iluna@valleytowncrier.com

HIDALGO/EDINBURG – In an emergency meeting held Thursday, May, 28 by Hidalgo County Judge, Richard F. Cortez and commissioners; a $151 million-dollar budget was discussed on how that federal funding would be allocated due to COVID-19.

“Hidalgo County received a substantial amount of money to help us deal with our public health and safety issues and also to provide for businesses continuity and economic recovery,” said Judge Cortez.

Mayors from the 22 municipalities that make up Hidalgo County were present for their input on the amount “per capita” each city would receive from the CARES Act. Mayors from Palmhurst, Pharr and Edinburg disagreed with commissioners and Judge Cortez Thursday morning.

Ramiro J. Rodriguez Jr., City of Palmhurst Mayor: “I hear that [the Hidalgo County board] doesn’t want to budge, you don’t want to go to $174. You want to go from $80 to $110… unfortunately, I see you as taking this as a windfall and you had a directive from the governor and it was from the governor to share it equally.”

Ambrosio Hernandez M.D., City of Pharr Mayor: “What we will not tolerate is misinformation, I think that’s unfair, it’s totally unnecessary, my constituents will not permit that; they are very clear on how this money should be used. They know I am not supposed to be building streets or drainage… they know I am supposed to be working in my case with commissioner Cantu and with the county judge, but the negative rhetoric that keeps coming out and hostile, to be frank, I am glad is going to end because it needs to end – now we just need to refocus.”

Richard Molina, City of Edinburg Mayor: “You have some very sharp city managers in this room and I think that the county has failed to use those weapons to their advantage… so if you’re looking for answers on how to spend it, I just ask that you all turn towards our city managers because they’re the ones who know what’s going on… I just think that we are going backward here talking about new projects and the courthouse, [the City of Edinburg] doesn’t get into our specifics of the fire station, PD station or the landfill.”

As the eighth largest county in the state of Texas, Judge Cortez listed the deficiencies the county was facing and looking to what the funding could be used for: adequate Wi-Fi service in rural areas for students’ education, hospitals that were not equipped with essential PPE and testing and recovering the local economy due to business closures.

“We thought it was important for us to make sure that [the county] as well as all the municipalities found within the county, got reimbursed for your out-of-pocket expenses dealing directly and that was necessarily attributable to COVID-19,” Cortez said.

According to the amount Hidalgo County received, the math shows that at the county’s population rate estimated at 867,707 based on a 2018 census -$387.70 is what each person (per capita) would receive. After breaking the numbers down further, cities with a population of 30,000 or more would receive $174 “per capita” that was deemed an ‘adequate amount’ from the federal government.

“What we wanted to do and as quickly as we could, was to help as many people and identify their needs and what better way to do that than to ask our cities to be our partners,” said Cortez. “The state of Texas already indicated what they believe to be an appropriate value per population for those counties that did not receive a direct grant was $55 per person,” he said referring to Cameron County.

The dispute between Hidalgo County mayors and commissioners came when restrictions were placed on how the CARES Act funding would be divided.

“On April 22 the rules came out and we actually got the money the day before and the $151 million-dollars was wired into the county’s checking account and the first thing I asked was ‘What are the restrictions?’” said Eduardo “Eddie” Cantu, representing Precinct 2.

Restrictions for the CARES Act funding were announced on May 4 where county commissioners then revised the divisions for the “per capita” amount to meet federal guidelines.

“I formulated a spreadsheet because it’s very restrictive money and we started working at the county and developing programs that we needed to battle the virus and prepare ourselves in case it comes back stronger… and we wanted to partner with our cities to do more for county-wide projects,” Cantu said.

According to commissioner Cantu, he blamed the $80 per capita rate for the smaller cities on “lack of communication” versus $110 per capita for the larger cities with a 30,000+ population.

“We did $80 for the small cities for one reason – we believe since we had already put the effort of putting a program out there, that we could administer the programs for the small cities… I didn’t come up with the idea because I felt that the smaller cities weren’t incapable, I thought it would be easier for them to join our programs but if the small cities have the ability, we have no problem and could take this back to see how we can budget $110 for the smaller cities.”

Hidalgo County Health Chief Administrative Officer, Eddie Olivarez concluded with “allocating the funding for an uprise of the virus.”

To view Thursday’s emergency meeting click the link: https://livestream.com/accounts/27682447/events/9150308/videos/206658454