Chamber hosts Weslaco mayoral candidate forum

Weslaco mayoral candidates David Suarez, left, and Alfredo "Duff" Castañeda stand for a photo after a candidate forum Tuesday. Dina Arévalo |

WESLACO — Residents here got to see first-hand where two mayoral candidates stand on issues of economic prosperity, quality of life, and government accountability and accessibility.

Mayor David Suarez, who is seeking re-election, and challenger Alfredo “Duff” Castañeda sat for a scripted candidate forum hosted by the Weslaco Area Chamber of Commerce Oct. 8. The forum, which was held at the Weslaco Business, Visitor and Event Center, was sparsely attended.

Each candidate was allowed two minutes to provide opening statements before taking turns answering a list of prepared questions from moderator John Greider, of The Crier’s parent company, AIM Media Texas.

Suarez opened first, asking the audience to consider a question. “We need to ask ourselves, are we better off today than we were six years ago?” Suarez said before adding, “We think so.”

Suarez spoke of strides made during his six-year tenure as mayor to improve the city’s fund balance, resolve disputes with nearby municipalities and businesses, and to stabilize the city’s governance.

“I love Weslaco. I breathe and live Weslaco,” Suarez said.

For his part, Castañeda extolled the city as a great place to have grown up and now work in as part of Weslaco ISD. However, Castañeda also spoke of restoring luster to the city. “Weslaco needs to be restored again to the all-American title, however, what does this mean?” he said.

“It means returning to the days of conservative spending by investing public funds wisely,” Castañeda said, before adding that he also hopes to rebuilt shattered trust between the community and city government.

In regards to economics, both candidates answered questions about property tax rates, the purpose of the city’s rainy day fund, what they would do to attract businesses to Weslaco, and the importance of tourism.

Suarez said the commission had effectively lowered the tax rate over the past five years — from 69 cents per $100 valuation to 66 cents — until recent flooding events necessitated the passage of a $10 million bond election this spring to pay for drainage infrastructure repairs. The bond’s passage sparked a 3 penny increase in the tax rate approved this September.

Castañeda called reducing taxes “a slippery slope due to the rollback policies” and said that, while he doesn’t have a plan to lower taxes, he does have a plan to keep them from getting any higher. That plan, he said, involves hiring a full time grant writer who could help Weslaco secure funds for much needed infrastructure improvement projects.

When it comes to attracting businesses, Suarez said the city has been doing a good job thus far, as evidenced by rising sales tax revenues. Though he hopes more manufacturing ventures locate in the city, Suarez said the city will take “whoever wants to come to Weslaco and wants to be a good corporate citizen,” including retail and restaurant ventures.

Castañeda said the city should look to see what approaches have been successful in other municipalities, and that Weslaco should focus on attracting higher wage jobs in order to keep Weslaco an attractive location to its residents. “We need to be smart. We need a smart approach to attract business growth — the right business growth, with higher paying jobs that will have a lasting impact on residents and secure our future,” he said.

The candidates were also asked to identify what they think are the city’s highest priorities.

Suarez said infrastructure remains a top need, particularly the continued improvements of the city’s drainage system, as well as roadway improvements, and maintenance of water and sewer lines.

Meanwhile, Castañeda said he hopes to be able to institute term limits as a measure of accountability for elected officials. Too, he said he would “advocate for a ban on elected officials to bid” on public projects, thereby helping to eliminate the distrust the public has of its government.