Commentary: Courthouse must be on the Ballot

County Judge Ramon Garcia and Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez of Pharr are pretending to discuss the possibility of moving the Courthouse to Pharr.     The City of Pharr has a tax rate of 65 cents which is among the highest in the county.   Pharr has a total population of 77 thousand and a 31% rate of poverty.   Participating in the construction of a courthouse would significantly increase taxes and there would be no financial benefit because public property is not taxed.

What these politicians are trying to do is encourage the City of Edinburg to pay the $30 million for site improvements and $150 million for a parking garage.   Mayor Molina seems to know that by waiting, he can make a much better deal.   The cost of this courthouse is growing every day, the County just paid $1 million dollars-plus for the courthouse site.   Then there is the moving of the 281 roadway and the drainage channel east and under the expressway, this is going to be a lot more than the estimated $350 million dollar.

Here is what it will cost the people of Hidalgo County and specifically the City of Edinburg.  

*$50 million for site improvements and drainage because the Courthouse is located in a hole.    The direction of the drain channel has changed, now it will go east from the courthouse along University Drive, it is assumed that the engineers discovered that they could not get water to run up-hill when they proposed draining the courthouse to the west.

The east channel will place the expressway-by-pass in the direct pathway of rising water.    Let’s see how long it takes to tunnel under the by-pass., but at least in this alternative water will flow downhill.

*$350 million to build a six-story building that works just like the old one; busses transporting prisoners to and from the county jail.   Currently it is only used 50% of the time and court stenographers transcribe testimonies manually even though the judges have been shown a computerized system that would improve productivity and require fewer employees.

* $12 to $15 million to relocate part of highway 281 that runs between the courthouse square.

* $1 million+plus to purchase the courthouse site.   The reason for the purchase was to move the courthouse from the northwest corner to the southeast corner of the existing site.

*$15 to $20 million for a high-rise parking facility to accommodate 150 to 200 vehicles.    Normally this would be good for business, but most of the surrounding building will be pubic and private business property would be limited.    The people who work in these buildings will leave the area at 5pm, they will not stay to shop or walk around.   An example of a high-rise parking facility is in down-town McAllen on Main Street; people will leave the area at 5pm and there is no parking problem.

The increased taxes that make these facilities possible will result in families moving to less expensive communities.  Forty percent of the County’s population live in conditions of poverty and they are not moving to McAllen, guess why.

All of the proposed public development will occur in the Edinburg-town-center on some of the most expensive property in the City.  The construction of this courthouse should be on the ballot so that the people who will pay for the next thirty years can decide if they want to pay more taxes.   Discussing the potential move to the City of Pharr is a minor distraction and is typical of the games played by public officials.

The fact is that the proposed courthouse plan will cost too much and improvements to the existing facility should be revisited.

The new Edinburg Council is fulfilling its promise to the people by reviewing projects that are not supported by the people and that will increase taxes.    Good job, the people should continue to support them.

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