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City of Hidalgo's Unusual Purchase with Taxpayer Money

5 months 2 weeks 3 days ago Thursday, December 19 2019 Dec 19, 2019 December 19, 2019 6:12 PM December 19, 2019 in Investigations

HIDALGO – An unusual purchase with taxpayer money lead CHANNEL 5 NEWS to investigate that expense.

Among music revelers, food vendors and parking chaos that's now intrinsically linked to the Austin City Limits Music Festival, employees for the city of Hidalgo were in the crowd on the city's dime and time.

A tip led us to find a series of purchase orders detailing the expense for three concert tickets in 2019 and another three in 2018. In total, the city paid $782.74. Records show the tickets were assigned to the special events coordinator. That office manages events for the city.

CHANNEL 5 NEWS emailed City Manager Julian Gonzalez asking for a justification for the expenses. He sent a response which stated, in part:

"Please note that the expenses in question are for our Special Events Staff who plan and coordinate events for the City year round."

Read the entire statement here.

In an interview with Gonzalez and Corporate Sales Manager Chad Garcia, they explained staff goes to festivals, but not for the same reasons most people do.

"I didn't go, but when we go to a festival, we look at things that you're not looking at. We're not just looking at, 'oh, Paul McCartney is playing,'" says Garcia.

Gonzalez expanded, "We look at parking situations. We look at the structure of how their tents is set up, how the carnival is set up in conjunction with the food courts and see what makes better sense. How people come in and out. How are people attracted to the different spots. So, it's looking at the overall picture.”

Garcia and Gonzalez say planning BorderFest, a 43-year-old tradition, and the Festival of Lights which is in its 29th year are both becoming more competitive.

"It used to be that there was only a few signature events in the whole area. BorderFest is lucky that it has such a long tradition, but around the BorderFest time, every community seems to have an event. There's only so many dollars to go around so those dollars get spread out a little more thin. And, that's another reason why we have to be better. We have to draw the crowd," says Garcia.

They contend these festivals help prop up their economy. Gonzalez surmised, "When you have over 650,000 or 700,000 people coming into the community, there has to be some kind of economic impact that it leaves."

That takes investment. Gonzalez says they set up a budget annually for the special events department.

"Anywhere from eight to 10 thousand," Gonzalez estimates.

They hope by spending money, they can make more of it.

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