BY NAXIELY LOPEZ-PUENTE AND BERENICE GARCIA
Gov. Greg Abbott stepped into the fight between the state’s 12 largest counties and their respective municipalities on Friday, ordering the counties to share the $3.2 billion they received collectively in coronavirus relief funding with their cities “in a fair and equitable manner.”
Abott sent a letter to the county judges of 11 of the state’s most populous counties — Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Travis, Montgomery, Hidalgo, Fort Bend, Bexar, Denton, El Paso and Williamson — in response to a May 13 letter he received from them regarding the allocation of CARES Act funding. Collin County Judge Chris Hill was not included in the letter.
Abbott’s letter was signed by Texas Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and State Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission — who sit on the Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee — and four other lawmakers. It intended to clarify whether counties had an obligation to share the funds they received from the U.S. Treasury Department with cities in their jurisdictions.
“It was the clear intent of Congress that counties were given $175 per capita for all of their citizens and not just those in unincorporated areas,” Abbott wrote. “It is our expectation, and we feel certain it is the expectation of county residents who live in cities within your county, that they be treated equally as citizens in the unincorporated areas of the county.”
On Tuesday, the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court voted 4-1 to share $63 million of the $151 million the county received in relief funds earlier this year with its 22 municipalities.
The move, however, didn’t sit well with mayors from across the county because cities were capped at a rate lower than $175 per capita. Municipalities in Hidalgo County with a population of more than 30,000 were capped at $110 per person, while the smaller ones were capped at $80 per capita.
Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez has said the county has no legal obligation to share the funds with the cities, and Precinct 4 Commissioner Ellie Torres suggested on Tuesday that cities should apply for more funds from the state.
Abbott, however, said the law’s intention is to have counties share those same funds with their municipalities and implied there are no more funds available to those cities.
“As you know, the population of the twelve largest counties — including your smaller cities — was in fact included in the methodology to arrive at your county allocation,” the governor wrote. “It is unreasonable to demand additional dollars be allocated locally at this time. It is our expectation that you will work with the smaller municipalities within your jurisdiction to allocate money for them in a fair and equitable manner.
The monies that are available at the state level will be used to fund relief efforts in counties and cities that did not get direct funding from the federal government, specifically those with populations of less than 500,000.
“We have taken the first step by making an initial $55 per capita available to the other counties and cities,” Abbott wrote. “We trust in your ability to partner with your local constituencies to meet the needs of all of your citizens in your smaller cities and in the county.
“This pandemic is bigger than any one of us. An effective response and recovery will take all Texans working together.”
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