EDINBURG — Mayoral candidates here had ample time to discuss their individual platforms with members of the public and students at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley during a two-hour forum Wednesday night.
Mayor Richard H. Garcia, Council Member Richard Molina and Gina Alamia, all vying to be Edinburg’s next mayor, took turns answering a slew of questions ranging from the standard topics of drainage and infrastructure, to other hot-button issues, such as immigrant rights, law enforcement safety, recycling, transparency and health care.
The forum, hosted by the Progressive Democrats and the College Republicans, allowed the candidates two minutes to answer questions submitted by student groups, including the Environmental Awareness Club, Black Student Union, the Muslim Student Association and others.
“Candidates should focus on their own policies and not on their opponents,” one of the moderators said at the start of the event.
And for the most part, the candidates took that to heart, with few outbursts from the public as well.
Each had his or her own group of supporters in the audience as evidenced by the applause that followed Alamia’s rejection of a proposed healthcare district, and cheers from both the Molina and Garcia teams, who responded when each addressed a $13 million loan given to Santana Textiles — though their views on the denim manufacturing plant continued to vary drastically.
Students were especially interested in public transportation, parking around the university and sustainability efforts.
“Actually, it’s already under construction,” Garcia said when asked about expanding public transportation in the city. “Valley Metro is building on (Highway) 107 next to the corridor we established (and) call Las Ramblas.”
“I served on the council of governments as the secretary on the executive board that got the funding that made that happen,” Molina said. “I believe it was a total of $5 million.”
Alamia noted that there are between 8 to 10 students for each parking space at the university — a high figure when compared to her alma mater, Texas A&M University. In Aggieland, there are five students per space, she said.
Students also asked if they would be willing to cut the tax rate.
“I’m still waiting for that 3-cent (reduction),” Alamia said, referencing a news release from the city earlier this year that indicated the council was working on a 3-cent tax rate cut. “We are growing as a community — we shouldn’t have the same tax rate.”
Alamia believes a reduction is possible, but cautioned it would not happen overnight.
Meanwhile, Molina declined to commit to a tax cut.
“Currently, where we’re at, I don’t know that it’s the best thing to do,” he said, adding that committing to a cut could be good for votes.
The candidates continued to spar over the financial state of the city, with two of them indicating the city could do better and the mayor touting a recent accolade for financial reporting and auditing.
“We hear one side saying that we’re flying high and we hear the other side say we’re drowning in debt,” Alamia said. “You ask for certain information requests and you never get them. If I had to answer, I’d have to say it’s not doing that well.”
“The city of Edinburg right now is surviving,” Molina said. “It’s going OK, but it can do better.”
“The city is doing very, very well,” Garcia said, adding Edinburg has $35 million in reserve funds. “The numbers don’t lie.”