Commissioners Court Executive Officer Valde Guerra reported that work was disrupted at the Courthouse on December 16, when an aging pipe in the area of the 389th District Court burst. The area had to be evacuated while repairs were conducted. This was the second time that repairs were made on the aging pipes in Judge Letty Lopez’ work area. The 60-plus year old Courthouse is constantly under repair due to aging infrastructure, flooding issues, and overcrowding.
The existing courthouse building was built in 1954 to accommodate five courts serving a small, rural community with a population of 168,000. Today, there are 24 courts serving a population nearing 1 million residents.
The new courthouse, which is expected to break ground in 2018, will serve Hidalgo County into the next century. The building will be funded without the need to increase taxes to Hidalgo County residents. In December, the City of Edinburg pledged $30 million towards the project and the county received $20 million from the Texas Department of Transportation to address drainage at Courthouse Square and the surrounding area, including the UTRGV campus and about $150 million worth of commercial and residential property.
Update on Health and Human Services activities
Eduardo “Eddie” Olivarez, the chief administrative officer for Health and Human Services, updated Commissioners Court on several projects including announcing the 5th annual South Texas All Hazards Conference. The county’s conference, which focuses on responding to all types of hazards, from hurricanes to diseases, is the second largest such conference in the state. Last year’s conference had over 3,000 attendees and this year organizers expect more than 4,000 participants, said Olivarez.
The conference is primarily funded by the Department of State Health Services and Olivarez was at Court seeking approval to submit a request for $80,000 to fund this year’s conference. The conference, which will be held March 22 and 23 at the McAllen Convention Center, is organized by Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Department, City of McAllen, the county’s Office of Emergency Management, and Texas Department of Emergency Management.
Olivarez reported on efforts the county is conducting regarding the Zika virus, including surveillance, prevention and intervention.
“Zika is here and it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better,” Olivarez said.
The county’s health department has tested 254 people for the virus. Of those, 13 tested positive, six are local residents who contracted the virus while traveling outside the area and seven are people from other countries who now reside in Hidalgo County, Olivarez said.
He also spoke about efforts to provide outpatient care to low income residents who fall above the Indigent Care guidelines. Currently in the planning stages, the program would target residents who fall between 21- and 25-percent of the federal poverty rate. Olivarez stressed to the audience that funding for the program will not require a tax increase.
Hidalgo County opposes state changes to current statutes related to court records
The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court recognizes that the Texas Office of Court Administration (OCA), under The Supreme Court of Texas's direction, has created re:SearchTX, a web portal to allow judges secure access to a consolidated database of case information that has been e-Filed.
The sole purpose of the e-File system developed by the OCA was to provide a delivery system for attorneys to file documents electronically to the courts and that the information would only be retained for thirty days.
The OCA is now retaining information filed within the e-File system and plans to make it available to attorneys and the public (for a fee) through re:SearchTX in the near future.
District Clerk Laura Hinojosa, in conjunction with County Clerk Arturo Guajardo, Jr. placed the resolution on the agenda in their duties as designated custodians of court records, responsible for the management, preservation and access of those records.
"It is in the best interest of Hidalgo County and our taxpayers to oppose any change to current statutes regarding care, custody and control of records held by the county and district clerks," reads the resolution.
"We are opposed to the amendment and/or repeal of any current statutes or rules that authorize local control by commissioners court in the administration of our duties concerning records held by the county and district clerk or how the county chooses to offer those records to the public."
Contract for new elections equipment on hold
Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramon encouraged Commissioners Court to accept a quote for new electronic voting machines from HART Intercivic, the vendor awarded through the BuyBoard Cooperative in the amount of $5,491,500.
“We have held various public demonstrations for the community, county officials and staff, and our elections personnel,” Ramon said, adding that much thought, effort and research had gone into the selection process for new elections equipment.
Commissioners Court voted unanimously to hold off on taking action for one month to allow time to look into other options and to see if state efforts will result in being able to purchase the equipment at a lower cost.