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Rio Grande Valley mayors and city managers listened intently to remarks by Shanna Igo of the Texas Municipal League at a meeting at Weslaco EDC on Thursday evening, Aug. 3, 2017.

WESLACO, RGV – At least eight mayors from the Rio Grande Valley will today tell Gov. Greg Abbott personally that they do not like his legislation that curbs the power of local municipalities.

The meeting, which was called by Abbott, takes place in the Governor’s Office at the state Capitol at 2 p.m.

The eight mayors attending are Tony Martinez of Brownsville, Jim Darling of McAllen, Richard Garcia of Edinburg, Norberto Salinas of Mission, Ramiro Rodriguez of Palmhurst, Susie Houston of Laguna Vista, Jorge Rivera of Palm Valley, R. Dave Kusch of Primera, and Marco Sanchez of Combes.

“The meeting has been called a short notice. We just got a request to appear. We will see what information they will give us,” said Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia. “I am guessing they (the state leadership) are looking at capping property values for cities. I am guessing he is going to give us a rundown on that. And, I am sure some of us will want to bring up SB 4 and the cap on property values for cities.”

Laguna Vista city manager Rolando Vela and Mission city manager Martin Garza, Jr., will also be making the trip to Austin. At a meeting of Valley city officials in Weslaco on Thursday evening, Vela explained how the meeting with Abbott has come about.

“We asked for the meeting two weeks before the special legislative session started. The Governor would not meet us then and asked us to meet his policy director. We said ‘no.’ Then a story about Governor Abbott’s ‘War on Cities’ appeared in the Rio Grande Guardian and suddenly the Governor wants to meet us,” Vela said.

Thursday evening’s meeting was held at the offices of the Weslaco Economic Development Corporation. The keynote speech was by Shanna Igo, deputy executive director for legislative services at the Texas Municipal League. In her remarks, Igo said the state leadership was targeting cities to deflect attention away from the fact that the Legislature refuses to fix school finance.

“They have a school finance problem, not a city finance problem,” Igo said. “They are telling school districts to raise appraisal values by 14 percent but they want to cap us at six percent or lower. They are talking out of both sides of their mouth.”

Asked after the meeting to explain why the root of the problem is school finance, Igo said:

When you get your property tax bill, about 16 percent is the cities portion of it, about 16 percent is the counties, and about 60 percent is the school districts. The state legislature, routinely, has dropped funding for schools. That forces local school districts to raise their taxes in order to make up for the lost money the state is not giving them,” Igo said.

“The state continues to force property taxes to go up because they will not find another funding source for the schools. Rather than fix that problem it is easier for them to point fingers at the cities and counties and say they are the problem, they are the ones doing it. In fact, we have not caused property taxes to go up any more than inflation. It is just a diversion tactic on behalf of the state.”

Igo stressed school finance is the big problem that needs to be addressed. “It is easier to blame somebody else, rather than themselves. They (state leaders) want someone to blame. There is no data that says our taxes have gone up radically. The Legislature does not have to fund cities. They do have to fund school districts. They do not have the balls to deal with the real issue at hand and that is school finance.”

Palmhurst Mayor Rodriguez said he is keen to meet Abbott after having been rebuffed a month ago.

“We want to convey to Governor Abbott that this property tax cap, Senate Bill 1, will hurt the cities tremendously. We believe it will stop the Texas Miracle, which has been spurred by the growth of our cities. We believe it will stop our cities from growing,” Rodriguez said.

“If SB 1 passes during this special session, we will have to have more elections in order to do anything. We will need more money to service debt and to operate under adverse circumstances. We want to give the Governor the view of the small cities but we are actually going up to Austin as region, united.”

Asked why SB 1 is so bad for cities, Rodriguez said: “This bill tells the cities, you can only raise revenues so much. If you raise taxes over six percent you are going to have to have a rollback election. Elections cost money. I know in my city, if I run an election, you are looking at $17,000, $18,000. We have to pay for the asphalt roads, we have to pay for police and crime prevention. That is what our people want us to do. We also have to provide money by law to service debt. Plus, you have to have a reserve in case something catastrophic happens.”

Rodriguez stressed the fight with the state leadership is not a party-political issue. Abbott is a Republican but so are many Valley mayors, Rodriguez pointed out.

“I am a Republican. Geographically, I think the Legislature is listening too much to people in the northern part of the state. They do not realize the Valley has different needs. Our issues need to be heard. I disagree (with Gov. Abbott) on this point because I represent cities that have property taxes and how it will impact them.”

Rodriguez represents the Valley for the Texas Municipal League.

“I know what it takes to run a city. I have worked for three different cities, McAllen, Mission and Pharr. I was in business for 25 years as a pharmaceutical salesman. I know what it takes. I represent a city that has zero debt. All the Valley cities are run well fiscally. Give me an example of a city that aren’t doing right with the property tax,” Rodriguez said.

Asked what his hopes are for the meeting with Abbott, Rodriguez said: “I hope it is productive. It will probably be a give and take. I hope we come away with not having to have this tax rollback election legislation. That will cost the cities money. I think it could change the voting patterns of the Valley if his response is positive. I hope.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on the meeting Rio Grande Valley city mayors and managers had at the offices of the Weslaco Economic Development Corporation on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017. Part Two will be published later this week.