MCALLEN, RGV – McAllen Mayor Jim Darling says the anti-city bills introduced in the special legislative session were designed to limit a municipality’s ability to grow.
Mayor Darling gave report his monthly at the McAllen Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) board of directors meeting last Thursday and touched on specific bills that would affect the city and emerging developments in the area.
Last Tuesday, the special legislative session ended with the House and Senate passing only nine of the 20 bills on Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda. The Texas Municipal League, which represents hundreds of cities in the Lone Star State, described Abbott’s bills as a “war against cities.”
Mayor Darling began his report by commenting on the bills that were passed in the special session, among them, restrictions on annexation law for cities, which would require cities to hold elections in order to annex land in their jurisdiction.
This change in annexation law would limit growth for the city, Darling said.
“Of the 21 bills that were filled, eight were anti-city bills on pretty serious things,” Darling said. “Annexation restrictions where we have to have an election for annexation was passed by both sides, and it’s going to go to the Governor, which will restrict our ability to grow.”
Other bills that were on Gov. Abbott’s agenda in the special session would create spending caps and limit a city’s ability to raise property taxes, but the bills didn’t pass, Darling was pleased to report. He said cities would have to stay vigilant.
“Spending rate was one of them that didn’t get out; (it) would’ve limited a city’s spending to no more than a five percent increase no matter what your taxes were. We didn’t understand that one,” Darling said. “Then, also, the taxation rate bill got out too so we’ll wait and see what happens on that.”
Mayor Darling said he had a private meeting with Abbott two weeks ago to discuss the Governor’s legislative agenda, but the discussion didn’t achieve much. They also discussed McAllen receiving reimbursement for supporting the humanitarian respite center at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, but Darling is unsure why the application has stalled for the last few weeks.
“We met with the Governor two weeks ago we had a private meeting with him. He tried to convince us to go over (to his side) and we didn’t, so that failed,” the McAllen Mayor said. “We did talk about our respite center reimbursement. Everything is in line, except the Governor’s office has now had the application for a couple of weeks, and I don’t know what they’re looking at.”
McAllen Protest & Lawsuit
Mayor Darling said the City of McAllen filed a protest against Senate Bill 4 last week, which is an official declaration by the city against the bill.
SB 4 would require local law enforcement to comply with federal immigration authorities and allow police to ask for the immigration status of those they detain. The bill would also impose civil penalties on local officials if they do not cooperate with federal immigration law.
Darling said the city came out against SB 4 because it showed a conflicting message after McAllen launched a new marketing campaign, “Amigos Siempre,” to increase Mexican tourism after a recent decline in sales tax revenues.
“We did file a protest against Senate Bill 4, we passed a resolution. We thought we were being inconsistent with advertising to Mexico about ‘Amigos Siempre’ and not opposing Senate Bill 4, so we did that,” Darling said.
The McAllen Mayor also reiterated the lawsuit the city filed over Senate Bill 1004, which would restrict cities on the size of the fee they can charge a telecommunication company that wants to deploy network nodes on public right-of-way.
“We also sued the state on Senate Bill 1004, which allows wireless companies to literally put their facilities any place they want,” Mayor Darling said. “The City of Houston has examples where they just put it in the middle of sidewalks because they don’t have to have authority from cities to do it, so we’re the lead plaintiff in that lawsuit. So, needless to say, my meeting with the Governor was a little cool, but at any rate though, we’ll continue to see what happens.”
Mayor Darling explained the proposed budget cuts for the McAllen Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), which would cut the budget by six percent.
At the meeting, the president of MEDC, Keith Patridge, discussed the budget cuts and urged city leaders to consider the importance of the organization and how much it contributes to the city.
Since the decline in sales tax revenue, the city had to cut the budget for MEDC, but Darling said new construction on tax rolls made up $1.5 million of the money lost.
“We’re going through the budget process, Keith covered some of that,” Darling said. “Sales taxes were down about three million dollars. We made up some of that with new construction on tax rolls, not increasing appraisals but new construction out of tax rolls probably made up another $1.5 million, so that’s good.”
Mayor Darling also discussed new infrastructure projects, but said the Anzalduas International Bridge expansion could be delayed due to funding.
“The bridge? We’re ready for expansion of cargo going north. We kinda reached a hiccup because our Mexican concessionaire, I don’t know what else could happen to us but our Mexican concessionaire doesn’t have the funding to do the Mexican side so we’re exploring processes as it relates to that.”
The City of McAllen will also replace a fire station in McAllen and relocate the city’s parks and recreations building.
“We did a Certificate of Obligation announcement for two projects,” Darling said. “One is a replacement fire station for the one on Main Street and a relocation of our parks and recreations facility on south Ware Road. We intend to sell that property and build a brand new facility for that.”
Mayor Darling also said the city has $45 million worth of drainage projects and they plan on implementing a drainage utility fee, along with eco-tourism developments.
“In May, we’ll have an election for drainage improvements and we’re going to probably initiate a drainage utility fee,” Darling said. “We have about $45 million of drainage projects that we need to accomplish and so we will do that. And possibly two eco-tourism bond issues. One for eco-tourism, at Quinta (Mazatlan) and another one I can’t disclose now but it’ll be a really nice project.”