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Alton mayor looks back on 3 decades of service

For the first time in his 29 years as mayor of the city of Alton, Salvador Vela is running as mayor unopposed.

As of Wednesday, no one has filed to run against Vela, or city commissioner Arturo Galvan Jr. for the May 4 election.

MayorSalvadorVela“I think people just think we’re doing a good job, it’s why we haven’t had an election since 2015,” Vela said of the lack of candidates.

For Vela, his next term of mayor would represent a total of 41 years with the city after serving as a city councilmember when the city was first incorporated in 1978.

“I first decided to run with our first mayor, San Juanita Zamora, who invited me to do so to join her on the council,” Vela recalled. “We both volunteered at the same church for years and she knew of my opinions and leadership skills and she said she would need someone like me on the city council.”

After the 1978 election, Vela worked with Zamora up until he decided to run against her as mayor in 1990, with the intent of getting the city its own police and fire department.

“We had a small population of 1,000 people at the time and relied on the Sheriff’s Department to respond to all of our calls, “Vela recalled. “That took forever for them to get here. We all decided that every city needed its own fire and police department.”

Creating both agencies both proved difficult for the city as it then ran on a budget of $250,000, meaning that Alton couldn’t afford to pay its own employees and create a police and fire department.

“We were on a deficit then, we had to get several loans at the time just to do payroll and staff the police and fire department,” Vela said. “It would be years before things picked up.”

Vela pinpoints the 2013 opening of the new Junior’s Supermarket as the start of development in that area. The supermarket, which created 100 jobs in the city, sits on the corner of Alton Boulevard and Main Avenue. After its opening, other business followed suit in Alton.

“We then got McDonald’s, CVS Pharmacy and other businesses opening up in that area,” Vela explained. “It helped our budget grow because of the franchise and sales tax we were collecting from the businesses they brought in.”

According to Vela, last year was the first time the city saw $1 million in sales tax, an increase of $200,000 from the year before.

Under Vela, the city opened its new city hall 12 years ago, which the city paid for by increasing the city’s property tax rate from 42 cents to 50 cents. Thanks to the success of its sales tax, however, Alton was able to lower it to 44.4cents.

“It’s still significantly lower than that of McAllen and Mission,” Vela said of the tax rate. “And now we have a population of more than 17,000 people and have a budget of 6 million compared to years ago when I became mayor. That’s why people are coming to Alton, they like the community and want to be part of its growth.”

Within the last year, the city launched their digital library, housed inside the Mission Collegiate High School, opened a local branch of the Lone Star National Bank and their Alton Regional Training Center to train law enforcement officials from all over the Valley.

The city is currently working on expanding its Josefa Garcia Memorial Park from five to 55 acres, and expanding the 5 Mile Line from La Homa Road to Shary Road to five lanes by 2024.

“We want to keep the momentum going,” Vela said. “We’ve made Alton grow, we hope the community still has confidence in us to continue to keep it up. It’s always been my vision to see Alton grow. That’s why we call it the ‘City on the Grow.’ Because it’s always growing.”

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