EDINBURG – County commissioners and Edinburg city council members met this week for a workshop to discuss the plans for a new courthouse. The main topic was financing for the now $113 million project.
Last year, the price for a new courthouse was projected at $76 million for a seven-story, 294,000 square foot building. Estimates this week were $92 to $96 million for a nine to 11-story building. Total costs, including engineering, schematic designs and construction, would be around $113 million said Brian Godinez with ERO Architects, the firm working on the schematic designs for the project.
True costs would not be available until the schematic designs are finalized – a process that could take up to two years. After that, construction time could take up to 36 months.
Judge Ramon Garcia asked why the constant change in price.
Godinez told him it was because things keep changing as to what the county wants and needs.
Godinez said the building plans include 11 floors because nine floors would only house the existing personnel in the current courthouse. The extra two floors are for expansion purposes if more room is needed. The building would be about 400,000 square feet.
ERO is charging $836,550 for the schematic designs, of which the City of Edinburg has agreed to pay $270,000; actual figures are to be approved at an upcoming city meeting. The city has also said it would help pay for the new courthouse construction as well. Last month, city officials confirmed they would be paying about $20 million of the construction costs.
When asked what that amount was paying for, Godinez said the cost pays for the designs, models, presentations, time and other items the firm puts together for the design phase.
Joseph Palacios, Precinct 4 commissioner, asked if the county would be prepared to fund $96 million in 36 months.
Godinez clarified that the design time is two years, not 36 months.
Palacios said they need to be sure to address those financial obligations during the two year design phase.
Edinburg Councilmember J.R. Betancourt said the city still needs to figure out how they are going to pay for their part of the project. The city needs to determine how much they can, and will be contributing, said Betancourt.
City councilmen said they want to work as closely as possible with the county to figure out the financing and research all possible avenues on how to pay for the construction of the new courthouse.
Garcia said the last thing he wanted to do was to raise taxes, but Pct. 3 Commissioner Joe Flores wanted an idea of what the tax increase would be if they had to do that.
Hidalgo County Budget Officer Sergio Cruz told the members, taxes would need to be raised by nearly three cents to pay debt service on $100 million.
“We don’t want to raise taxes,” said some members in unison.
J. Palacios said the financials really need to be looked at and get realistic on how the new courthouse was going to be paid for. He said he doesn’t want to be stuck with plans that can’t be used because it can’t be financed.
A financing option mentioned was to designate areas around the courthouse as a tax increment investment zone. This would be a way to raise funds from private activity taking place.
Palacios said they needed to develop a fund. The project is considering the budgets of two governments, he added. We need to do whatever we need to to get through this phase and figure out how to fill the gap and find the funds needed before construction.
Cruz said the county could develop a financial plan by the time schematic designs are delivered.
Chris Vela, financial advisor to the county, said there are other things they can look at to see where they can find funding.
Garcia said we want to build this, but, again, we want to do it without raising taxes. He added this is the reason it is taking so long to make a decision on when to start building the new courthouse.
Godinez said there is no question that the current courthouse needs to be replaced. You don’t want to know the current conditions of the courthouse, added Godinez, saying the building needs a lot of work.
Garcia agreed; the new courthouse is not a luxury.
The question isn’t if we need it, said Palacios.
City council members and commissioners agreed they would meet frequently to discuss financing options and possibly develop a building fund designated for the new courthouse.
Palacios wanted to make it clear; the county is not looking at raising taxes. There are a lot of moving pieces right now to consider in how to fund the construction and get to the next phase, he added.
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