EDINBURG — Hidalgo County commissioners are anxiously waiting for the city council here to decide whether it will honor a $30 million commitment for the construction of the new county courthouse.
News broke about four months ago that the new Edinburg leadership was re-evaluating the city’s proposed investment in the project following a heated election in November, and time appears to be running out.
Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia sent a letter to Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina on Tuesday asking for an answer. The county is preparing to borrow money and needs to know if it can factor in Edinburg’s previously agreed-upon contribution.
“I am aware that some of the agreements and processes were enacted under the guidance of a different leadership, as such, time has been given to your office in contemplating the future of Edinburg’s commitment to the new courthouse,” Garcia wrote. “This letter is sent in an effort to provide clarity on the city commitment and stress the thorough vetting process that has accompanied this project since its inception seven years ago, in which Edinburg has participated continuously.”
Garcia went on to list every joint meeting and agreement between both entities and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation beginning in 2011, when the city approached the county with a downtown master plan.
Since then, the entities have worked together, giving Edinburg the opportunity to weigh in on the project, the letter indicated.
“ …The city was provided much deference as to the exterior, landscaping, parking and positioning of the courthouse,” Garcia wrote.
He reminded the mayor that he had voted in favor of authorizing an agreement to contribute $30 million during a joint meeting Feb. 8, 2016.
“This action was approved unanimously by the Edinburg City Council, which at the time included council members David Torres, Homer Jasso Jr., as well as yourself,” the county judge wrote. “At the time, you were quoted as saying, ‘We have been trying to help the east side of Edinburg, and when people see this mammoth building from the expressway (Interstate Highway 69C), it’s going to catch people’s attention,’ and ‘We are going to have all kinds of businesses go up in the area.’”
Molina said the letter was placed on his desk Thursday, but he had been tied up with National Day of Prayer activities and had not been able to review it as of press time Thursday.
The mayor has previously offered a number of reasons for needing more time to mull the decision, from updating new council members, to making sense of the city’s finances, to questions about the project itself.
Garcia, however, assured Molina both entities have explored other options, such as moving the courthouse from its current location and participating in a public-private partnership.
“The county spent months exploring all potential partnerships at the behest of the city,” including one with First Hartford, the developer of The Shoppes on Trenton in Edinburg, Garcia wrote.
He also reminded Molina that the county has provided financial support for various projects, including the creation of several Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones for The Shoppes on Trenton, worth approximately $11.5 million, and La Sienna development, worth about $17.4 million.
“And in 2015, the city once again approached the county regarding the new Bert Ogden Arena, whereby the county committed to approximately $11 million and extended the prior TIRZ commitment date,” Garcia said. “These projects alone total to over $39 million in county monetary commitments, of which the county has never wavered.”
He also indicated the county entered into tax abatements for a wind farm project and a new power plant located within the jurisdiction of the Edinburg school district.
“I mention all of this because we are now at a time where we ask the city to advise us of your intention regarding the construction of the new courthouse,” Garcia said. “It is imperative for the county and its taxpayers to know if the city’s contribution can be factored in or if that will no longer be the case. A response from you no later than this Thursday, May 10th, is critical.”
The county will discuss the issue at its next meeting Tuesday and invited Edinburg leaders to attend.
“Regardless of your response on the contribution, the City of Edinburg and the County of Hidalgo, Texas are partners whose cooperation is essential to the success and prosperity of the county as a whole,” Garcia wrote, ending his correspondence with the Edinburg mayor.