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PHARR, RGV – Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, M.D., held his first State of the City address at the Boggus Ford Events Center on Thursday.

Hernandez focused on the achievements of his administration and upcoming projects. He honored former Mayor Polo Palacios with the first-ever Polo Palacios Service Award. A video shown at the event highlighted the administration’s efforts to improve the city’s finances and quality of life for Pharr residents. Hernandez paid tribute to city staff.

More than 500 attendees were in attendance at the event, including local, state and federal officials, business and community partners, and educational leaders. The office of Tamaulipas Governor Francisco Cabeza de Vaca was represented. KRGV News Anchor Letty Garza served as Master of Ceremonies, and Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia delivered introductory remarks. There was entertainment from student groups from local Pharr schools, including PSJA ISD, Valley View ISD, Idea Public Schools, Vanguard Academy, and the Oratory Academy.

Here are Mayor Hernandez’s prepared remarks in full:

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, family, colleagues, students and friends of Pharr. I want to thank everyone who made this event possible. Thank you, Judge, for that kind introduction. Thank you to all attendees, in particular my wife Cristina who has always been my motivation and support.  Let’s give a round of applause to our talented students and school representatives for their wonderful performances.

Walking in today, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of PRIDE. The same pride that filled our PSJA stadium on game day, is the same pride that swells when I look out across the room at the students from Pharr who now fill our shoes as learners and who will fill them as leaders in the future.

Today marks a milestone for the city, not only because we celebrate our 108th Birthday but also because this is the first year we host a State of the City event. It was important to me that we do this, because my platform always included accountability and transparency and because our community deserves to know our goals and expectations.

The City of Pharr is a great place to live, work, and play.  18 months ago, I was honored by Pharr residents by being voted to become their Mayor.  I was elected in order to change Pharr, to move it Forward.  Today, I want to speak to you all about:

1. Progressive improvements to the professionalism and transparency of the City of Pharr,

2. Giving back to our taxpayer in a manner never done before,

3. Improvements to the quality of life for our residents, and

4. Strategically increasing our regional standing

When making positive changes that affect the entire community, we must look inward first to improve the way we do business.  At Pharr, we have transformed the workplace into an efficient, professional, citizen-driven, and transparent government.  It was not done by accident, it was done through a program we are proud of, the Pharr PRIDE Leadership program.

Pharr PRIDE stands for: Professionalism in productivity and appearance; Respect for self, co-workers, employees and citizens; Integrity in work and in life; Discipline in one’s duty; and Ethical adherence to moral, professional, and legal standards.  This program indicates the level of professional expectations that all employees are expected to adhere to, and one in which residents can hold city staff accountable to.  

As leaders and for transparency, we hold ourselves to the same standards that are expected of our employees; we are not afraid to put ourselves up for scrutiny as a means to improve the organization.  To measure our progress, we developed a baseline assessment by surveying all employees on their views of leadership of the Mayor, City Commission, and City Manager.  The results of the survey were analyzed by University of Texas – RGV.  The results demonstrated that Pharr’s leadership received a successful 65% approval rating. We will use this tool to measure our progress and plan on doing a citywide community assessment to gain the perspective of our citizens on their needs as well as our performance.  According to UTRGV, they touted our actions as unique to this area and progressive. We invite the region to participate with us in this progressive action.

Further improving our change in culture and promoting a healthy lifestyle, we implemented a wellness program for employees and dependents, which includes a CrossFit program for all employees & dependents, bariatric surgery in employee health plan, the use of telemedicine to save time spent at a doctor’s office at no copay for all families, and fitness requirements for all police & fire civil service personnel.

Other positive successes we celebrate include the execution of Police & Fire collective bargaining 3-year contracts, providing a respectful professional pay along with mandatory 100% drug testing and fitness requirements. We encouraged equal treatment by asking City Commissioners to submit to drug testing requirements, just as all employees are also expected to comply; what is good for the employee is good for the Commission.

