Weslaco officials hold bond election info session

WESLACO — City leaders here are hoping voters will make their voices heard at the ballot box this May and approve a $10 million bond proposal to address lingering drainage issues. To that end, several officials were on hand at the Knapp Medical Conference Center on Thursday to provide information about the bond’s five proposed projects.

“The issue for the $10 million is for the voters to decide,” City Manager Mike Perez explained to the handful of residents who attended the informational session.

At stake are five projects selected by the Weslaco Citizens Drainage Task Force working in collaboration with the engineering firm the city hired to study the issue in the wake of severe flooding with damaged dozens of homes and businesses in June 2018.

“We came up with what we called the short-term, an intermediate term and a long term projects. The short term is what we’re looking at now,” explained task force chair Randy Hall.

Hall has been a fixture at public meetings in recent months, often speaking during public comments to urge his fellow residents to vote in favor of the bond.

Through the course of numerous meetings, the task force identified a need for approximately 70 drainage improvement projects that could cost the city upwards of $90 million. Between the city’s limited resources and an equally limited availability of other funding sources, city leaders opted to approach the drainage issue in phases.

“The city looked at passing the total package of funding but the city commission decided that was too big a bite to take, so we’re going to take little bites and fund it over a 20-year period,” Hall said.

The first of the “little bites” involves improvement projects at Westgate Drive and Sugar Cane Drive, Los Torritos Street and North Kansas Avenue, South Texas Boulevard and East 18th Street, Pleasantview Drive and 11th Street, and South International Boulevard and Business 83.

The Westgate and Sugar Cane Project would include the creation of a 10-acre detention pond near Cleckler-Heald Elementary School.

The Los Torritos project would create a drainage system that would funnel storm water to a 30-acre detention pond at Mayor Pablo Peña Park.

The Texas Boulevard and 18th Street project would involve the creation of a 5-acre detention pond, the widening of a canal located at Mile 5 1/2 Road West, and increasing the size of the culverts beneath Texas Boulevard at Trails End Drive.

The fourth project — the Pleasantview Drive project — would create a new storm drain system near Weslaco East High School that would funnel runoff towards an existing canal on East 18th Street.

Finally, the fifth project would widen culverts in a drainage canal by South Pleasantview Drive and Bus. 83.

However, if the bond passes, it still will not provide enough funding for the proposed projects. City leaders hope to fill the gaps by reducing costs through in-house labor, and by seeking state or federal grants.

“I’ve been tasked with a very difficult job and that’s looking for funding for these projects,” said Assistant City Manager Andrew Muñoz.

Muñoz explained how strict grant eligibility criteria has limited the city’s ability to apply for federal or state funds, but that city leaders are hopeful about applications with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas Department of Emergency Management.

Should the city be awarded funding from either of those sources, however, it will still be years away, making the bond’s passage all the more important.

“If the bond doesn’t pass, we’re kind of stuck in a hard place. We’ll just have to see what we can do piecemeal over time,” City Manager Perez said. “It’s going to be very, very hard. But we can only do what the citizens allow us to do and what they approve us to do.”

Perez added that he was neither advocating for or against the bond, but that he hoped voters would turn out to the polls to let city leaders how they should proceed. As of Thursday, only 70 voters had cast their ballots at the city’s polling place, the Business Visitor & Event Center, county records show.

“The citizens will make a decision if they want to do it or not and we’re going to do what they tell us, but I would hate to see a bond referendum decided by 200 voters,” Perez said.

Should the bond pass, it would raise property taxes by approximately 3 cents per $100 valuation, Perez explained. For a home with a taxable value of $50,000, that increase would amount to approximately $15 per year, he said.

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