharr International Bridge! We, who live and work on the border, see the benefits of international trade on a daily basis; we know that our relationship with our neighbor to the south is critical to our regional economy, and we must continue to protect and promote our interests in the state, national, and international arenas. Not with fear, but with faith, that the relationships that we have nurtured for centuries will continue to thrive and provide mutually-beneficial results on both sides of the border.
In 2018, we celebrated many milestones at and around the bridge. We hosted a NAFTA Seminar in partnership with the Consulate of Mexico; we launched our new toll collection system, becoming the first and only bridge in the country along the Texas-Mexico border to offer interoperability with a toll road for its customers. We celebrated the Start of the Produce Season with special guest Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller. Our legislative efforts, led by Cindy Garza have truly paid off as demonstrated by the successful funding of both federal and state investments at our bridge totaling a combined $40 million.
We also celebrated a very important milestone in October 2018 with our neighbors to the south with the completion of construction and opening of Mexico’s Aduana, a 90-million-dollar project paid for by the Mexican federal government which doubled the capacity for both imports and exports, resulting in a 50-percent increase through-out with new, advanced inspection technology for maximum efficiency. Working in a true partnership with our Mexican colleagues, we have increased our investment to complement their efforts. Upcoming projects in the bridge include four new infrastructure projects that will help to improve crossing times and alleviate congestion. We will also continue to support funding for additional infrastructure enhancements, border security, technology, and law enforcement agents at our international port of entry.
Since I took office in 2015, more than $400 million in funding has been allocated to the Pharr area and surrounding region for major transportation and infrastructure projects, all contributing to improving the flow of transportation, trade, and commerce in our area. As Chairman of the Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), we fought for our fair share of funding for road and transportation projects in Pharr. Since serving as Mayor, more MPO dollars have been appropriated to our area than ever before in Pharr. Notable transportation projects from state and federal funds include approximately $350 million for the Pharr Interchange Expansion; $70 million total for roadway projects; $3.5 million for sidewalk funding; $40 Million for bridge projects, all toward transportation and infrastructure improvement projects, right here in Pharr.
This past year, we highlighted several important transportation and infrastructure projects, including the Expansion of Owassa Road from two lanes to four lanes, a project that was much-needed, long overdue and was finished ahead of schedule and under budget. We also celebrated the importance that the trucking industry has on our local and regional economy, hosting Trucker Appreciation Week and the inaugural, first-of-its-kind trucking industry expo in our region, The Pharr International Trucking Expo, in September.
With public safety continuing to remain one of our highest priorities in Pharr, we were proud to partner with South Texas College to offer the highest-quality public safety training and technology through the Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence. We broke ground to celebrate the new Pharr Fire Station #4 in South Pharr, the first new fire station to be built in Pharr in nearly 30 years. We also broke ground on our new Public Safety Communications Building which will provide Fire, Police, and Emergency Management with the tools and resources needed to provide safety and assistance to the community.
In June, Pharr, along with many of our South Texas communities, was impacted by an unprecedented rain event that flooded homes and destroyed properties. City leaders and employees were quick to respond during and after the event. Pharr emergency response teams were out in the community, working to pump water and helping to evacuate citizens. City officials authorized funds for flood assistance, coordinated with FEMA to host several disaster relief public forums to assist families with applying for individual assistance.We are now working diligently to improve resiliency against future events through our Public Works Department and working with Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1. We are committed to ensuring that our drainage infrastructure is more than just adequate but prepared to withstand a 500-year flood event. An investment not seen in any other community, because that’s what our residents deserve.
Pharr remains committed to ensuring that our residents and families have the best amenities a city can offer, to encourage healthy living and an active lifestyle. We want our families to be proud of Pharr’s parks, recreational centers, and activities, and we are continuously working to enhance our community’s health, well being, and quality of life. This year, we had the grand opening of one of our community’s pride and joy: the South Pharr Development and Research Center, and have held multiple events, activities, training’s, and resources for families. We broke ground and for the development of several new parks including a skate park, two new city/school parks, the downtown park in the heart of the city, and the hike-and-bike safety pedestrian tunnels. We also launched our After School Activity Program in August, providing safe and affordable after-school activities in 12 Pharr schools for approximately 500 students and growing!!! Investing in our youth is a serious business in Pharr.
