For the first time in a long time, McAllen property taxes will be going up. The City commission at its regular meeting on Monday, September 26, voted to increase the tax rate by a penny. The rate will go from 42.13 per $100 of property value to 43.13 per $100. No one can remember the last time taxes were raised.
The penny increase will raise $650,000, said City Manager Mike Perez, who reminded the commission that they have cut the budget for three years in a row while maintaining the same level of services. Even with a penny increase, McAllen has one of the lowest property tax rates for a city its size in Texas.
Split votes by the McAllen City Commission are not common, but it happened on the tax vote. Voting for the increase were Commissioners Marcus Barrera, Scott Crane, Jim Darling, John Ingram and Hilda Salinas. Voting against were Commissioner Aida Ramirez, who represents Southwest McAllen, and Mayor Richard Cortez.
While offering no explanation for their opposition when they voted, afterwards Ramirez said, "I just don't feel that it's a good time to (raise taxes) right now. Times are hard and we just have to tighten our belt."
During the discussion Commissioner Marcus Barrera returned to a favorite theme, frugality in city government, suggesting that some city staffers might not appreciate how tight the city's finances are and that there should be a commitment by staff to "hold off on some expenditures for as long as possible," urging Perez to meet with city staffers to urge frugality.
During discussion, the city manager told commissioners they could have raised the property tax rate from 42.13 cents to 42.99 cents, which would collect the same amount of property taxes as collected now, without advertising it or holding hearings but that in the interest of being honest with residents, they didn't do that.
Every major tax revenue stream that feeds into city coffers is down, as both the elected people and city staffers have pointed out frequently: bridge crossing revenues, sales tax, interest on funds held in city accounts, property taxes (because values have gone down). This is a consequence of the national recession and violence in Mexico.
Four of seven arts center applicants from McAllen
The city took another step Monday toward building a new performing arts center near the convention center. They voted to accept a short list of seven firms applying for the job and those include four local firms. The shortlisted firms include: Boora Architects of Portland, Oregon, with Boultinghouse/Simpson of McAllen as partners; Gensler, Houston; Kell Munoz Inc, San Antonio; Studio RED Architects, LP, Houston, with Warren Group of McAllen as local partners; Pfeiffer Partners Architects, Inc., Los Angeles, with Rike, Ogden, Figueroa & Associates of McAllen as local partners; TVS Design, Atlanta, Ga.; ERO International, LLP, dba ERO Architects of McAllen, partnered with Holzman, Moss, Bottino of New York City.
There were a total of 22 applications for the job, including one from England.
The city manager told FUTURO McAllen he hopes to have a meeting set up within the next two to three weeks for the mayor and commissioners to interview the applicants. We'll let you know where and when.
FUTURO members are in the thick of it, too, with Danny Boultinghouse of Boultinghouse/Simpson and Sam Garcia of Rike, Ogden.
Thumbs down on bar
A woman who wanted to open a dance club for "an older crowd" in the Nolana Tower Shopping Center on Nolana between 4th and 6th Streets was turned down after neighbors from the Primrose Avenue area to the east of the shopping center appeared in opposition.
The request from Cursilerias, Inc., was for a club that would play live, soft music-the owner told the commission in Spanish that she didn't want to attract "muchachitos" or boys, and would have gone in where the Kafs coffee shop used to be in the northeastern part of the center.
Neighborhood residents who appeared in opposition reminded commissioners of complaints about another bar in that part of the shopping center that moved further west in the shopping center after complaints of music and disruption of the adjoining neighborhood.
Speaking to their apprehension over the new bar applicant, Mayor Richard Cortez reminded commissioners that the Cursilerias applicant was not the one that created problems a few years ago and had not even opened. "We can't prejudge the applicant," Cortez told them.
"We have rules," said Cortez, "and if they violate the rules, we can close them down." If the city has a "problem" in a particular part of town, he continued, they can change the rules to address that problem.
In the end, Commissioner John Ingram's motion to disapprove the bar failed for lack of a second, and Jim Darling's motion to approve the application lingered without a second until the mayor himself seconded it. Only Darling and Cortez voted to approve the dance club permit.
Holy Spirit in limbo
Commissioners tabled an agreement between the city and the Catholic Diocese that would allow Holy Spirit Church to block off Lark Avenue during events. Three commissioners expressed concern over the frequency of street closures although the projected frequency of closures was not disclosed. The agreement would allow the church to erect gates on Lark at 21st and 23rd streets after requesting it in writing.
Commissioner Scott Crane offered that he is "not that comfortable with closing the street that frequently." City Engineer Yvette Salinas said city staff shares that concern.
Mayor Cortez expressed frustration that this had not been worked out at the staff level before it got to the commission for action. It goes back to the staff to work out.
Lastly, the reappointment to the county appraisal district board of directors of former State District Judge and now 17th Street restaurateur Art Guerra was put on hold after Scott Crane suggested the city get together with the school district to "support the same slate of candidates." Such coordination could give McAllen greater influence on appraisal district operations. McAllen taxable property values are a large percentage of the overall county values.