Saturday, January 26, 2013

County Judge offended by idea of a county ethics commission

"Ethics? We no need no stinkin' ethics!"

Of all the bat-crazy, stupidly laughable things, one Webb county commissioner actually had the gall to suggest that Webb consider estabishing an ethics commission?  Yes, you heard right, ETHICS!

Well, Webb County Judge Danny Valdez's reaction was pure gold "What are you trying to accomplish?" he fumed at the mere idea that someone would dare utter the word ethics and Webb county government in the same sentence.

From Today's Laredo Morning Times

County commissioners discussed Friday the possibility of adding as a priority the creation of a county ethics commission to their Texas legislative agenda, but they scrapped the idea after weighing the possible detriments of such a powerful statute.

“What are you trying to accomplish?” Webb County Judge Danny Valdez asked Commissioner Jaime Canales, who put the item up for discussion.

Dialogue surrounding an ethics commission mostly revolved around the perceived inflated powers such a committee would posses.

Rhonda Tiffin, planning director, said the commission would be “too powerful” and threaten the sovereignty of elected officials.

“(The commission) has free reign to determine what is ethical or not ethical,” Tiffin said. “The sky is the limit.”

Such a statute would likely model an ethics commission adopted through the 2009 state Legislature by El Paso County.

Members, some appointed by the county court there, adopt and enforce an ethics code of the commission’s choosing.

Elected officials who violate such a code may be the subject of penalties such as fines and an order to cease unethical behavior but only after undergoing a lengthy hearings and appeals process.

The statute also contains language to protect elected officials from “frivolous” complaints.

Monday, January 21, 2013

El Paso becomes 4th Texas city to regulate payday loans

Since 2011, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and now El Paso have passed city ordinances meant to protects their citizens from payday & car title "predatory" lenders.  LaredoTejas has reported on the spread of these type of businesses in the Gateway city especially since the economy headed South in 2008.

Will Laredo become the fifth city to pass such an ordinance to protect its most vulnerable citizens?  Given the heavy, pro-business leanings of the current city counicl, the answer would probably be "no".

From The El Paso Times

The City Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance to regulate payday- and car-title loan businesses.

El Paso became the fourth city in Texas to adopt such an ordinance in the hope that the state Legislature will take action to protect consumers from high-cost payday and auto-title loans. Dallas, Austin and San Antonio have taken similar initiatives.

The new city ordinance limits payday loans to 20 percent of the borrower's gross monthly income and auto-title loans to either 3 percent of the borrower's gross annual income or 70 percent of the vehicle's value. The ordinance also limits the number of installments to four, and rollovers and renewals to three. In addition, lenders will have to provide borrowers financial counseling information.

Texas borrowers pay an average of $840 or more for a $300 loan and about $1,000 per month in fees for a $4,000 auto title loan, according to the Texas Fair Lending Alliance.

The ordinance will become effective in July and will increase people's ability to pay their loans.

Dallas Councilman Jerry Allen was in El Paso on Tuesday to speak in favor of the payday-loan ordinance. He led the Dallas council to pass a similar ordinance last year.

Allen said the purpose of the ordinance is not to put the payday- and title-loan industry out of business. "We just want to be fair," he said.

He said that hardworking people do not have other places to go when they are facing financial problems and end up paying more for these loans.
Allen said the new city regulations will put an end to that cycle of debt and will send a message to state legislators to regulate the fees imposed on these types of loans.

"It's very, very important that we send this message as cities that we are no longer going to stay on the side and watch our people being taken advantage of," he said.

Texas budget improves: How will GOP prioritize it?

From the Texas Tribune

The Texas Legislature will have $101.4 billion to haggle over in crafting its next two-year budget, along with an extra $11.8 billion in the Rainy Day Fund, Comptroller Susan Combs announced Monday morning.

Combs’ official biennial revenue estimate sets the limit of the state’s general fund, the portion of the budget that lawmakers have the most control over. The general fund typically makes up nearly half of the state’s total budget.

Combs predicted that the state will collect $96.2 billion in revenue from taxes, fees and other income during the 2014-15 biennium. The fund already had $8.8 billion left over from the current biennium. Of the new revenue, $3.6 billion will be transferred to the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which Combs predicted will grow to $11.8 billion.

Factoring in federal funds and other revenue sources, the total available revenue for the next budget is $208.2 billion.

Monday’s news sets a different tone for the legislative session that begins tomorrow compared with the previous one, in which lawmakers faced a multibillion-dollar shortfall and a protracted budget battle over how to spread the pain.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Laredoan pens scathing view of fracking

From Sunday's Laredo Morning Times  Letters to the Editor

To the editor:

The Mayas could not predict their own doom, much less the end of the world.

Maybe a simple flu or a more serious disease eventually eradicated them.

The Mayas might not have known what the problem was or the cure for it, but in our case, we do know the problem, cause, results and prevention.

