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La Joya readies for new city hall

The city of La Joya has been sitting on a $3.5 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the last five years, waiting for the right time to move on a new city hall and public safety facility.

At a special meeting this week, city leaders decided the time is now, approving the purchase of the old Plains Capital Bank building near the fire department off U.S. 83 for $1 million. The building is about 4,300 square feet, and with the leftover funding, the city plans to renovate and expand the facility. It sits on five acres.

20150429 LA JOYA New city hall 3612Mayor Fito Salinas said he planned to invite members of the community to join the city on May 7, the National Day of Prayer, for a ceremony at future city hall. He hoped to get the keys to the building this week.

Architects are drawing up plans, but Salinas estimated the total cost of the project at $2.75 million.

“We’re saving almost a million dollars,” Salinas said. “We’re very proud. We’re very happy. It’s going to be really nice.”

They’ll enclose four of the eight drive-thru lanes, and keep some lanes open for residents to make utility payments. He suggested the landscaping alone on the property is worth $100,000 alone, and Salinas said there would be a lot more parking available.

City Manager Mike Alaniz said USDA has approved of the city’s plan, but the city is taking out an interim loan from a local bank to purchase the property. When the funds are released from USDA, he said the city would pay off the loan.

Salinas said the city got a good deal on the property, which was appraised at $1.7 million, though the city originally bid $850,000. He said the city increased the bid after finding out the school district and a credit union also wanted to buy it.

When the loan originally was approved, the plan was to build a city hall from scratch, but Salinas said he held off on plans to start construction because the city was digging itself out of debt, and he didn’t think it could afford the loan payments.

“Now I can see we’re doing fine on the audit, and we have some money left,” Salinas said.

When Salinas first took office, Alaniz said the city was about $500,000 in the red. According to an audit released last week, the city brought in $2,562,000 into the general fund and spent $2,216,000, meaning the city came out ahead by more than $46,000.

That money cut the deficit from about $431,000 to $384,000. Alaniz said this year’s budget includes setting aside $100,000 to cut the deficit back even more.

Alaniz said when construction is finished, he expects the building to be 9,000 to 10,000 square feet and larger than the current building, which is about 6,000. If everything goes well, he said, it could be ready by the end of the year.

“This is a project that we have been working very aggressively on, but we could not complete it without the support of the community and residents that have been very patient with us,” Alaniz said. “It’s a worthy project.”

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