Two former Edinburg city officials called for more transparency, explained how they would attract more businesses, and responded to other city concerns during a debate hosted Thursday for the mayoral candidates.
The two former officials — former City Councilman Gilbert Enriquez and former City Manager Ramiro Garza Jr. — are challenging current Mayor Richard Molina in the city’s November election.
Both candidates participated in a debate held by Village in the Valley, a nonprofit organization that focuses on elevating the Black community.
Molina did not participate in the debate.
Enriquez, owner of E-CON Construction, said he was running for the position because he wanted to bring transparency and integrity to the city.
Garza, who also previously served as the executive director of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, said he believed there needed to be change in the city and believed he had the most experience to lead the city.
When asked what type of business was lacking in the city and how they would attract that, Garza said they could attract industrial development given the amount of vacant land available in the city but generally said the city needed to formulate a plan to identify industries that they could lure there.
He added the city needed to work with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and other regional partners in those efforts.
Enriquez said they needed to have the skilled workforce to attract new industries such as pharmaceutical and manufacturing. To do that, he would develop a job-training program through partnerships with school districts, the university, South Texas College and Texas Workforce Commission.
“If we provide the skilled workforce, you will have companies relocate to the city of Edinburg,” Enriquez said.
When it comes to helping small businesses Garza reiterated the need to work with UTRGV in order utilize the university’s resources. He added he wanted to establish a resource business center in the community so that if someone wanted to start a business, they would have assistance from the city’s permitting department and other departments involved in that process.
Enriquez said he would want the city to help small businesses with advertising and property taxes which he said were biggest expenses for them. He also suggested sale-tax grant reimbursement that would reimburse a certain businesses a portion of those sales taxes if they paid they paid them on time.
Both men said they supported lowering the property tax rate given that property values have continued to increase, bringing in more revenue to the city even if the rate were to remain the same.
“With the amount of growth that we have, the amount of new homes we’ve been building and the amount of businesses that have come in, there is no reason for us to be at 68 cents,” Enriquez said. “We should be in the high 40s just like our surrounding neighbors of McAllen, Pharr, and Mission.”
Turning to public safety, the candidates weighed in on their police department should adjust to a new state law that allows most Texas open carry a handgun without a permit.
Enriquez said he the city should have a committee with the city administration and the police chief to discuss how they can help their officers remain safe.
Garza said the city needs to provide training and equipment for their officers. He added that he wanted the city to hire more officers to keep up with population growth.
The candidates were asked if they would consider diverting funds away from the police department toward social programs to help residents living in poverty.
Enriquez replied that he didn’t think the current public safety budget was enough and would be against reducing their funds.
Garza acknowledged the city needed to focus on their lower income residents and was open to looking at law enforcement grants that could supplement the public safety budget. If they could use those funds to maintain the current budget at the same levels, he said the city could reallocate funds to social service programs.
“As much as the city of Edinburg is growing, we still have people that live below the poverty line,” Garza said, “and I think we ought to focus on that.”
The city has dealt with its fair share of controversy in recent years and asked how they would regain trust with the community, Garza said he favored citizen engagement and said he would take steps to have more transparency when it came to city operations.
One such step, Garza said, would be to change how keep records of private discussions during city meetings, known as the executive session portion of the meeting.
Garza said the audio of those sessions used to be recorded but, currently, the city attorney only takes down the minutes of those meetings. He said he wanted to bring back the audio recordings in hopes of setting a tone of open government and trust.
Enriquez wants to take it a step further by publicly discussing the issues that were addressed in executive session.
Both candidates were also adamant that the city should not focus on far-reaching controversial issues such as abortion, a topic that the current city council took up over the summer.
Garza and Enriquez explained that city government had no say on those issues and should focus on improving city streets, drainage, trash pick-up, and other services that they provide to their residents.
“They’re so many needs in our community, they’re so many things that we need to do to improve upon our community,” Garza said.
Enriquez noted the city is non-partisan and said he would not allow his personal religious beliefs to impact his decision-making for the city.