After months of the Boys and Girls Club not being in compliance with city code and fire safety standards, the city was forced to close the facility in order to make the required safety upgrades to ensure that the safety and security of our Pharr children were upheld to the highest standard. The city took proactive measures and invested approximately $60 thousand dollars in funding to make the necessary upgrades and bring the facility into compliance. We installed a new fire sprinkler system and emergency exits, new water lines, a new fire hydrant, connection for the fire department,and provided additional age-appropriate artwork. I am proud of our city’s commitment to our Pharr children, and I am pleased to announce that the facility has successfully passed inspection, a certificate of occupancy has been approved, and the newly improved, much safer Boys and Girls Club Gym will re-open today for use! We are working with IDEA Public Schools and Pharr Boys and Girls Club to celebrate the ribbon cutting of the new facility, and we encourage the entire community to join us to commemorate the occasion on Friday, February 1st at the facility.
In terms of providing a variety of opportunities for home ownership in Pharr, we work to promote a variety of residential development and housing assistance programs for all types of families. In early 2018, we hosted a Welcome Home Event for eligible families to qualify for housing assistance from Affordable Homes of South Texas under Pharr’s unique program that offered grants up to and including the cost of a lot. In August, construction was completed on the first of such homes, and we welcomed home the Gonzalez family to their beautiful new brick home. The Pharr Family Foundation program to date has assisted four families with more than $50 thousand dollars in housing program lot assistance. We continue to pursue and provide affordable housing opportunities for our Pharr families.
Pharr is poised to grow tremendously over the next few years. The West Oak Manors Project allowed for the development of 33 acres into a residential subdivision with 146 lots. Last year, we issued 46 building permits for this subdivision. This is only one project, there are also two additional developments which will transform over 36 acres into new residences in Pharr that will contribute to our general revenue fund.
To sum up our 2018 accomplishments, Pharr continues to perform strongly financially, as demonstrated by our increasing sales tax activity growth and our conservative management of our city funds. In September, S&P Global Ratings, the world’s leading provider of credit ratings, announced that it raised the City of Pharr’s credit from “A+” to “AA-,” demonstrative of Pharr’s commitment to maintaining effective fiscal accountability and efficient management of taxpayer funds.
Other successes for the last fiscal year include a 6% increase in property tax collections, an 8% increase in sales tax collections, and an all-year positive growth compared to other cities in the Rio Grande Valley, a balanced budget, and all city departmental expenditures within budget for the year!
We are a responsible city, and we are a caring city because Pharr gives back.
A city-employee funded account helped to provide a very Merry Christmas in December, as we were able to provide assistance to six families in need through the Mayor’s Initiative. Families were identified by local school districts which included: PSJA ISD, Valley View ISD, Hidalgo ISD, Vanguard Academy, Oratory, and Idea Public Schools, and provided with financial gifts to help them out this holiday season. Lastly, this December was the first year in many that our city employees received a pay bonus. Every full time and part time employee received a bonus. Employees, thank you for the work you do to help our city function in ideal health!
With 2019 already upon us, we have hit the ground running. With our new city manager at the helm, Mr. Alex Meade, Pharr is already taking the steps toward becoming a smart city, defined as a city that uses information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare. We are trimming excess, we are streamlining operations, and we are working toward optimal performance at minimal cost. Alex’s progressive vision is aligned with our goals for Pharr to continue moving in a positive direction, implementing and encouraging employee morale, government transparency, and a winning philosophy. Our plans for the future include, among others, continuing to promote economic growth and financial stability, continuing to provide the best quality of life for our Pharr families, enhancing public safety and security, and increasing opportunities for educational advancement to build human capital, train a highly-skilled workforce, and remain competitive in a global market.
