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The framed portrait behind Eddie Treviño, Jr., shows Oscar Cromwell Dancy, the longest serving county judge ever in Texas. Dancy (1879–1971) served as Cameron County Judge for 48 years. The county courthouse is named after him.

BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Eddie Treviño, Jr., promises to do a lot of listening as the new Cameron County Judge.

As he took his oath of office at the Cameron County Courthouse, the former Brownsville mayor said: “Sometimes as a leader, as an elected official, we don’t listen enough. I am here to tell you I don’t have all the answers. Heck, I don’t even know all the questions. But that is why I am here to listen.”

Treviño, an attorney, said the objectives of Cameron County residents are the objectives of himself and county commissioners “We are going to work hard every day. We are going to do what is right and we are going to be the best public servants that we can be,” he said.

Regional Cooperation

Treviño started his speech by saying he has a duty to constituents to provide “solid governance.” It was a wide-ranging speech and one of the top themes was regional cooperation.

“Regional cooperation will be my constant theme. As mayor, I worked with others on numerous projects. We took a regional approach and for some it was unheard of. I am proud to say it has become more prevalent but there is still much more we can do,” Treviño said. “We need to promote our region with a positive attitude and build upon the region’s assets. I commit to you today to do this each and every day on your behalf. Our history, our culture, our people are the reasons I have so much faith in Cameron County.”

MPO merger

On the subject of a possible merger of the three metropolitan planning organizations in the Rio Grande Valley, Treviño said: “We need to make sure that this consolidation of the MPOs will be better and not worse than what we currently have.” There was applause from the audience for this remark. Two of the three Valley’s MPOs are based in Cameron County. Supporters of a merger say more transportation dollars would come to the Valley. “We need to protect our cities and at the same time find a way to draw down discretionary funds from Austin and that is our overarching question,” Treviño said, referring to the MPO merger issue. “This is critically important and I will work with the county commissioners, the mayors, and TxDOT to find common ground.”

International Bridges

Treviño also spoke about his goal of modernizing the international bridges Cameron County co-owns.

“On our international bridges, I have already met with the port director for Customs and Border Protection to discuss the Veterans Bridge toll booth project, the reconstruction and reconfiguration of the Gateway Bridge, the construction of the cold storage facility and other potential future opportunities at the Free Trade Bridge at Los Indios,” he said.

“These are all projects that will keep us competitive and open up additional opportunities for the efficient movement of goods and services at our land ports of entry. I plan to meet with our officials in Washington, Austin and Mexico City soon to begin these discussions.”

Port of Brownsville

Treviño said he has also meet with Port of Brownsville officials to discuss their plans for port expansion and dredging the ship channel. “Believe it or not, while I was city commissioner and mayor we were working on that project and I am glad to see that, God willing, it is hopefully coming to fruition. This is important for the economic vitality of the region and I stand ready to help in any way that I can.”

Improving County Buildings

Treviño said construction is “moving at a rapid pace” at county facilities. He said the Sheriff’s Office is improving the old county jail. “This will help the sheriff run his jail and operation more smoothly and more efficiently,” Treviño predicted. “I look forward to working with him to reach those necessary improvements.” Another priority when it comes to law enforcement, Treviño said, is providing greater incentives to keep law enforcement personnel with the County. “We have a turnover of almost one third of our jailers every year. That creates a burden on those remaining jailers and on the administration. Those individuals have a very difficult job and I want to see what we can do to make sure they stay with us a little bit longer, after we have trained them.”

Construction on two new courtrooms, County Court at Law 4 and County Court at Law 5, will begin soon, Treviño said. The old Wells Fargo Bank building in downtown Brownsville is now owned by the County and undergoing major renovation, Treviño revealed. “Work is coming along gradually. The tax office, the justice of the peace office in Brownsville, the county clerk’s records office, and the information technology department will all be housed there.”

SPI County Parks

There was applause from the audience when Treviño said Cameron County has committed $20 million to construct new facilities at county parks on South Padre Island. In addition to renovating parks like Isla Blanca, Andy Bowie, E.K. Atwood, beach access areas will be improved, he said.

