COMMENTARY: Expect ‘fair and equitable’ approach as Hidalgo County’s budget process begins

BY RICHARD CORTEZ | SPECIAL TO THE MONITOR

This week marks the beginning of the months-long 2019 budget process for Hidalgo County. It begins with a report from the Budget and Management Department that includes projected revenues, expenditures analysis and a preliminary budget, and it ends when the budget is adopted in mid-September.

The goals are always to present a balanced budget without the need for a tax increase.

As your Hidalgo County judge, one of my overarching goals is to foster a culture of efficiency and effectiveness. The budget process and how we fund programs and services to our community provides us the opportunity to look at things from a need, want, or desire perspective.

We need to be efficient and effective in the use of our funds, and that philosophy should form the basis for building the budget. First, we must eliminate redundancies to operate at maximum efficiency and we need to provide services with the revenues we currently have. In addition, we must look at how funds are distributed and ensure that they are allocated by need and to areas that will provide the most benefit to our citizens and the county as a whole.

To do this may require a paradigm shift — a fundamental change in assumptions — in order to approach the process differently. I will work with our four precinct commissioners to provide leadership in this area.

However, we won’t solve budgetary problems by only cutting expenses. We also must look toward growing our revenues. We live in a global economy. We must be competitive in order to create more high-paying jobs, especially in the areas of robotics and automation, which are the jobs of the future and will replace many of today’s jobs. We must attract more investment by projecting a positive image of our area that makes us suitable and desirable to business.

How do we become attractive to investors? We start by fostering a culture of collaboration with our local municipalities and their elected officials. There are simple things we can do that don’t require a lot of money, but do send a message about who we are and what we value. For example, we can clean up our litter and beautify our communities.

Our priorities and the actions we take show our communities and the world who we are:

  • How we care for our environment.
  • How we treat our veterans.
  • How we treat our mentally ill.
  • How we treat animals.
  • How we treat people in need.
  • How we treat our elderly.
  • How we treat children and families.
  • How we manage taxpayer funds.
  • How we treat business, industry and investments.

The actions we take in these areas reflect what is important to us and who we are as a community. I believe we are a community that cares for one another, that cares for our environment, that cares for our stray animals, and that works together for the common good, and I know we are business-friendly. Demonstrating these core values will go a long way to changing the image and attracting investment.

The county is working to secure more state and federal funding to support our communities in two areas. One is the 2020 Census. Hidalgo County is focused on ensuring an accurate 2020 Census count, which will provide us with needed revenues from Census-driven federal and state programs. The other is becoming Texas’ fifth-largest metropolitan planning organization, in collaboration and partnership with our cities and neighboring Cameron County, which will generate millions more in transportation funding for projects that will benefit us all.

In future columns, I will provide more detail on some of the goals that I briefly mentioned here as well as others. For now, I will close with the promise that I will work with Commissioners Court to review the budget with an eye to being fair and equitable in distributing our resources where most needed.

Richard F. Cortez is Hidalgo County judge and a member of The Monitor Board of Contributors.