We are taking the steps necessary for Pharr to aspire to achieve the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award – an award established by the U.S. Congress in 1987 to raise awareness of quality management and recognize U.S. companies and organizations, including governmental entities such as cities, that have implemented successful quality management systems. The award is the nation’s highest presidential honor for performance excellence. I’d like to recognize Dr. Mac McGuire, CEO of the Quality Texas Foundation. Dr. Mac served over 30 years in the United States Army and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel commanding a high priority unit as a Company Commander, commanded two battalions, one combat and one academic.Dr. Mac is an alumni Examiner for the National Baldrige Program and he has three books to his credit. He has been involved with Quality Texas since its inception and has also been a part of the Greater Austin Quality Award, the Army Communities of Excellence Program, Executive Director of the University of Texas Performance Improvement Program, and the national Baldrige Program where he serves as an Alumni Examiner. Dr. Mac has been helping us develop the framework to follow as we strive toward meeting the criteria to be considered for this prestigious award.
In Pharr, we strive for excellence, we are committed to our community, and, again, we are here to imagine the possibility!
At this time, as is our tradition that began at our inaugural State of the City address in 2017, we would like to present the Polo Palacios Award, awarded annually to an individual who carries the torch of service and pride for our Pharr community. This year’s Polo Palacios Service Award goes to Dr. Daniel P. King, Superintendent of Schools for Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District.
Next, to continue a tradition we started in our first State of the City here in Pharr, we want to recognize some organizations in our community that are doing amazing things for our Pharr families. As mentioned earlier, today’s event is put on with 100% sponsored funds, and at no cost to the city. Every year we have successfully raised enough from our sponsors to surpass the cost of the event, and the excess funds are being donated back to the community to continue doing the great work for our Pharr families. Today, we are here to present these wonderful organizations with a grant in the amount of $5,000.
- Valley Interfaith is a broad-based organization dedicated to the strengthening of a free and open society. It seeks responsive public service from all governmental levels, for all who live in the Rio Grande Valley. They are committed to non- violent, non-partisan, community action for the just improvements for the Rio Grande Valley. On behalf of the City of Pharr, we congratulate you for the work you are doing to improve the lives of citizens throughout the Rio Grande Valley and within our own Pharr community!
- Team Mario is a non-profit coalition of families, friends, and professionals dedicated to inspiring hope, academic success and a higher quality of life by raising awareness in the community to promote safety, acceptance, and independence for those affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The organization s goal is to provide community outreach and education through involvement in community-based events and to provide families with resources to help those affected with ASD. On behalf of the City of Pharr, thank you for your efforts to advocate, inspire hope, and raise Autism Awareness. Together we can all make a difference in the life of a child and family affected by ASD.
- The Knights of Columbus Council #9791 is a nonprofit organization that serves the Pharr community. The Knights of Columbus is a fraternal benefit society that remains true to its founding principles of charity, unity, and fraternity. The Knights were formed to render financial aid to members and their families. Mutual aid and assistance are offered to sick, disabled and needy members and their families. Social and intellectual fellowship is promoted among members and their families through educational, charitable, religious, social welfare, war relief and public relief works. Council #9791 was founded in 1984 and is the oldest Knights of Columbus in Pharr. Affiliated with St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Pharr, Council #9791 provides college scholarships, helps individuals with medical assistance, assists with funding for traveling for medical purposes, provides funding for emergency housing assistance, weatherization, and elderly assistance, among others, and remains committed to meeting the needs of our Pharr community where they arise.
Now, without further ado, I am pleased to call up Texas Workforce Commissioner Representing Labor, Julian Alvarez, and Texas Workforce Commissioner Representing the Public, Robert D. Thomas, members from the PSJA ISD School Board, and PSJA Superintendent Dr. Daniel King to the stage for a very special announcement. The Texas Workforce Commission has awarded a $280,630 Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) grant to Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District. The JET grant program allocates $10 million each biennium to defray start-up costs associated with the development of career and technical education programs to public community and technical colleges and independent school districts. Congratulations to the Texas Workforce Commission and PSJA ISD!
I want to thank everyone for joining us today. As mayor, I look forward to the future with a great sense of pride and confidence at what is yet to come. It is our hope that the decisions we make today will have a positive impact on the lives of our Pharr families for future generations.
Working together, let’s continue to imagine!
God bless you and your families, God bless our great United States, God bless Texas, and God bless Pharr!
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez’s prepared remarks for his 2019 State of the City Address. He delivered it at the Pharr Events Center on Jan. 17, 2019.