Beach Erosion

Beach erosion is serious, Treviño said, and is therefore a high priority on his to do list. “Working with the General Land Office and the Army Corps of Engineers, and the City of South Padre, we need to address the erosion, dune protection, Park Road 100, and the development of the north end of the island to meet the challenges of the future. Obviously, included in this is the development of the Second Causeway in a fiscally responsible way. I look forward to working hand in hand with Mayor Patel and Commissioner Benavidez to get these things done,” Treviño said.

County Roads

Work on our county roads is also a big responsibility, the new county judge said. “Facilities used by our crews are old and dilapidated. There are plans in the works for a new public works warehouse and offices in all the precincts, along with the vehicle maintenance facilities. This $5 million investment is sorely needed and long overdue. I plan to support their (county commissioners) efforts.”

Veterans’ Hospital

Treviño said he has met with the County Veterans Service. He promised to work hard to address any problems the county’s veteran population encounters. “Know that Cameron County will continue to push for a Veterans Hospital and the necessary services veterans are entitled to,” Treviño said.

West Rail Project

The West Rail Project is probably on the minds of many, Treviño said. He said discussions are underway between city and county officials to address this issue. “This one issue should not polarize our community. Looking for beneficial plan so we can all come together. Neighborhood and downtown revitalization and quality of life is important not only to Brownsville but every other community in our county. We need to work hard at every turn to understand this issue and move forward together.”

Lower RGV Active Transportation and Tourism Plan

The Active Transportation Plan is great example of what can be done when communities across the county work collaborate, Treviño said. “We must make it pass and make Cameron County a tourist destination.” He said if it works as it should it will attract more tourists. “Hopefully more will move down here,” he said to applause.

School Finance

On the subject of public education funding, Treviño said he would do “all he can” to help push for school finance reform in Austin. He promised he would also held higher education institutions and the UTRGV medical school.

Art of Compromise

Treviño closed out his speech by saying politics can be a rough and tumble game. He juxtaposed it with battles in the courtroom. He said at the end of a case he shakes hands with opposing attorneys and moves on. He also said that whatever one’s view of Donald Trump, he is going to be the next president and deserves the prayers of all Americans. “I really think he needs it. He’s our president. He’s our commander in chief and we need him to do well for our country,” Treviño said to applause.

Treviño said his creed is to treat people the way he wants to be treated. He said compromise should not be considered a dirty word. “I will compromise to do what is necessary to move forward Cameron County.”

Postscript: Freeport Tax Exemption

One of Eddie Treviño’s first acts as Cameron County Judge was to preside over a commissioner’s court meeting where the commission voted unanimously to approve an exemption of its Freeport tax on warehouse inventory.

The decision allows an exemption of taxes on goods that have been acquired in or been imported into Texas to be forwarded out of the state within 175 days. It will be effective January 2018 and, said Treviño, is aimed at boosting economic development in the County.

“Cameron County has opted to not exercise its authority to impose the freeport tax. In doing so, we have created an economic development tool,” Treviño said.

A news release issued by the County provided examples of the savings for companies. In Harlingen, about $107 million in warehoused inventory would qualify for the tax exemption resulting in a savings for companies up to $417,000 annually. Brownsville companies qualifying for freeport goods tax exemptions have almost $250 million in inventory. This could represent up to $975,000 in savings for Brownsville-based industries. San Benito and Los Indios based companies could qualify for up to $500,000 in savings based on their 2016 inventory levels.

“In the past, we’ve seen companies located in “triple-freeport” communities expand their operations and hire more people because of the savings in taxes,” Trevino said. “We have also seen how these communities are much more competitive in attracting new investment and we are confident that this will happen in Cameron County. This exemption, coupled with a low tax rate among Texas counties, places Cameron County at a very competitive advantage in attracting industry.”

Editor’s Note: Steve Taylor and Luis Montoya contributed to this story from McAllen, Texas.