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County to hold election on hospital district

Hidalgo-County-SealThe Hidalgo County Commissioners Court called for an election Nov. 4 for voters to decide on the proposed new Hidalgo County Hospital District.

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa addressed the court Tuesday before the vote to call the election, reminding them that without the proposed hospital district, the county might be responsible for all of its indigent care costs, at a price higher than the proposed hospital district.

Last year, Hidalgo County paid $8 million to the government for indigent health care. The money was then multiplied by a figure so that more money than was paid out came back to help Hidalgo County meet high costs of indigent care.

Hinojosa said creating a health care district for the county is a necessity, and it is also a step toward a greater future for the Valley. He added there has been a lot of publicity about a possible 75 cent per $100 property valuation to support the new district. The hospitals have agreed to cap possible taxes at 25 cents per $100 valuation. To go above that level would take another vote by the citizens of Hidalgo County to approve the tax rate, Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa said hospitals were requesting a starting tax for of 10 cents per $100 property valuation. However, Hinojosa was recommending a starting tax of 9 cents as a compromise. He said that a 7 cent tax would raise revenues of $17.5 million, while an 8 cent tax would create revenues of $20 million. Nine cents would provide revenues of $22.5 million for the hospital district.

The court disagreed with Hinojosa’s proposed 9 cents and the hospitals’ 10 cent request and set the starting tax at 8 cent per $100 valuation.

In other action, the court also amended the number of members who will be appointed to the hospital district’s board of directors. In a previous meeting, the court decided on seven directors: five appointed by the court and representatives from McAllen and Edinburg. However, Mission and Pharr also have agreed to pay $500,000 toward the establishment of the future medical school and wanted a representative on the board.

Other Hidalgo County cities have requested input on the board, but County Judge Ramon Garcia said the board members would be limited to those cities that agreed to help fund the shortfall for the medical school of $5,000,000 per year. During open forum, there also was a request from a resident that a citizen’s advisory board be appointed to advise the hospital board on the needs of the communities.

Speaking in support of the new medical school and proposed hospital district, Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia told the court 25 years ago San Antonio was about the size of the Valley when it started its hospital district. Toda,y San Antonio has many businesses related to healthcare that have caused growth within the city economically and by population. San Antonio is the second largest city in the state and seventh in the nation. Garcia attributed much of its growth to the district.

Pct. 4 Commissioner Joseph Palacios asked if the county would be obligated to return the 8 cents in the current tax rate to the voters. He said his constituents are asking if the hospital district and the 8-cent tax is approved, would the county reduce the county tax rate in the future because it would no longer be responsible for the $8 million needed for indigent health care.

In matters related to the upcoming election Yvonne Ramon said the Hidalgo ISD auditorium would be used for early voting instead of the administration office. She introduced Albert Morales of Advocacy Alliance Center of Texas (AACT) and Katie Jones, AACT outreach coordinator and told the court the organization is working to place getting machines placed in high schools. The purpose is to encourage younger citizens to start voting and taking an interest in what happens in the community around them at an early age.

The program will be piloted at Edinburg North High School, Edinburg High School, Economedes High School and Robert Vela High School. It will also be held at McAllen High School, McAllen Memorial High School and Nikki Rowe High School. In Pharr, the program will be held at PSJA High School, PSJA North High School and PSJA Memorial High School. It will also be held at the Idea Schools headquarters. Plans are to add one to two school districts during election years until all school districts in Hidalgo County are participating.

After discussion, all early voting sites presented were approved.

Under constable requests, the court approved new employees to be hired under the terms of a grant to work at the Tropical Texas Mental Health Mental Retardation Center. Constables from Precincts 1, 2 and 4 also requested additional deputy constables for their precincts.

However, because of plans to cut staff by four percent in the upcoming budget through attrition, Budget Manager Sergio Cruz objected to hiring additional staff other than those who are to be funded through the grant. There will be a special budget meeting next week where constables will have an opportunity to justify the need for the additional employees.

Other statements on the budget came from the OWLS (Objective Watchers of the Legal System) during open forum. Virginia Townsend said there was too much forgiveness of fees and fines at the constables’ offices. She said the sheriff’s office ought to be required to publish a list of fines and fees collected or forgiven on a monthly basis. Collecting all fines could be a source of revenue not directly costing all Hidalgo County taxpayers.

She also questioned how a sheriff’s office could lose 10 cars and 27 guns, which was recently reported at the conclusion of an audit by Sheriff Eddie Guerra. An annual audit of all equipment should be required to be sure there are no more losses of that magnitude.

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