County and local leaders break ground on a new Precinct 1 substation in Weslaco Wednesday, Aug. 21. Among them are, from left: Weslaco Police Chief Joel Rivera, Donna Police Chief Gilbert Guerrero, Hidalgo County Tax Assessor/Collector Pablo Villarreal Jr. (fourth from left), Weslaco Mayor David Suarez, Precinct 1 Commissioner David Fuentes, and Precinct 4 Commissioner Ellie Torres.
(Dina Arévalo |

WESLACO — More than a year after devastating rains damaged and forced the closure of Hidalgo County Precinct 1 offices, officials here broke ground on a new substation that will house several county departments.

Last Wednesday’s morning groundbreaking ceremony also marked the opening of temporary offices at the site, located off Joe Stephens Avenue, for the tax assessor/collector’s office, the department of health and human services, the planning department, and the department of motor vehicles.

Mid-Valley residents will no longer have to travel to Alamo, San Juan, Elsa or other cities to pay their property taxes, update their vehicle registration, or inquire about other county services now that a portable building has opened pending the construction of the permanent Precinct 1 offices.

The temporary offices will remain open throughout the eight months it’s expected construction on the permanent $1.2 million facility will take to complete.

The ceremony included a bevy of local dignitaries, including city officials from Donna and Pharr, Precinct 4 County Commissioner Ellie Torres, and others. County officials were also on hand to speak about how the new facility will enable their departments to better serve the local community.

Planning Director TJ Arredondo said the new offices will facilitate residential and commercial development applications, adding that the 2018 and 2019 June rains have changed how planning department staff evaluate such permit requests.

“We have had these rains these past rains that we’ve looked at as far as where the severe damage has been and obviously we’re careful about that as far as new developments coming in,” Arredondo said. “We’re documenting everything, making sure that we don’t develop in an area that has been flood prone.”

Eddie Olivares, chief administrator of the health department, added that Wednesday’s groundbreaking provided an opportunity to celebrate success and teamwork between municipal, county, state and federal agencies. “It was an unfortunate situation that got us to here two years ago, a year ago — all the recent rain events. But, the reality is it took leadership … to get us to this level.”

Tax assessor/collector Pablo Villarreal Jr. spoke of just how much county business is conducted through the Weslaco offices. Of 608,000 vehicles registered in the county, approximately 50,000 vehicle applications come through Precinct 1, Villarreal said.

Additionally, property tax revenues flow through the offices. “Through our office and tax, $1.1 billion goes through there, and the motor vehicles, about $167 million,” Villarreal said.

Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissoner David Fuentes speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Precinct 1 substation offices in Weslaco Wednesday. (Dina Arévalo |

Finally, Precinct 1 Commissioner David Fuentes spoke of how the new substation will help put the precinct on par with facilities and amenities offered by larger counties throughout the state. “We are not going to be left behind,” Fuentes said. We’re not going to be the quiet precinct anymore,” he said, adding profuse thanks to the rest of the county commissioners’ court, as well as his staff.

Fuentes also renewed his commitment in bettering other areas of public interest. “We’re going to continue to work on quality of life issues, like drainage projects. We will continue to be at the forefront at the state and federal level to make sure that we get our fair share, not just for Precinct 1, for everybody down here — for Cameron County, for Willacy County,” Fuentes said, “We’re all in this together.”