I am not a Nostradamus or an Edgar Cayce, but I will predict the obvious.

I predict that the fracking from Webb County to Ft. Worth will be the doom of this area.

The water table, the rivers in between, eventually the Rio Grande, animal and fowl, including cattle, will perish because of contamination to the environment.

It might take ten or twenty years of drinking the water before the results start showing up in humans as cancers and respiratory diseases.

The same will show up in fowl, deer and cattle, which will not be fit for human consumption.

The idea of thousands of jobs coming into the South Texas area sounded very good as a boost to the area economy and salaries of individuals.

I traveled often to Carrizo and Crystal, where I had a 40 acre place, and Uvalde, and more and more eighteen wheeler traffic kept controlling Highway 83 North.

Highway 83 has gotten to the point where it is very dangerous to travel because it is not made to take all the truck traffic coming and going.

I decided to get out of that traffic and started taking 35 North and cutting off at the exit to Eagle Pass for safety’s sake.

According to a study done by scientists at Duke University, there’s a connection between gases from fracking and contamination of home water faucets and wells in other parts of the country.

Those gases will go up in flames if ignited as well as water faucets in homes.

Many people have been drinking the water without realizing that it could be contaminated.

The chemicals used for fracking plus the gases coming out of the ground could contain serious contaminants to the environment.

I believe oil companies are here to make millions without regards to the area.

In my opinion, they spend a hundred million dollars for special interests to lobby for them.

I believe the Environmental Protection Agency is not doing its job.

People are not aware as to the seriousness of contamination, and the fact that it will be too late because it cannot be reversed.

No input of money towards the economy, salaries or personal gain is worth killing the land, rivers, water table, fowls and animals.

The end has already been initiated by our own species for the love of the mighty dollar.

The Mayas have an excuse for their own extinction, since they didn’t have the technology and medicine to combat diseases.

What will be our excuse?


Jesus Cantu Cadena

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Another year: Kell Munoz plan sits on the shelf

Another year has gone by and the $300,000 Master Plan for the city of Laredo conjured up by Kell-Munoz of San Antonio continues to gather dust.  Ironically, in the video below, Mr. Henry Munoz specifically mentions that this particular plan will not "sit on the shelf".

From LMT's youtube file

Wetland saga continues

Soon to be a another parking lot?
The saga of the wetlands continues in the Gateway City. Apparently, the plans are for the city to sell the 88 acre "Town Center" tract which sits across the airport instead of leasing it as was the case a few years ago.

 Mayor Salinas and councilman Vela came out on TV last week promoting the new retail center as a jobs-creator. On the other hand, the Rio Grande International Science Center (RGISC) is encouraging local residents to speak out on preserving the rare oasis. The notion is that while you can replace a retail center, the same is not true of a natural asset such as the Casa Blanca wetland area. According to RGISC, our lake sees about 200,000 visitors per year.

There were expecations that a vote on whether to sell the wetlands or not was to take place this coming Tuesday, January 22nd, at the next city council meeting. However, when the agenda appeared on the city's website, the item was nowhere to be found.  

Eagle Ford Shale: Higher Education be damned!

"College?......I no need no stinking college!"

The Laredo Morning Times is reporting on a development at United ISD that will essentially train local high school students for immediate jobs in the oil patch.

The good news is that this will probably allow entry-level oil & gas employees to work smarter and safer. The other side of the coin is : why let the oil and gas industry spend any money on training their future employees when the taxpayers can do it for them?  Oh, that and don't bother with going to college- you have any extra time on your hands and......when the boom is over- adios, hope you saved your money.

From the Laredo Morning Times

The Eagle Ford Shale is credited for creating thousands of jobs in South Texas.

UISD is set to implement a program next school year to prepare its students for the growing workforce needs of the regional oil and gas boom.

The first of its kind in the state, United Independent School District’s oil and gas academy would educate high school students in the oil and gas industry and eventually supply them with certificates that would make them more employable in that field.

On Wednesday, UISD trustees unanimously approved implementing the program. It is slated to begin in the fall.

“We want to have options for kids,” UISD Board President Judd Gilpin told Laredo Morning Times in October, when plans for the program were still preliminary. “To me, that’s the major point here.”

The oil and gas curriculum will consist of three courses available to students in grades nine through 12. It will be coordinated by the UISD career and technical education department.

With the Eagle Ford boom, district officials discovered many UISD graduates were heading into the oil patch anyway, so they figured they would offer courses that would supply them with the necessary skills for gaining employment in the industry.

Eagle Ford Shale: Trouble in Paradise

Oil and Gas website is reporting that there's a lawsuit a brewing in the Eagle Ford Shale against a Houston-based oil & gas operator. I wonder who our mayor, city council and county politicos would side with? The oil and gas of course- it was just speaking rhetorically.

