Mayors spar with Hidalgo County over distribution of federal COVID-19 funds

2 years 1 month 1 day ago Friday, May 29 2020 May 29, 2020 May 29, 2020 8:10 AM May 29, 2020 in News - Coronavirus Pandemic

The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court held an emergency meeting Thursday to discuss the allocation of federal COVID-19 funds.

Hidalgo County received nearly $152 million in federal COVID-19 relief money.

The Commissioners Court allocated money to cities based on population. Large cities received $110 per resident. Small cities received $80 per resident.

Hidalgo County kept the majority of the money. The Commissioners Court formed committees to review COVID-19 needs and spend the money accordingly.

Tentative plans include building a lab, buying a warehouse or other storage facility to keep supplies, and renovating the morgue. Hidalgo County also planned to provide businesses with financial assistance.

The mayors of many small cities, though, demanded to know why they received less money per resident than large cities.

Some mayors urged the county to allocate the maximum amount to cities. If that happened, cities would receive more than $170 per resident.

Amid the backlash, the Commissioners Court held an emergency meeting on Thursday morning.

"I am not here to make friends," said Palmhurst Mayor Ramiro J. Rodriguez Jr. "I'm here to represent my people in the city of Palmhurst.”

Rodriguez asked the Commissioners Court to allocate the maximum amount to cities.

"I hear that you don't want to budge," Rodriguez said. "You do not want to go to $174. You want to go from $80 to $110."

Rodriguez said the money should be divided equally.

"Number one, this money came from all of the citizens from the United States of America (and the) state of Texas," Rodriguez said. "Unfortunately, I see you as taking this as a windfall."

Precinct 2 Commissioner Eddie Cantu said Hidalgo County wanted to help small cities by handling some programs and administrative tasks. As a result, small cities received smaller allocations.

Their residents and businesses, however, would be eligible for additional support through programs managed by the county.

"I didn't come up with the idea because I felt the smaller cities were incapable," Cantu said. "I thought that it would be easier for them to join our program. But if the small cities have the ability, we have no problem — we can take this back, we can look at it, and we can see how we can budget $110 for the small cities too."

Providing every city with $174 per resident, though, simply isn't feasible, said Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez.

Hidalgo County provides services — including health services, which are critical during the COVID-19 pandemic — to all residents, not just people who live in rural areas.

For example, the Hidalgo County Health and Human Services department works closely with cities on COVID-19 testing.

If the county allocated the maximum amount to cities and kept just $174 per rural resident, it would struggle to provide critical services to everyone.

"If that money were to be distributed to the cities based on population, then the county — who is responsible for all million people, including the 22 cities — would be left with no money," Cortez said. "Because we would only be left with the money to serve the rural areas."

Pharr Mayor Ambrosio "Amos" Hernandez suggested that Hidalgo County form a committee to review requests for funding and allocate the money.

Rodriguez, the mayor of Palmhurst, warned members of the Commissioners Court that a failure to fairly allocate the money could result in political consequences.

"All I can tell you: If you continue with your decision, there will be an election. And — or there will be repercussions. I think if you do a good job, you'll be there. But if not, something's going to happen."

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