EDINBURG, RGV – Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina says his city will honor its commitment to help pay for the UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine but the payments will be stretched out.
Along with Hidalgo County, and the cities of McAllen, Pharr, and Mission, Edinburg signed an MOU to make payments every year for ten years, in order to help get the medical school up and running. Of these entities, only Hidalgo County and the City of Pharr have always paid on time.
Speaking at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Bert Ogden Arena, Molina told the Rio Grande Guardian: “We are committed to the $1 million but I can tell you right now, it won’t be in a lump sum. It will be in a payment plan over a 12-month period.”
The City of Edinburg agreed to pay $1 million each year for ten years to UTRGV. City council members budgeted to pay $1 million last October it never happened. Another $1 million payment is due this coming October.
Molina said the reason the city council did not pay $1 million last October was because it had more pressing issues, such as funding basketball courts and a resource center.
“We wanted to get some projects done right off the bat. There were some things the council wanted to prioritize first. Those things have already been done.”
Molina added that Edinburg will “fulfill our obligation” to UTRGV SOM.
Hidalgo County and the cities of Edinburg, McAllen, Pharr and Mission made a commitment to fund the School of Medicine after the Legislature passed a bill that required UTRGV to teach the first two years of medical school education in the upper Valley. Edinburg benefits the most from this arrangement because those first two years of education are taught on UTRGV’s Edinburg campus.
Edinburg City Manager Pilar Rodriguez gave an interview to the Rio Grande Guardian about Edinburg’s intention to make payments to UTRGV following a city council meeting on Tuesday evening.
“The City of Edinburg supports the School of Medicine. The City Council supports the School of Medicine. We think it is very important, not only for our community but for the region. It is an important asset to have,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez acknowledged that Edinburg should have paid UTRGV $1 million last October. He was not part of the city administration at the time but said his understanding is that money was appropriated for the payment.
“That million dollars was budgeted for and has not been paid. We are looking into that right now to see if it was expended on other projects and whether we need to recommend to the council a new appropriation to take care of that commitment,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said he and his staff have been asked by council members to find $1 million during the current fiscal year and another $1 million in the next fiscal year, which starts in October.
“The council has asked us to look at being able to fund that this fiscal year and to look at the possibility of funding it in the next fiscal year. We are looking at our finances now to figure out how to do that.”
Asked where the $1 million went that was budgeted for UTRGV last October, Rodriguez said: “I believe at the time there was a need for public safety equipment, police cars and fire apparatus and so, for the council public safety is very important. It boils up to the top of the list. Those funds were used to take care of immediate needs.”
Asked what correspondence he has had with UTRGV over the payments, Rodriguez said: “We have not had any correspondence with them. I am going to have a meeting with them in the next week or two. Hopefully, we will have the finances all figured out and we can let them know what our position is, or at least the manager’s recommendation.”
Rodriguez said finances are tight right now. “The finances are not terrible but we would like to be in a little bit better a position than we are right now. The council has asked us to be conservative with our spending. We are looking to see what we can cut to free up some funds to do the projects the council wants to do.”
Asked why finances are tight, Rodriguez said: “We have got some long term commitments. The city has issued a lot of debt over the last ten years. Obviously, we have to take care of those commitments first. We borrowed the money and we have spent it. So, we have got to pay it back. That boils up to the top of the list, so we have to take care of that debt first.”
Rodriguez reiterated that Edinburg believes in the medical school and intends to support it.
“We are looking to see at what available funds we have that could be appropriated. That is what the staff is looking at. We do want to keep honoring it but our finances are tight. We are taking a look to see what we can do to honor that (MOU) agreement.”
Asked to confirm he is looking to find $2 million for UTRGV’s School of Medicine, Rodriguez said: “Yes, one in the current year appropriation and one in the next fiscal year. The council will be looking to adopt that budget on Sept. 4.”
Dr. John H. Krouse, executive vice president for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine at UTRGV, issued this statement:
“Our government affairs team spoke to Mayor Richard Molina, and he stated the city intends to honor the city’s commitment to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. The city of Edinburg has been a great partner over the years. Its leadership recognizes the importance of the School of Medicine to the health of the community and continued economic growth of the city and surrounding areas.”