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20110916_HidalgoCountySealEDINBURG — Weeks after saying they didn’t want to make a selection to fill the vacancy for the new Hidalgo County Court-At-Law No. 7, Hidalgo County Commissioners selected McAllen lawyer Rolando Cantu to run the not-yet established courtroom.

Dozens of people attended Tuesday’s Commissioners’ Court to offer their support for their desired candidate who would fill the seat until the 2012 election cycle. County leaders said they wanted a judge who wouldn’t be seeking election for the seat to fill the vacancy until voters could decide whom they want as judge.

Before making their selection, the court approved its 2012 budget.

Budget Officer Sergio Cruz said the budget includes maintenance and operations at $166.7 million with estimated revenues of $158.2 million. To balance their budget, county leaders looked at cutting down costs and asking departments to make a three-percent cut. Unable to find any additional resources to cut, the county took $8.5 million from its fund balance.

Commissioners also voted to keep the tax rate at $0.59.

By making a three-percent cut, the county saved $1.6 million. Those cuts, however, did not include law enforcement.

In making departmental cuts, the court also looked at decreasing funding to non-government agencies like the Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement, the Museum of South Texas History and the Donna museum, which could save the county $165,000. But on Tuesday, commissioners granted a museum representative’s request to get their full funding, $660,000 in total for all three, to prepare for drastic budget cuts coming next year.

“At some point, we may be looking at something drastic next year if we don’t do something this year,” Judge Ramon Garcia cautioned to museum representatives.

While commissioners said they wouldn’t offer raises and a few departments cut its vacancies to make recommended three-percent cuts, six of the county’s justices of the peace asked for raises before a grievance committee last week. Justices Precinct 1 Place 1 Gilbert Saenz, Precinct 1 Place 2 Jesus Morales, Precinct 2 Place 2 Rosa Treviño, Precinct 3 Place 2 Ismael Ochoa, Precinct 4 Place 1 Charlie Espinoza and Precinct 5 Place 1 E. Jackson all requested raises. Their grievance was approved and their salaries were increased to $80,000 with $10,000 for travel.

Judge Ramon Garcia said all justices should be equal and asked that the budget department set aside nearly $30,000 for the other judges who didn’t request raises. Those justices are Precinct 2 Place 1 Bobby Contreras, Precinct 3 Place 1 Luis Garza and Precinct 4 Place 2 Homer Jasso.

As the county dipped into the fund balance to address the shortfall, Precinct 1 Commissioner Joel Quintanilla said he didn’t feel comfortable establishing a new court without the money to pay for things like additional resources for the district attorney, county and district clerks offices or the facilities and general equipment and furniture for the new court.

Cruz said the county did set aside money to fund the court, but that money is for salaries.

“We’re not prepared for it,” Quintanilla said, adding that the county should be able to adequately facilitate the courtroom’s employees. “I’m saying this strictly for budgetary reasons.”

While the county must, by state statute, create the court and provide funding, it wasn’t clear if the court needed to be established and running as of Sept. 1. County Court-at-Law No. 8 must also be created on Jan. 1, 2012. County officials said that court was also included in the 2012 budget.

But the court did need to select who would fill the vacancy.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe M. Flores motioned to select McAllen lawyer Rolando Cantu, seconded by Precinct 4 Commissioner Joseph Palacios. Garcia and Precinct 2 Commissioner Hector “Tito” Palacios, who supported Linda Yañez voted against the motion. Quintanilla voted for Cantu.

Cantu thanked the court for their vote and said he was ready to begin work.

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