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2010-04-21 digital edition

Commissioners go on spending spree for vehicle, donation & equipment

Text: T T
By Paul Whitworth

Willacy County Commissioners were in a spending mood at their special meeting on Monday and they went through $162,000 in about 90 minutes.

First, they agreed to buy a $25,000 pickup truck for the Constable in Pct. 5 at Lasara with state grant funds. Pct. 1 Commissioner Eliberto "Beto" Guerra made the motion to buy the vehicle from the State Contract to get a good price and avoid having to bid it out to local dealers. His motion passed unanimously.

Next, the commissioners agreed to donate $50,000 taxpayer dollars to the "VIDA Program" as matching funds to be used for their job training program. VIDA stands for Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement and claims to target people who are unemployed, under-employed or on welfare programs.

VIDA is a project of Valley Interfaith and several people were present to lobby for the county donation, including Rosalie Tristan.

Myra Caridad Garcia of VIDA said the program was recently awarded $700,000 to serve the four county Rio Grande Valley area, with $300,000 going to Cameron County and Starr, Hidalgo and Willacy to split the remaining $400,000.

Tristan said all five of the candidates for county judge in Willacy County had commited to funding VIDA and that 39.9 percent of Willacy County residents live below the poverty level.

The money is supposed to pay for classroom and on-thejob training for single mothers and others who need education to help them to enter the job market.

Tristan claimed the program will benefit the public and the county by reducing welfare costs, putting people into the workforce and turning them into productive citizens, the same promise made for every local job training program since 1965.

VIDA was developed by Valley Interfaith, said Tristan, with its own board and is run independently.

Commissioner Erasmo "Eddie" Chapa had a few softball question for the folks who were asking for $50,000 but no one asked where the companies are that will hire the applicants in this county after they are trained, or how this differs from TSTC in Harlingen for training, or any of the private and government agencies already providing training in the Rio Grande Valley.

Commissioner Chapa made the motion to donate the money and it passed unanimously.

The final major purchase came when commissioners voted to lease/purchase new printing and mailing system from Pitney Bowes at a cost of $87,000.

Currently the county pays the full price for mail it sends out and the mailing of tax statements alone is a major cost. The new equipment will automatically correct bad addresses eliminating the 26 percent of mail that is now returned to the county. The machine will also pre-process bulk mail earning lowers postal rates for tax bills, jury summons, etc.

The county tax office will offer help to other cities, school districts and taxing bodies in the county enabling them to reduce mailing costs which are only going to increase, according to the Pitney Bowes representatives.

The new equipment will print, fold and insert statements in envelopes and can print in color or black and white. One person can do the eptire operation and lower postage rates will apply because of the automated postage system.

Interim county judge Aurelio "Keter" Guerra said, "We need to talk to the city and schools, this is a big step in upgrading our system. We will take the lead, but we can't afford to make such a big investment by ourselves."

Commissioner Chapa was fired up.

"I think we can start with it right away. They ( the cities and schools ) are not gonna commit until they see what we can do."

This will save the city $1,200 a month and automate their process, said one of the Pitney Bowes reps.

Pct. 3 Commissioner Alfredo "Fred" Serrato jumped in.

"If we make a mistake, let's make a big one," he quipped.

Commissioner Chapa made the motion, seconded by "Keter" Guerra which passed unanimously.

The Pitney Bowes reps said that the county will break even on the program cost in three years even if no other governing bodies join in the program.

Commissioners talked about roof damage from Hurricane Dolly to the Willacy County Sheriff's Dept. building.

Judge Guerra said, "We need to check it out, we can't delay because that may cause more damage."

He is expects to use FEMA funds and insurance proceeds to pay for repairs and will get estimates to find out the cost. No mention of advertising for bids was made.

Commissioners agreed to fire Reliant Energy as the county's electric provider and to hire a new provider through the Texas General Land Office at a slightly lower rate. The motion to go for the lower. rate was made by Commissioner Serrato, to lock in the new rate for two years.

The county will again pay Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council dues of $1,401.00.

Finally, Commissioner Chapa gave a program on gas pipeline safety. He said that gas transmission lines are buried six feet deep in our county and that heavy equipment can sometimes crush the pipes and cause explosions, even though county ditches are only three or four feet deep.

The county road crews will install five foot pvc culvert where county roads cross gas lines. The culvert will be reinforced pipe that will keep water flowing and dirt from caving in on the gas lines.

"This will cost only about one thousand dollars to protect 20 crossings, it is inexpensive and will protect workers from harm and the county from liability," said Chapa.

2010-04-21 / Front Page

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