Voters in Weslaco and Donna weren’t choosing representatives on their respective city commissions this May, but they were tasked with making their voices heard on two important issues — a bond election in one city, and charter amendments in the other.
Despite low voter turnout, the city of Weslaco will soon be able to move forward with a series of drainage improvement projects thanks to the passage of a $10 million bond election Saturday.
Only 235 people cast ballots during the eight days of early voting. An additional 229 voters came out on Election Day, Saturday, May 4.
The bond proposal passed with 278 votes for, to 186 votes against.
With the bond’s passage, officials will now be able to move forward on the first five projects in a laundry list of short, intermediate and long term goals.
“I think it’s great news for the citizens,” Weslaco City Manager Mike Perez said Saturday evening after learning of the bond’s passage.
“This will be the second step in addressing these drainage issues in Weslaco. We’ve got a lot of steps still to go,” he said. The first step is completing previously identified projects with the $4 million in certificates of obligation the Weslaco City Commission approved last fall.
City officials have acknowledged that $10 million won’t be enough to fund the entirety of the five projects identified in the bond election, or the additional improvement needs identified by an ad hoc committee commissioned after last June’s flood, the Citizens Drainage Task Force.
They hope to be able to secure additional funding via state or federal grants, but the process to receive approval for such funding remains years away.
“We’re looking at hoping to get grants and doing work in-house,” Weslaco City Manager Mike Perez said during an informational session regarding the bond election late last month.
Since last year, the city has purchased heavy equipment, such as a tractor, that will allow it to offset some costs by having city staff complete some of the projects.
Officials hope to begin by constructing a regional detention facility, or RDF, north of the expressway on North Westgate Lane in the coming weeks, Perez said. Before that can happen, however, the city will need to reach an agreement with Weslaco ISD, which owns the land where officials hope to construct the RDF.
That project will be paid for using CO funds; Perez estimated the bond’s projects could begin within the next 4-5 months, with an estimated completion date of 30 months.
The city commission was expected to canvass the results of Saturday’s election during its regular meeting Tuesday. Once that has been completed, the city can then move forward with securing the loans, Perez said.
With just 464 votes cast in the election, the bond passed with just 2.3% of the city’s electorate participating. The city manager remarked on the low voter turnout, calling it “disheartening.”
“We’re increasing property taxes by 3 cents and we would have liked to see a lot more people vote, even if they vote it down,” Perez said Saturday. “We want to have people engaged in voting. When you have that few people voting and raising property taxes… it’s a little disheartening.”
Meanwhile, in Donna, voters were asked to decide on three proposed changes to the city charter, which had remained unchanged since 1994. All three proposals failed.
At stake were proposed changes to the term lengths of the mayor, commissioners and municipal judge, as well as the removal of language from the charter that city officials said was unconstitutional or in conflict with state law.
Proposition A failed by 53.74% of the vote. It would have lengthened the terms of the mayor and commissioners from three years to four — the maximum allowable under state law. A total of 366 voters cast their ballots against it, while 315 voted for.
Prop B failed by 54.60% of the vote. Like Prop A, it proposed lengthening the term of service of the municipal judge from three years to four. Some 362 voters voted against Prop B, while 301 voted for.
Prop C failed with 56.63% percent of voters voting against it, while 43.47% voted for it. This proposition gained 282 votes in favor, with 372 votes against.
Prop C became the source of some questions after specifics about the proposal remained unavailable to the public until just three days before early voting, which began Monday, April 22.
The language on the Prop C ballot read simply, “The removal from the city of Donna charter of unconstitutional provisions and provisions superceded (sic) by statute.”
Though city leaders ordered the charter amendment special election in mid-February, it wasn’t until Friday, April 19 that the city posted information on its website regarding the proposed changes in Prop C.
Last month, when pressed for details about Prop C, Donna City Manager Carlos Yerena referred questions to City Attorney Javier Villalobos, who himself could not speak to specifics.
“Actually, there’s some studying that I need to do on some of the issues, too,” Villalobos said.
In all, the city proposed to delete nine portions of the city charter via Prop C. The majority of the proposed changes involved elections provisions that are no longer in sync with state law.
One change would have rectified a section of the charter that does not comply with the Texas Open Meetings Act, while another would have removed a provision that allows the city to withhold payment of claims or debts to people or businesses that are delinquent in their taxes.
Speaking after the election, Villalobos said the questions revolving Prop C may have affected the outcome of the election and the failure of the three propositions.
“It was just for the purpose of cleaning it (the charter) up, but it may have had an effect on, you know, the election,” Villalobos said of Prop C.
“I think it may have, even though it’s the one that didn’t matter at all.”