EDITORIAL: Being good public stewards; Hidalgo Co Commissioners approve $200M budget and 1-cent tax drop

Throughout the Rio Grande Valley, and state, municipalities this week are voting on fiscal 2018 budgets, which Texas law requires must be passed by Sept. 30. These budgets constitute a pledge to taxpayers of where their funds will be utilized in the coming months.

They are promises that we trust them to keep.

Hidalgo County Commissioners today unanimously passed a $200.7 million budget — the biggest in the county’s history — and reflective of the explosive growth the Upper Valley has experienced in the past years, and includes money to begin construction of a new county courthouse. It also included a tax reduction of one cent per $100 property valuation.

McAllen city commissioners on Monday voted on a $365 million budget that includes $1 million for the UTRGV School of Medicine and numerous updates to parks and sports facilities and $10.7 million for street repairs.

Starr County commissioners on Monday approved a fiscal budget, and with some pushback from the county judge who said last minute changes were made without their full knowledge.

We appreciate the pushback. We look to our elected leaders to scrutinize all of these budgets on the public’s behalf. And although these budgets are working documents that can change throughout the course of the year, depending upon natural disasters or a reduction in revenue, we expect administrators who lead our cities and counties to follow these documents, as best they can, and we trust they will.

That is why it is so disconcerting when money is not spent where it should, or total what it should. Case in point is an audit released recently of the city of La Feria, in Cameron County, which found the city has been in the negative financially for at least three years and that city officials exceeded their budgeted appropriations for the past three budget years.

As a result, some reserve funds were depleted and monies designated for specific improvement projects

were improperly transferred and used for other expenditures.

Mayor pro-tem Eric Hoff told Valley Morning Star reporter Raul Garcia: “Every bank account was overdrawn but none of that was ever told to the commission.”

There is no excuse for such fiscal mismanagement. And there is no excuse for city commissioners not knowing that accounts were in the red for so many years, even if some departments were waiting for state and federal matching grants for projects to help boost coffers, as some administrators say.

Commissioners should be well aware of the account balances and take that into consideration before approving new projects, especially those that require large amounts of debt to finance.

To be elected by the public to represent the public is to serve in a position of trust and honor. We hope our leaders will be good stewards of our public funds throughout the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.