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The question of whether land located in flood zones should be developed for residential use was a topic of prime discussion in the Tuesday, Oct. 30, meeting of the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court.

County Planning Director Raul Sesin asked for preliminary approval of Vista Ridge Acres Phase IV in Precinct 1. Developer Jack McClelland is trying to develop one- or two-acre home sites where the front part of the land is not in the flood zone, while the rear portion of the land is in the flood zone. Sesin said construction of buildings would only be allowed on the land not designated by FEMA as a flood zone. The rest of the lots could be used to raise goats or horses or other animals since the land is located in a rural area.

Judge Ramon Garcia questioned the wisdom of allowing construction in flood zones, saying, “We need to transition away from allowing development in flood zones and keep people out of harm’s way.”

Sesin said each lot has a portion of land that was not in the flood zone. The lots are 636 feet in depth and only the rear 300 feet are in the flood zone.

OWLS (Objective Watchers of the Legal System) member Virginia Townsend protested saying county taxpayers are tired of having to pay to fix flood situations where developers have put homes in the flood zone that should never have been allowed in the first place.

Sesin said he had been given strong advice to keep people out of flood zones. One of his employees had gone out to see the site after a recent two-inch rain and there was no flooding.

Before making a final decision, Judge Garcia asked Sesin to find out what happens to the site in a heavy rain. How much of the site floods in a two-inch or greater rain event? No action was taken.

In other action the county agreed to enter into a lease agreement with Joe E. Garcia for the purpose of housing the Hidalgo County Judge’s office, public affairs and other possible county functions. The building is 8000 square feet and will be leased at $1 per square foot per month.

A second building, located at 208 Cano, will be leased from Jack McClelland for housing the Hidalgo County Department of Human Resources and other offices as needed. The building is 5000 square feet and will be leased at $1 per square foot per month.

Each lease is for one year with an option of up to four years at the same price.

OWL member Fern McClaugherty questioned the high cost over the possible four-year lease options proposed. At $13,000 per month, one year will cost $156,000 while four years will cost $624,000.

McClaugherty’s objection was that the county is leasing buildings almost every month to house county functions. She would like to see some county-owned properties remodeled and used rather than see continuous renting of new properties. This would save the county taxpayers money in the long run. She would also like to see the properties the county already owns be repaired for use by county departments.

Presenting commissioners with a copy of a news article saying McAllen (including Mission and Edinburg areas) was the poorest small city in the nation, having only a median income of $31,077, McClaugherty asked the commission how Hidalgo County, with its poor population, could afford to give the proposed 15 paid holidays to employees.

The county had proposed the following holidays for county employees: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, Good Friday and Easter (2), Memorial Day, Independence Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving (2), Christmas (2) and New Year’s Eve. McClaugherty said the number of paid holidays in other areas ranged from 17 in El Paso to nine in Dallas. She researched and found banks and the Federal Reserve only had ten paid holidays. Most private businesses only had three or four. She asked why the county needed 15.

After discussion and looking at the comparisons given to them, the commissioners cut Columbus Day off the list of paid holidays for employees and approved 14 days.

In other action, the commissioners were told the bylaws of an interlocal agreement between the Linn-San Manuel Fire Department and Hidalgo County were ready for study.

Yvonne Ramon of the Elections Department said only 22 percent of Hidalgo County’s 306,758 registered voters had voted in early voting so far. However, 18,725 more people had already voted than the same time four years ago. She urged everyone to get out and vote.

Javier Hinojosa Engineering was selected as engineer for Precinct 3’s Road and Bridge and Drainage Improvement Projects for 2013.

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