Mayors critical of virus relief allocations

EDINBURG — Nearly a dozen mayors from small cities across Hidalgo County descended on Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting to air their concerns about the allocation of coronavirus relief funds — a week after county commissioners decided their cities would receive less money because of their populations.

The mayors of Palmview, Peñitas, Alton, Granjeno, Palmhurst, Edcouch, Donna, Elsa, Mercedes, Alamo and Edinburg attended the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court meeting to try to convince commissioners to treat them “fairly.”

Last week, a majority of the county governing body voted to use $63 million — out of the $151 million in relief funds the county received — to reimburse cities for COVID-19 related expenses. The rates at which the 22 municipalities will be reimbursed, however, differ according to populations.

Six municipalities with populations over 30,000 will be reimbursed at a rate of $110 per capita, while the other 18 municipalities with less population will be reimbursed at $80 per head.

Palmhurst Mayor Ramiro J. Rodriguez Jr. invoked the country’s highest order to make his case during the public comment section of the meeting.

“I was taught the Constitution said all men were created equal,” he said. “Please treat us all fairly and help make me proud that I was born in the United States of America, (where) all men, in all cities, big and large, are treated equally.”

Rodriguez said he is now certain the county is the only funding source available to cities for relief funds.

“We have been told to apply to Austin (through the) Texas Department of Emergency Management. There are no funds in there. I talked to Mission, and they requested and were already denied,” he said.

The Palmhurst mayor also told commissioners he and leaders of other small cities were offended that county officials were concerned about their compliance with the federal funding guidelines, which limit the way those funds can be used.

“I ask, let us have that money and administer it properly,” Rodriguez said. “I know that all of the (cities) would give it back if they cannot use it adequately. We are not going to incur the wrath or anger of the federal government upon us.”

Additionally, cities are already familiar with the mechanism and limitations of recovery funds due to past experiences with hurricanes, he said.

“For you to say that we can’t do that, does not seem fair to me,” Rodriguez told commissioners.

Donna Mayor Rick Morales suggested they try to reach a compromise.

“Two months ago we came here collectively and we all agreed we were going to fight this COVID-19 together, and I think if we come back collectively and find a formula that’s going to be just (and) fair to everybody, I think we can get it done,” Morales said.

Rodriguez expressed the same sentiment.

“I’m going to be honest and tell you what I see — you did not have an open meeting with big cities and small cities to discuss how this was done,” he told county officials. “I’ve heard there was a formula, but we have no answer to this formula. We need to know how this was decided upon, but the fairest thing is to do it equally for everyone.”

After meeting behind closed doors, county commissioners agreed to meet with city officials to better understand their concerns and answer any questions.

“We will get in front of our cities to make sure that we’re as much on the same page as possible,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Eddie Cantu said.