A recent meeting between the cities of Edinburg and McAllen is history in the making, according to Mayor Richard Garcia.
On Thursday, Aug. 6, the cities of Edinburg and McAllen met at the McAllen Convention Center for a first-ever special joint work session in which they discussed mutual goals and challenges.
The eight different items on the agenda for the meeting included discussing the Regional Mobility Authority’s (RMA) handling of the Hidalgo County Loop, water pressure and drainage issues at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, regional growth, lobbying in Washington, discussing the benefits of a regional Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), county Appraisal Board concerns, and mobility, as it relates to paving roads east from McColl to Jackson roads.
City council members got through several items on the agenda. Mayor Richard Garcia calls last week’s meeting between the city councils “historic,” and a sign of the common goals shared by both cities.
“The good news is we also have some great personal relationships, we have family connections with the people serving on both councils and the commission,” Garcia said. “We do have common goals, we do have common ideas, and I think we have those ideas not just in our personal conversations, but now on a business level in order to formulate them and put them into goals.”
Some of the most heated exchange of the meeting came from city leaders who voiced criticism of the RMA, and in frank terms raised doubts about whether taxpayers were receiving fair value for their money, which includes millions of dollars spent on the County Loop.
The Loop project was originally envisioned as a 127-mile multi-use highway system designed to relieve congestion and enhance the Hidalgo County economy. Recent difficulties identifying financing in the current economic recession along with a federal requirement to pursue a lengthy and costly environmental impact statement has led the RMA to revise the plan. The Loop will now be developed in distinct segments as financing becomes available.
The first segment will be a 37-mile long section of the original Loop alignment running from U.S. 83 in Donna, connecting to the Pharr International Bridge and continuing to the new Anzalduas International Bridge.
The two cities addressed the RMA at a special presentation, which took place Aug. 4 at McAllen City Hall. In unison with McAllen city officials, Garcia calls for accountability in regards to the Loop.
“Let’s spend the money where it needs to be spent so that we can take the important steps now,” Garcia said. “I think the comment was that the money wasn’t being properly spent and we need to look at that.”
Also significant on the agenda was the call for “one giant MSA in the Valley.” Addressing both city councils, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (EDC) executive director Ramiro Garza repeated previous claims he first made in the Rio Grande Guardian saying it was time to “not just work regionally, but act regionally.”
Garza said he is in favor of combining the resources of the two MSAs in the Valley, McAllen-Edinburg-Mission and Brownsville-Harlingen, into one Valley-wide MSA, comprised of about 1.2 million people.
A unified MSA would pike the interest of potential investors that would allow the region to compete globally. Combining the numbers places a potential Valley-wide MSA in the top-50 all MSAs in the country, he said.
An MSA is defined as a county or group of counties that has either a city with a minimum population of 50,000, or an urbanized area with a total population of at least 100,000. An MSA is important because the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) uses their statistical data in the process of applying guidelines to the Census Bureau.
“We are already acting as a region, let’s go ahead and operate as one,” Garza said. “I’m referring to the way the government does their census updates, the way they keep their stats, you have a state level, a county level … just the way our government keeps track of the data, so my comments are geared towards that.”
Next for Commissioners
Garcia said he next intends to reach out to the cities of Mission and Pharr at a later date in order to hold similar work sessions.
From the outset of his second bid for mayor, Garcia promised regional cooperation among cities in the Valley and Mexico. Garcia’s efforts also extend beyond the Valley when last month, the city began its second turn as members of the Texas Border Coalition (TBC), an organization that bills itself as the voice in Austin and Washington for the 17 counties along the Texas-Mexico border.
“I think this is history in the making because it’s the first time the two cities, councils and commissions, have joined together this way and have discussed joint issues,” Garcia said. “I am so happy to hear that mayor (Richard) Cortez feels the same way, the suggestions came from both sides at the same time and I think this is the start of something great for our area.”