Overall, this change in culture has resulted in a measurably more efficient workforce and fiscally healthy government for Pharr and its taxpayers.  After more than a year implementing our changes, the following has resulted:

1. Our general fund budget result shifted from negative $1.6 million to positive $3.8 million, a $5.4 million improvement

2. Our general fund cash management responsibly grew from $734,000 in the bank, to $4.1 million, a $3.3 million improvement

As elected officials, my colleagues on the Pharr City Commission and I serve at the will and leisure of the people who elected us – the citizens of Pharr.  Our goal is to maximize taxpayer funds and to improve the quality of life for our residents.  With this in mind, in 2016 we gave Pharr residents the biggest tax reduction in over 20 years.  We then gave our utility rate-payers their money back, we did this by identifying excess funds in our utility account and responsibly gave it back to them.  This is unheard of, this is the new leadership Pharr wanted, and we are the only city in the region to have done this.  In my mind, let the residents enjoy more of their hard-earned money.

Our economy is important to the quality of life for our residents.  We continue to invest in projects that make it easier to do business in Pharr, as in rebuilding heavy industrial roads that were previously unmaintained. We have done what was possible to encourage retail development along Jackson, as well as improve industrial development opportunities in our industrial area.  We are very close to telling the community and region our big plans for the land next to Costco, and we are one meeting away from finally being sold-out at the Pharr Produce Park.  Good things are happening in Pharr.  Our labor market analysis has also demonstrated positive growth in terms of job creation – the November Employment report indicates a material reduction in unemployment in Pharr, with an unemployment rate of 5.7% in comparison to over 7% last year.

We are also proud to announce several measures to improve the quality of life in Pharr.  To begin, as is evident by our live installation of students enjoying themselves in representations of our amenities, we have dedicated a large portion of our efforts to improving our parks. We will soon celebrate the opening of NINE new parks and two upgrades of current parks that will be added to the City’s park system. These new additions will double the acres of park space for our families to enjoy. We are promoting a healthy, active, outdoor lifestyle for our families.  This is in partnership with our good friends at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo School District. With their leadership and vision, we worked together to improve our children’s quality of life and the Pharr community. Thank you, PSJA.

To promote cultural activities and further foster community pride, we have implemented a plan to host community festivals at least once a month. The festivals will take place throughout the city instead of mainly downtown, in order to promote other parts of Pharr. We have also reduced the cost of our annual flagship celebration, Pharr HubPhest, by more than half while maintaining its high entertainment value. Later today, we will have a free, public community celebration to honor Pharr’s 108th birthday, with our city services on display and “City Hall on Call,” where our city department heads will be available for discussing citizen issues and concerns. This type of open and transparent communication aims to increase public awareness of city services and provide a means for citizens to address any issues or concerns they may have.

Leading the region as a positive economic driving force, Pharr continues to push forward projects that are of regional significance and we continue to create, develop and nurture partnerships with our neighboring communities and leaders which help us achieve successes and promote projects that benefit the entire region.

An example of such a regional project is the ongoing work to secure funding for the International Border Trade Corridor known better known as IBTC which will have the ability to connect all ports of entry. This project has gained the support of many of our local communities and others outside of our region.  IBTC will be able to move our cargo trucks quickly out of our region and to their final destination.  With the phenomenal growth our area is experiencing, this project along with the need for the expansion of the I69 Interchange, will help to alleviate transportation bottlenecks, make our roads safer, and increase our economic trade engine that not only is a driving force locally but for our country as well. Due to the leadership of our State legislators, in particular, our State Senators Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and Eddie Lucio, Jr., the expansion of I69 will be a priority for the City of Pharr and the state of Texas.  You are a major advocate to Pharr and this region, this is evidenced by your work to secure significant funding for the I69 Interchange project.  I would like to recognize our Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., and our entire Texas state delegation. Please rise and be recognized.

