McAllen confident federal funding for new respite center due sooner than later

McALLEN — City officials last week announced that the Federal Transit Authority had agreed to pay 80% of a new building adjacent to the McAllen bus station that would eventually serve as the new administrative offices for city transit employees, but in the meantime, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley would operate the building as a temporary immigrant relief center.

The city is in the process of buying the building after city commissioners authorized the purchase at a city commission meeting last week. Officials said they will submit the application with the FTA, and City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez said at the meeting that he expects a deal with the FTA to be done by the end of the summer months, which is why the contract with Catholic Charities has the organization paying rent during that period.

City commissioners last week were hesitant about the deal, especially considering the federal government in recent years had not shown much of an urgency to reimburse or assist McAllen and other border cities for helping accommodate immigrants dropped off by federal authorities.

Despite some skepticism from commissioners, a May 16 email from a U.S. Department of Transportation employee to Mario Delgado, the McAllen transit director, appears to indicate the FTA’s initial interest in green-lighting the site.

“FTA finds that the required regulatory conditions are satisfied and that potential/possible or significant environmental effects would not occur,” the email from the U.S. DOT official stated.

However, the email did not clear McAllen to begin construction.

“This finding officially serves only to allow for the early acquisition of the property and does not grant the city of McAllen the authority to begin any construction-related activities until all planning and NEPA requirements have been addressed,” the email said, with NEPA referring to the National Environmental Policy Act.

Rodriguez and an assistant city attorney at last week’s meeting said they anticipated completing the deal within the following couple months, based on what they said the FTA said, though an exact timeline was unclear.

They’re hoping for a deal by Aug. 15.

“That’s our best guess, commissioner,” Rodriguez said in response to a question from Commissioner Veronica Whitacre. “The reason we went to Catholic Charities with the two months is that we felt 60 days is real close to the amount of time that we need with the appraisal and for the transaction to happen. We’re hoping we can close the deal so we don’t have to pay rent.”

An FTA public affairs officer said the agency has not received a request from the city for the funding. McAllen does not yet own the building, so it cannot request the funds until that acquisition takes place, city officials said.

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