There’s power in numbers — we don’t want to go in as individual small cities but as one RGV with about a 1-million population. They‘ll see the Rio Grande Valley as one — and that is powerful.
HARLINGEN — Area leaders on Wednesday are pitching state lawmakers funding requests for millions of dollars worth of projects during a three-day session focused on the Rio Grande Valley’s needs.
From across the region, groups include Harlingen and San Benito delegations pushing projects ranging from drainage upgrades to water and sewer system expansions during the bi-annual RGV Days at the Capitol.
During the session closing Thursday, officials are planning to discuss the area’s proposed projects with lawmakers including District 27 Sen. Morgan LaMantia, District 35 State Rep. Oscar Longoria, District 37 State Rep. Janie Lopez, District 38 State Rep. Erin Gamez and District 39 State Rep. Armando Martinez.
“There’s power in numbers — we don’t want to go in as individual small cities but as one RGV with about a 1-million population. They‘ll see the Rio Grande Valley as one — and that is powerful,” Javier DeLeon, the president and chief executive officer of the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday. “We’re going as a region to tell legislators about our needs like water, health care, education, transportation, infrastructure and economic development.”
Turning to regional projects, Harlingen City Commissioners Ford Kinsley and Daniel Lopez along with City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez are helping push for a long-awaited second causeway to South Padre Island, Mayor Norma Sepulveda stated.
“The city of Harlingen understands the importance of standing united with the municipalities across the Rio Grande Valley to advance the needs and priorities of our region,” she stated as she travelled to Austin.
Valley leaders are teaming up to present lawmakers with a regional agenda, Lopez stated.
“By working with other Harlingen and Valley entities, we have a louder voice,” he stated. “What benefits the Port of Harlingen, HCISD, UT-RGV, or other local organizations, will benefit all of us. I am optimistic we will achieve our goals.”
In Harlingen, officials are requesting funding for projects such as the reconstruction of Commerce Street, pushing to widen it to a four-lane roadway with curb and gutter along with drainage upgrades from Business 77 to Loop 499, Sepulveda stated.
Meanwhile, proposed drainage upgrades include a $3.1 million project aimed at widening storm sewer lines along Fifth and Seventh Streets and a $2.9 million plan to expand lines along Jefferson Street from Third Street to 10th Street, Gonzalez stated.
“For me, it’s the area of drainage and infrastructure,” Kinsley said. “Drainage is always on top. We’ve had two major floods, and we want to do what we can to rectify the situation. There’s a lot of money around, and we‘ve got to make sure Harlingen and the area gets its fair share.”
Officials are counting on the projects to be “shovel ready” later this year, Gonzalez stated.
“As hurricane season approaches, it is imperative that these projects commence as soon as possible to help mitigate any excessive rain events,” Lopez stated.
WaterWorks master plan
As part of the city’s requests, the delegation is pitching for $20 million in funding from the Texas Water Development Board for water and sewer upgrades stemming from one of the WaterWorks System’s biggest projects in years.
“The city of Harlingen is asking our delegation to support increased funding to the Texas Water Development Board as well as increased loan forgiveness for water and wastewater projects,” Sepulveda stated.
Late last year, Tim Skoglund, WaterWorks’ general manager, warned inflation is pushing the agency’s proposed 20-year $180 million master plan’s price tag, leading officials to consider boosting water and sewer rates.
“As previously reported to the city commission, Harlingen WaterWorks is exploring a rate adjustment because of inflation and the need for system expansion and improvements,” Lopez stated. “Thus, to lessen the impact of a potential adjustment, we are working alongside our legislators to find state funding for the benefit of Harlingen residents.”
For the Harlingen delegation, the trip becomes the second of the legislative session, Lopez stated.
“Our goal is to expand funding opportunities for infrastructure projects, namely drainage and WaterWorks,” he stated. “This is the second time in three weeks that the Harlingen delegation will be meeting with legislators to promote our infrastructure agenda.”
We’re uniting so our voice can be heard.
San Benito projects
In San Benito, the city’s top priorities include a library building, a public safety training center, a fire station, a resaca dredging project, a master drainage study, detention pond construction and a swimming pool, along with baseball, football and soccer fields plus water, sewer and street upgrades, city spokesman David Favila stated.
Meanwhile, city officials are working with regional leaders to pull more funding, Mayor Rick Guerra said.
“We’re uniting so our voice can be heard,” he said. “We’re going to support each other.”
The city is requesting funding to upgrade drainage, streets and sewer lift stations, he said.
Officials are meeting “in a unified manner and we will spend time speaking with our state delegation on issues that are important to San Benito and our region,” City Manager Manuel De La Rosa stated.
Harlingen school district agenda
At the Harlingen school district, officials’ priorities include supporting local control of finances, pushing for an “adequate and equitable school finance system” raising per-pupil funding to the natural average, opposing the expansion of publicly funded charter schools, calling for more special education funding, pushing to repeal the 3-1 student-teacher ratio and opposing the diverting of public funding through the use vouchers and tax credits.
The school board has passed a resolution “seeking legislative change to the funding of South Texas ISD and elimination of the duplication of taxes for Harlingen CISD taxpayers.”
Last month, Superintendent Alicia Noyola pointed to what she described as the South Texas school district’s “inequitable” funding.
“Beyond the simple duplication of taxes, more importantly is the lack of equity in funding that exists between what South Texas ISD receives through that taxation and what Harlingen CISD and every other district in Willacy, Cameron and Hidalgo County receive,” she stated. “In order for our students to receive the same amount of taxing monies that South Texas ISD students are, we would have to triple our taxes just to provide an equal amount.”
With an enrollment of about 4,200 students, the South Texas school district’s tax rate of 0.0492 cents per $100 valuation raised $32 million in fiscal 2020-2021, providing $7,634 for every student, records show.
In Harlingen, with an enrollment of about 17,800 students, the district’s tax rate stands at $1.15 per $100 valuation, raising about $42 million while providing $2,373 for each student.
“This is not at all about doing away with South Texas ISD or asking for those additional taxing funds,” Noyola stated. “It is simply about doing what is right for our students and for our taxpayers. As we studied the programming and particularly the funding at South Texas ISD, it raised a number of concerns. We saw a duplication of taxes and a lack of equity in funding between South Texas ISD and public school districts within Cameron, Willacy and Hidalgo.”
To find a comprehensive list of bills filed — and the status of those bills — visit MyRGV.com and click the 88th Texas Legislative Session tab, which has an interactive spreadsheet and a comprehensive list of AIM Media Texas’ legislative coverage.