Several Eagle Ford oil field workers are suing Superior Energy for failing to pay them overtime, according to a court filing.

Four former employees have filed a class-action claim against Superior Energy, saying that the Houston-based services company required them to work 80 to 100 hours a week for three years without overtime pay. The plaintiffs in the suit worked as operators, providing services such as pumping, cementing and delivering materials for hydraulic fracturing in the Eagle Ford Shale in Yancey, about 50 miles west of San Antonio.

“Given the job duties of Plaintiffs and Members of the Class, Superior misclassified them all as being exempt from overtime,” wrote Edwin Sullivan, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney.

The employees are seeking back pay and legal fees, under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Under the Act, an employee who works more than 40 hours a week must be paid at least time-and-a-half for the overtime. While some exemptions exist for managers and outside sales staff, the lawsuit alleges that the employees were misclassified by the company.

In the filing, employees said that they were told they were not owed overtime because they had been paid salaries and bonuses.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Auto Registration Sticker Shock, New taxing unit

Well, it looks like the city of Laredo and the county of Webb are in cahoots to raise the price we have to pay for our motor vehicle registration.  One of the items the city will push for on their annual (tax-payer funded?) trip to Austin will be for an additional charge when you register your vehicle.

As if that weren't enough, the city/county also want to set up another taxing entity called a Regional Mobility Authority. Being that the city recently hired a consulting firm that specializes in all sorts of special taxing districts, it's not surprsing they came up with this-in a hurry.

From the Jan 22, 2013 City of Laredo Agenda

26. Amending the state legislative agenda to add the following legislative issues:

1. Support for funding for El Indio Roadway Project.

2. Support of Webb County creating a Regional Mobility Authority (RMA), in conjunction with a Transportation Reinvestment Zone (TRZ), for the development of Loop 20, as it relates to the I-69 Corridor, and said funds to be used for such use only.

3. Support of Webb County having an additional registration fee to fund the I-69 Corridor, that being State Loop 20 and U.S. Highway 59 from Loop 20 to the East Webb County line.

Editor's note
Item no 2 calls for a Regional Mobility Authority which wikipedia has the following to say about:

A Regional Mobility Authority is authorized to finance, design, construct, operate, maintain and expand a wide range of transportation facilities and services. Potential projects include highways (tolled or untolled), ferries, airports, bikeways, and intermodal hubs.

Projects can be financed using a wide range of methods, including the sale of tax-exempt revenue bonds, private equity, public grants, government loans, and revenue generated from existing transportation facilities. A Regional Mobility Authority can acquire or condemn property for projects, enter into public private partnerships, and set rates for the use of transportation facilities.


Please come to Texas in the Spring time

Attorney General turns into cheerleader for Texas!

(Austin American-Statesman): "Attorney General Greg Abbott Wednesday launched a Google web ad campaign inviting New Yorkers who feel their gun rights are threatened by a new law just signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to move to Texas where they will have the right to bear arms, and, with lower taxes, more money to buy ammo.

The provocative web ads, paid for with Abbott campaign funds, will appear as a pop-up on screens on a variety of media web sites, including that of The New York Times, for those accessing the sites in Manhattan and Albany."

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Laredo's credit rating reflects "above average debt burden"

Advertised as an $8 Million dollar project, Unitrade Stadium came in at a whopping $23 Million dollars.

A couple of months ago, the city patted itself on the back for it's high credit ratings. Although Moody's has rated the city's credit rating at Aa2 (behind Aaa and Aa1), it's summary does caution about the cities substantial debt. 

This is not surprising, considering the Mega-million projects recently undertaken: Unitrade Stadium, new $$$ golf course, high-priced recreation centers the city can't even afford to operate. Of course, the city keeps adding to the Arena's outstanding debt service.

Instead of better managing it's spending, they city recently acted to raise just about any and all their fees under the excuse "we haven't raised them in a while". When city council questioned a few of the rate hikes, they were quickly silenced by the city manager.

The rating of Aa2 reflects return to positive growth in the city's large tax base and relatively diverse economy which continues to benefit from cross border trade with Mexico, stable financial operations with maintained healthy reserves, and an above average debt burden that remains manageable.

 The stable outlook reflects expected modest continued growth in the city's large tax base in the near term, as well as our belief the city will maintain conservative budgeting practices and monitor expenditures closely to ensure financial operations remain stable and current reserve levels are maintained.

The Certificates of Obligation Series A and B are secured by an ad valorem tax levied annually, within the limits prescribed by law against all taxable property in the city and a pledge of limited surplus revenues of the city's International Toll Bridge System. The Contractual Obligations are payable from an ad valorem tax levied annually within the limits prescribed by law, against all taxable property in the city.

* Return to positive growth in the city's large tax base
* Stable financial operations and maintained healthy reserve position

CHALLENGES (aka Weaknesses)
* Historically weak socioeconomic profile
* Above average debt burden with below average payout