The IBTC and I69 interchange projects are needed because of two main reasons: 1) our region continues to grow, and 2) the Pharr International Bridge is a major economic engine for our state, this great nation, and this region.  Understanding the importance of Pharr’s commercial bridge, keeping it efficient and with excess capacity is a continuous planning process.  We are in the process of finalizing another regional project, one that will further boost international trade, this project is the private-public partnership with our federal Customs and Border Protection Department of Homeland Security under the Federal 559 Program.  This project will:

1. increase efficiency for international trade,

2. it will double the inspection dock capacity,

3. it double the amount of exit lanes,

4. it will add two entrance lanes to decrease wait time, and

5. it will develop a fast lane for certified and low-risk trade to and from Mexico.

We know how important it is for our trade partners to increase their efficiency, and we here in Pharr work to improve the bottom line for those who use our bridge.  

Another partnership is with our County leaders, and I want to especially thank our County Judge, Ramon Garcia, for personally spearheading the creation and passage of the Pharr’s Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones, which will spur retail and future development activity in Pharr.

Further fostering our sense of community pride, I would like to announce some very special initiatives which we are commencing here today. This is our inaugural State of the City address, and our organizers were very instrumental in making today’s event a success. I would like to again thank our sponsors for their generous support and interest in supporting our City.  Because of your support, there were zero tax dollars used to host this event.

In fact, we were so successful, that our donations exceeded the cost of today’s event, and as such, we decided that it was appropriate to in turn donate our proceeds to local nonprofit organizations in Pharr that serve our citizens.

As such, I would like to take this opportunity to present the following checks in the amount of $5,000 to the following organizations:

• ARISE, represented by Lourdes Flores and Ramona Casas, and

• American Legion, represented by Lucio Gaitan and Mike Navarro

These donations may come as a welcome surprise, but they are but a small token of our appreciation for the work you do on a daily basis. We know that this contribution will help you continue the work you do to provide opportunities for our citizens in Pharr and across the Rio Grande Valley.

There is no greater demonstration of pride for our community than to give of oneself in service. I know that, because I have had the opportunity to live it as your Mayor. I appreciate firsthand that one does not become a public servant without possessing the qualities of leadership, service and sacrifice. There is one person in Pharr who has honorably possessed and lived these characteristics, and has done so for roughly 30 years.

Born and raised in Pharr, Leopoldo “Polo” Palacios attended PSJA schools and served in the United States Air Force, and was a professional drug and alcohol abuse counselor in his career. He began his tenure in public service in 1985, when he was appointed to the unexpired term of Pharr City Commissioner Lorenzo Garcia. He was subsequently elected Mayor in 2002. During his tenure on the Pharr City Commission, Mayor Palacios was a relentless fighter for Pharr residents. Notable accomplishments include the annexation of South Pharr/Las Milpas, providing clean water, sewage service, streets, sidewalks and safe electricity to over 20,000 residents. These achievements are indicative of leadership, intuition and collaborative skills of one of Texas’ most admired mayors.

Today, we are proud to celebrate the beginning of a tradition in his honor – the Leo “Polo “Palacios Service Award – which will be bestowed annually at each future State of the City Addresses upon an individual who carries the torch of service and pride for our Pharr community. I would like to name its first recipient, and the namesake of the honor – The honorable Leo “Polo” Palacios. Thank you for your continued leadership, Mayor Polo, and Congratulations.

I am proud to announce that the state of our great City of Pharr is financially strong, healthy, and well-positioned as a regional leader in the Rio Grande Valley, and we are in a prime position to continue progressing forward. We look forward to continue celebrating our successes on projects that benefit the entire region, our great state, and the entire nation. We recognize that we cannot do it alone, and we remain committed to regional collaborations with our business partners, our educational partners, our international partners, and with each of you, to keep Pharr moving forward in a positive direction and working for the betterment of the entire region.

As we conclude this State of the City Address, I want to recognize the great work our employees do every day.  We have a good team in Pharr, I recognize it and am appreciative of it.  Thank you Pharr employees. On behalf of our City Commissioners, our employees, our residents and families, we want to thank you for attending today’s State of the City, and we wish you and yours a prosperous 2017.

Thank you!”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story, along with the photos in the slideshow, were taken by Rio Grande Guardian reporter Stephanie Jara.