EDINBURG, RGV – Jane Cross, the GOP candidate for Hidalgo County Judge, is calling on Hidalgo County Commissioners Court to hold off on taking any more votes on building a new courthouse until next January.
By the start of the new year, voters will have chosen the successor to retiring Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia. It will either be Cross or her opponent in the November general election, Democrat Richard Cortez. January 2019 will also see Ellie Torres replace Joseph Palacios as Hidalgo County Commissioner for Precinct 4, which includes Edinburg, the county seat.
In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Cross said that with the City of Edinburg going back on a previous commitment to pump $30 million into the courthouse project, it is time to hit the pause button. Cross, a business owner, said the citizens of Hidalgo County must, at some point, have an opportunity to vote directly on the issue of the courthouse.
“If the current commissioners’ court cared about the people and the budget of the county they would table it until the new commissioner’s court came in, so we could have fresh eyes looking at all the different options. There are too many biases that control the current court,” Cross said.
Cross believes the new commissioners’ court should look at courthouse proposals that could save the taxpayers money and provide greater accessibility. The current plan, to build a new $150 million courthouse on the downtown courthouse square, can be improved upon, Cross believes.
“If anybody wants to give 50 acres with easy access that already has the infrastructure in place, I think that needs to be considered. All things need to be considered.”
Two alternative proposals have been offered in recent months. One by the Burns Brothers, who suggest a new courthouse could be built at their La Sienna masterplanned community in north Edinburg. The other by First Hartford Realty, which has land at The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley off Trenton Road in Edinburg. Both are next to Interstate 69 Central.
Cross said a good argument could be made that Judge Garcia recuse himself in any votes on a new courthouse because, as a lawyer, he might prefer a new courthouse be built next to the current one, which is close to his law office.
“The right thing is not always the best thing for you. By recusing himself, Ramon would show real leadership and real caring about what the county and what the people of the county feel. Nobody seems to care about the people anymore.”
Cross said one of her biggest concerns about building a new courthouse next to the old one is the amount of drainage repairs that will be needed.
“Rumor has it that the current location has $50 million in drainage problems. If they (commissioners court) put it where they want to put it, it will cost $50 million to deal with the drainage because it is being built in a hole, in a hole in Edinburg that floods. It is stupid.”
Cross also argues that $150 million is too much to pay for a new county courthouse.
“They built a courthouse in Fort Worth for $120 million. Ours is going to cost at least $150 million. Maybe more. I have heard $240 to $400 million. It could end up that expensive with all the change orders and the hiring of compadres.”
Cross said she knows how the cost of projects can escalate with change orders and different contractors and consultants brought in along the way. “I have built subdivisions, I have built houses, I have built businesses, I have gotten rid of businesses. People change horses like they change underwear here, it is crazy. In fact, they probably change horses more than they change underwear. It is crazy.”
Cross argues says the new courthouse could even be located in another city, while retaining Edinburg as the county seat.
“The Bentsen Tower in McAllen is for sale for $50 million. If you want a new courthouse, that already has courthouses in it, go with that. I know, Edinburg would have a cow if you moved the county seat, but you do not have to call it (Bentsen Tower) the courthouse, call it an annex. There are ways around it.”
Asked what she can bring to the table as county judge, Cross said:
“I have a grasp on this because I can look at things from a totally out of the box viewpoint. I can say, you guys are just peeing in the sand, this has nothing to do with looking after the interests of the people, this has everything to do with stroking your own egos. I am doing it to save the taxpayers money. People are losing their homes at a rate of 30 percent. We have the lowest income and the highest tax. I want to get in, get things fixed, help with the tax situation and get this courthouse underway, something that does not cost the taxpayers out the gazoo.”