MCALLEN, Texas – The McAllen City Commission has not voted to support state Sen. Juan Hinojosa’s bill to give it control of Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3.

In fact, the commission has not even met to consider the issue. So says McAllen City Commissioner Javier Villalobos, a candidate for mayor of McAllen.

“As a city commissioner right now it is kind of difficult to opine on it because it is something for the city commission as a whole, making a decision,” Villalobos said, when asked if he supports the takeover of HCWID No. 3.

“I know we did not suggest this law be made. It was something our senator took upon himself. The commission does not have a position.”

Asked if McAllen City Commission has met to discuss Hinojosa’s legislation, Villalobos said: “Not at all. If it was presented to me, with all the information pertinent, I would make a decision but I do not have all the pertinent information. That did not come to the commission.”

McAllen City Commissioner Veronica Vela Whitacre is also running for mayor of McAllen. She, too, said the city commission has not taken a position on Hinojosa’s bill. However, unlike Villalobos, she did have a position on the issue.

“It will save us a lot of taxes (if we take over the water district),” Vela Whitacre said. 

Asked if the city commission has voted to support Hinojosa’s bill, Vela Whitacre said: “Not at all. It is not in our hands yet. Not at all. We have had opinions over the last four or five years. Maybe with all of our opinions, that is what resonated with him (Sen. Hinojosa). So, he took the initiative to get it done. It is in the best interests of McAllen.”

Senate Bill 2185 would transfer all the assets and liabilities of HCWID No. 3 to the City of McAllen. Hinojosa testified in support of his own bill when it was heard by the Senate Committee on Local Government earlier this month.

“The water district, quite frankly, has outgrown its purpose. The city and the county has transitioned from a rural, agricultural area, to a vital urban area,” Hinojosa testified. 

“Water District No. 3, today, is costing the taxpayers of the city of McAllen over $1 million every year for a layer of government that is not necessary. It also leads to increases of water rates for all the residents of the city of McAllen. It forces the City of McAllen into litigation on easements. The city pays higher than market value for their Water District No. 3.”

Hinojosa also claimed HCWID No. 3 has “a long history of mismanagement,” citing the finding of State Auditor’s Office report published in 2012. 

More people testified against SB 2185 when it was heard by the Senate committee than testified for it. The opponents included general managers from other water districts. Nonetheless, Hinojosa’s bill sailed out of committee with unanimous support.

An identical bill to Hinojosa’s SB 2185 has been filed in the Texas House by state Rep. Terry Canales of Edinburg. Asked why he wanted to hand over HCWID No. 3 to the City of McAllen, Canales said: “”It is common practice that members from opposite chambers carry each other’s bills as legislative courtesy. This is one of Senator Hinojosa’s priorities, and therefore it is one of mine.”

Canales’ bill, HB 4620, has yet to be heard by the House Committee on Natural Resources.

The president and general manager of HCWID No. 3 is Othal Brand, Jr. He, too, is running for mayor of McAllen. 

“I am not surprised the City of McAllen has not met to consider Chuy’s bill. There is opposition to it inside city hall. The commissioners know we provide an efficient and reliable source of water to the residents of McAllen,” Brand said. 

Brand said Hinojosa filed the bill just to waste Brand’s time during the mayoral election campaign. “This is the fourth time Chuy has filed this bill. The first three times his legislation went down in flames. We are confident the same fate awaits this latest piece of thuggery.”

Another candidate for mayor of McAllen, Dr. Shahid Rashid, M.D., said the City of McAllen has more important things to be working on than taking over another governmental entity.

“At this time, our priority is to make sure the living conditions and the quality of life of our citizens is improved. We have to address the chronic conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, heart conditions. These have to be addressed before we start looking at other issues. We do not need to be consumed in a fight over whether we control another government body. We are just getting over this pandemic and it is vital for us to focus on the economic and the post-COVID health recovery of our city,” Rashid said.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling shrugged off suggestions that McAllen City Commission should meet to endorse or reject Hinojosa’s takeover bill.

“It is about time. I am in favor of it,” Darling said of Hinojosa’s legislation. “I remember in 1978, in my second meeting with the public utility board, Othal Brand, Sr., was on that board and we talked about taking over that district. The problems have not gone away.”

Darling said HCWID No. 3 charges the City of McAllen too much to put underground pipes through the water district’s property. 

“The policy of, whatever it is, $500 per inch when you are putting a pipe in the ground, the delays at Bicentennial due to litigation, building a reservoir we did not ask for,” Darling said, listing some of his grievances with HCWID No. 3.

“We already have two reservoirs and always have capacity for free pumping anyway. We were never conferred with. I would think if you are going to do that with your main customer you would have a little more communications and cooperation. We are a captured customer, both physically because our plant is there and their canal is there.”

Asked why the City of McAllen does not buy all its water from another water district, if HCWID No. 3 charges too much, Darling said: “We could have District 2 deliver it if they had the capacity and they do deliver some water to us. We don’t have a choice but to use them (HCWID No.3).”

Asked if he has been asked to give testimony in support of Hinojosa’s bill, Darling said: “No, I have not. They have not asked me to. I would certainly do that.”

Darling added: “We showed support before. Senator Hinojosa was going to file the bill whether we support it or not. I think he thinks it is right. They do this all the time in Austin. I think there are 30 bills doing away with districts that aren’t needed anymore. It is not anything new.”

Brand said if Darling were to testify for Hinojosa’s bill at least one of his colleagues on the McAllen City Commission would travel to Austin to testify against.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows McAllen City Commissioner and mayoral candidate Javier Villalobos.

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