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County officials continue to struggle with the upcoming budget shortfall as they seek ways to treat employees in an equitable way. In last week’s Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court meeting it was stated that a 4.7 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) would be given across the board. This week, a three percent COLA is being proposed instead.

However, District Attorney Rene Guerra was present at the commission meeting to tell commissioners that it would not be possible to give county court at law judges a 4.7 percent COLA because it would raise their salaries higher than the district judges make. By law the county court at law judges must make at least $1000 less than district judges. Information was circulated showing county judges in other parts of the state received higher salaries. Guerra said it did not make any difference as what had to be considered was the salaries of the local district judges.

When asked if the county court at law judges could be given a car allowance. Guerra again said no, as county court at law judges do not drive to different locations for their jobs. District judges sometimes travel but county court at law judges do not.

Tempers flared in the county commission meeting when it was stated that Precinct #2 Commissioner Hector “Tito” Palacios had a savings of $5 million dollars in his precinct’s budget. County Judge Ramon Garcia asked how he had accumulated that money. It was suggested that he was asking for positions that were never filled and was saving the money.

Hector Palacios questioned why the judge was looking at this precinct budget in the first place.

Judge Garcia said that as county judge he had the right to oversee the budgets of all the precincts.

Precinct #4 Commissioner Joseph Palacios said the county needed to pass an ordinance that in the future any unused funds left in any precinct budget at the end of the year had to be given back to the county’s general fund.

Following discussion, “Tito” Palacios got up and left the meeting.

During discussion of several travel items that were approved for the Health Department and other departments Jim Barnes of OWLS (Observant Watchers of the Legal System) questioned the need for travel while the county is in such dire straits for money.

Eddie Olivarez, Hidalgo County Health Director said the travel was needed for employees to learn the changes in the laws regarding Medicare rules. They would also learn about places where matching funds could be obtained for Medicare.

Barnes was told that training on new rules and regulations was also needed for employees in other departments.

Under elections the commission considered the list of early voting sites presented by the Elections Department. Yvonne Ramon told the Commissioners there will be a total of 16 elections on the ballots. Alamo will have their own election for a new city commissioner since the resignation of one of their commissioners came too late to be put on the ballot with other election items.

The judge questioned how much it would cost for the drainage bond issue election. Ramon estimated the cost would be $300,000 because of the size of the drainage district.

In other action the commissioners approved using the Right of Eminent Domain to condemn property on parcels of land for the FM 681/FM 2221 Road Project. The site is located near the curve on Moorefield Road in Precinct 3.

A request by County Health Director Olivarez to permit biological import of agents or vectors of human disease to be allowed from Mexico into the United States. It would be the duty of the Hidalgo County Health Department to forward these specimens to either the state or federal medical labs for study. Olivarez said it would be used in an attempt to keep an outbreak of some disease affecting Mexico from coming into Texas and creating a problem in the Rio Grande Valley.

Following a public hearing for Urban County’s HOME program an allocation of $1,434,293 was approved instead of the requested $1,892,151.

A second public hearing was held on the proposed tax rate for the Hidalgo County Drainage District #1.

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