Looking ahead to his second run as Hidalgo County Judge next year, Ramon Garcia says changes within the county will be difficult.
With a new majority on the Commissioners Court, the county looks ahead to challenges in the new year, according to Edinburg attorney Ramon Garcia, who begins his second tenure in 2011.
Garcia, who first served as county judge from 2002 to 2006, was sworn in as interim Hidalgo County Judge at Commissioner’s Court by longtime friend, Alamo JP Bobby Contreras on Nov. 9. Garcia will fill out the remainder of what was originally JD Salinas’ tenure as Hidalgo County Judge until he officially begins the position on Jan. 1.
Outlining his priorities for the next four years, Garcia said the biggest challenge will be looking at basic infrastructure issues within the framework of the county’s budget.
County Commissioners passed a budget for 2011 totaling $161 million, but the county will be supervising the expenditure of about $300 million once federal funds and grants are added, Garcia said.
“We do not have the benefit of sales taxes or income producing properties like some cities have, such as Pharr, McAllen, Hidalgo with their international bridges,” Garcia told reporters following his swearing in. “We have to rely strictly on what the taxpayer provides us with. As a result we have to be very careful with what we do with our taxpayers’ dollars so as not to adversely impact them.”
Garcia has already set up transition advisory committees in the areas of transportation, drainage, economic development, appraisals, indigent health and indigent defense.
Top issues to be addressed will include the upgrade of the county’s drainage system, expanding infrastructure to deal with one of the nation’s fastest growing counties, and helping Hidalgo County RMA with its ambitious $400 million toll-way project.
“Change is very difficult to accept. A lot of these changes we are going to be involved in are going to be difficult,” Garcia said. “Some people are going to be affected (but) I do feel whatever we do is going to have the best interest of the county in mind, and hope the community accepts.”
Garcia will be joined by a new board of commissioners. Mercedes Mayor Joel Quintanilla has been sworn in as County Commissioner for Precinct 1, replacing former commissioner Sylvia Handy. Handy resigned and pled guilty to tax evasion and harboring undocumented immigrants. She is now serving jail time.
Quintanilla replaces interim County Commissioner A.C. Cuellar, whom he beat in a bitter election.
Joseph Palacios takes over as Commissioner for Precinct 4, replacing Oscar Garza, whom he beat in the Democratic Party primary in March.
Other members on the Commissioner’s Court, Tito Palacios and Joe Flores, remain.
“For the first time in 12 or 14 years, we are going to have a new majority on the Board. Three new members are coming, and fortunately we were able to start meeting early and I sincerely believe we share many of the same values,” Garcia said. “I’m looking forward to working with them. We have had some good meetings, talking about the major issues and we feel like we’re going to work together for the betterment of the community and county.”