Hidalgo County wins ‘best practices’ award for second time

EDINBURG — Hidalgo County once again received a prestigious County Best Practice Award from the leading organization for county government in the state.

Every two years, the Texas Association of Counties recognizes efforts to create “new, efficient and effective solutions” to the challenges local governments face, and this year, the organization selected Hidalgo County’s nuisance abatement program, which aims to create cleaner and safer environments in rural areas.

“Hidalgo County implemented a Nuisance Abatement Program as an effective means to address the health and safety needs of its rural residents and the problems associated with unkempt properties,” the association’s website stated about the local program. “Residents are able to submit complaints related to unsanitary conditions, weedy lots, county property and drainage easements.”

Hidalgo County Operations Administrator J. Chris Treviño, who created and oversees the program, accepted the award from TAC earlier this week, marking the second time his initiatives have been recognized by the association.

In 2016, the organization gave Hidalgo County a Best Practice Award for its vehicular GPS program, which tracks county-owned vehicles and has led to a savings of more than $25,000 in fuel costs since its inception.

“It was a lot of work put together to get both of these programs off the ground,” Treviño said. “And for us to be selected back to back, it’s just a testament to the hard work that people are doing — and when I say people, I’m talking about our staff in code enforcement, budget and management, IT, the district attorney’s office, Valde Guerra and our commissioner’s court.”

Treviño, who’s been working for the county in multiple capacities since he was first hired as a part-time filing clerk in 1998, is the only non-elected official who has ever received the award in the history of Hidalgo County. Past winners include former Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, former Precinct 2 Commissioner Hector “Tito” Palacios, County Clerk Arturo Guajardo and Treviño’s father, former County Sheriff Guadalupe “Lupe” Treviño, who won the award twice.

“I’ve had a lot of good mentors in front of me,” said Treviño, who holds a master’s in public administration and is a state-certified public manager.

Since the program’s inception in October 2016, residents have reported 1,732 cases of potential health and safety code violations.

“That shows there’s a need for the program,” Treviño said. “But the number that we’re most proud of is 917 successful case closures. And what that means is that these people had a nuisance that existed in their property and they were contacted by our office, and they brought their property into compliance without Hidalgo County having to go in. And that’s ideally what we want because the county doesn’t have to expend the resources. These people did it on their own and that’s the goal.”

Of the more than 1,700 reported cases, Hidalgo County has only been forced to step in and improve 140 private properties, but that only occurs only after a lengthy process between the county, the respective precinct and the property owners.

“There’s a lot of moving parts,” Treviño said. “There’s a process that we have to follow and it’s the law. We have to follow the Texas Health and Safety code.”

Still, the program would not be viable without the help of rural residents, who report the violations that range between weedy lots, unsanitary conditions, visual obstructions to county property and failing to maintain drainage easements to their respective precincts.

“Without the people reporting those cases, this program would not exist,” Treviño said. “It goes nowhere.”

Its success has also be noted by an incoming commissioner from Hood County that read about the program on TAC’s website and reached out to Treviño.

“He contacted me a few weeks ago and said it’s something he wants to replicate when he gets into office,” the operations administrator said. “That call alone validates TAC for awarding us this best practice award.”

nlopez@themonitor.com