Edinburg – Hidalgo County Judge candidate, Eloy Pulido would like Hidalgo County voters to have a hand in deciding the new courthouse cost and location, and is calling on a referendum to be placed in November 2018’s ballot that would allow this initiative to occur. Pulido who supported voter involvement in the project, reaffirmed his position via a press release on January 21st.
Throughout the release, Pulido challenged the proposed cost of the project, including the proposed design, and offered an alternative location along Interstate 69 (US 281), which would be more assessable to staff, law enforcement, and visitors. Current projected cost for the courthouse puts the project north of 130 million, and would sit in the same town square that the current courthouse resides. The referendum proposed by Pulido would call for voter approval if project cost exceed 90 million dollars.
The courthouse project returned to the forefront of political consciousness when current Hidalgo County Judge, Ramon Garcia, pitched the project to neighboring city of Pharr, who appeared receptive to the offer. The move was criticized by Pulido, aswell as newly elected Edinburg Mayor, Richard Molina as political posturing, as Garcia should have known the legal hurdles that would make the changing of county seats difficult, if not impossible.
The press release is provided in full below.
Via Eloy Pulido campaign:
Currently, there is much discussion about the new Hidalgo County Courthouse. Eloy Pulido, Democratic candidate for Hidalgo County Judge, has been vocal about many issues regarding the proposed County Courthouse since first announcing his candidacy back in November of 2016.
His concerns have centered around the cost, the location and the process. All of these issues still remain today, but due to Mr. Pulido’s persistence throughout this past year, the current plan for the courthouse is now more transparent with a greater awareness of the details for county residents and political officials.
In an interview on Friday, State Representative Terry Canales stated, “This is the biggest project the county will probably build in the next 100 years, in terms of buildings.” This statement echos the position held by Mr. Pulido regarding the magnitude of this decision, especially regarding location and cost of a new courthouse.
Because this decision is so important and involves so much taxpayer money, Pulido is calling for a Referendum to be placed on the November 2018 ballot and allow the voters of Hidalgo County to decide on the location and the amount of taxpayer money spent for the new courthouse. Mr. Pulido stated that, “Over the last few months, there has been much discussion regarding the proposed new courthouse, specifically regarding the location and the final cost to the taxpayer.
As a candidate for the position of County Judge of Hidalgo County, I believe that both these questions should be decided by the taxpayers and voters of Hidalgo County.” Pulido firmly believes that a project exceeding $90 Million in taxpayer money should be put to the voters to decide. Pulido stated he “came up with the $90 million benchmark because he has been talking to private investors who believe they can build a courthouse for this price next to I-69 Central, otherwise known as Highway 281. Currently, the plan the Hidalgo County Commissioner’s Court is pushing would see a new courthouse built on the current courthouse square at a cost of 150 million.”
The Courthouse currently being designed comes in at a cost of $446 a Square foot. Industry standard for a Courthouse is $176 a square foot. By comparison, a new downtown Fort Worth skyscraper came in at $276 a square foot with parking garage, restaurants and amenities in downtown Fort Worth. Pulido stated that the current $150 Million cost projection is not based on actual architectural designs as there currently are no designs, only a conceptual rendering by a local architectural firm.”
Pulido also stated that “The proposed location is in a very congested area of Edinburg – in the middle of the downtown square. There is a serious parking and drainage problem in this area. Potentially, it could be located along the Expressway in the Northern part of Edinburg so that it is more easily accessible to all the citizens of the County and could also be a catalyst for new economic growth in a Corridor north of the City and along the area of the new IH 65 bypass.”
Two other concerns that have been raised in the public and political debate now developing, concern the location of the County seat and the $30 Million that Edinburg Taxpayers were asked to pay from their City taxes and the $20 Million that has been approved by the RMO for downtown drainage.
Months ago, the City of McAllen was offering land to the County to build the courthouse in McAllen. In turn, the City of Edinburg offered $30 Million in support if the new Courthouse remained in Edinburg. Several weeks ago, it was also presented to the City of Pharr as they were asked if they would contribute financial support for the Courthouse if it was built in Pharr. These are not legal nor viable options. Mr. Pulido stated that “The City of Edinburg is the legal County seat of Hidalgo County. Moving the Courthouse to another city would take a vote of 65% of the registered voters in Hidalgo County, as well as a vote by the legislature, to mention a few of the hurdles. So moving the Courthouse out of the City of Edinburg in not an option to consider.”
Regarding the $20 Million in Drainage money from Texas Department of Transportation allocated to the local RMO for the downtown drainage project in the City of Edinburg, this money was not tied to the building of a new courthouse in order to be funded. Pulido stated that “The downtown area of Edinburg has a serious drainage problem. It is located on an old actively flowing underground lakebed. The State and the RMO funded the drainage project because there was a serious drainage issue. And, even this project is a long-term project. The drainage outflow for this area of town is west of Jackson Road. The construction of this drainage project is going to have Highway 107 torn up and under construction from the courthouse to Jackson road for a year – so this is not a fast immediate project, though a very important one to the County and the City of Edinburg.”
In addition to all of this, Business 281 would also have to be rerouted if the proposed new courthouse is built in the location currently being considered – with the permits required taking many months to obtain, once the permits are requested from the State.
Because of the many decisions regarding the location of the proposed new courthouse and the extremely high cost per square foot, Pulido again emphasized the importance of letting the voters decide on a project currently proposed to cost $150 Million. He stated again that “Because of both the many issues regarding the location and the high cost of the proposed new courthouse, I am calling for a Referendum to be placed on the November 2018 ballot so that the taxpayers and voters can decide on the final location and cost of the new Courthouse. When we are making decisions about such a large sum of public money, as well as about the largest project that Hidalgo County has ever undertaken, the voices of the voters should be heard. That is why I am calling upon this Referendum.”
It remains to be seen whether County Judge Ramon Garcia, and the commissioners would entertain the idea of receiving signatures from the public to create a referendum to be placed in November’s ballot. However, the Commissioners Court have been receptive to public petitions if it’s a position they already support, most notably the hospital tax proposition.
Valley Delta will reach out to the campaigns of Richard Cortez, and Republican Jane Cross to get their thoughts on a voter referendum on the courthouse project.