By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
As originally published by Texas Border Business newsprint edition April 2017.
Jim Darling is a unique leader serving the citizens of the City of McAllen. At the age of 16, he was elected to serve as the student council president at his high school. At 18, he volunteered to serve his country in the Air Force. “I voluntarily served in Vietnam and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.” He said, “At 21, I became a staff sergeant.”
Mayor Darling has served in several leadership and community volunteer roles throughout his life, which prepared him well for serving as mayor of McAllen. “Leadership in our city has been a continuum of service, which has made McAllen the great city it is.”
He pointed out that this continuum of leadership has allowed him and his team to build on programs that work and to rely on an administrative team that has the experience needed to carry out these programs.
He also said that it is important to say that the City of McAllen’s Strategic Business Plan is based on two principles: 1) meeting the needs of our city as told to us by our residents on a survey and through daily contact and 2) providing funding to meet those needs.
He is proud to say that McAllen is fiscally strong. “This is evidenced by our fund balance, which would be the envy of almost any city in the nation.” He said, “Our fund balance includes funded depreciation, which very few cities have. To continue to fund our city’s needs without increasing taxes, this business plan includes conventions, eco and sports tourism, increasing bridge revenues, increasing training programs for our citizens to attract industry to McAllen, adding assets to our property tax rolls, supporting the growth of our medical school (especially the research center), obtaining more return on our investments, and maintaining our position as the #1 retail center of South Texas. We also have plans to cut certain expenses.”
Mayor Darling was eloquent in saying that economic incentives are investments with business partners with the expectation of a return on the City of McAllen’s investment. “La Plaza Mall, for example, was granted an economic incentive in order for it to maintain and expand its position as the premier shopping location for shoppers in South Texas and Northern Mexico.” He continued, “The City of McAllen’s incentive is only triggered when the business meets a firmly established sales expectation. The bottom line is this—we are selective when it comes to economic incentives because they are based on the economic and quality of life return on investment to the city.”
He said that the purpose of open session at every McAllen City Commission meeting is to provide citizens with the opportunity to address the mayor and City Commission in person. “Transparency as it relates to Enrique Iglesias: I provided citizens with information on the total amount of money spent on the parade. A contract was prepared for the concert that prohibited disclosure of that specific cost. Had we disclosed it, the city would have faced litigation it could not have won due to the contractual agreement. The city will not enter into any entertainment contracts with that provision again,” he stated.
It is well-known that when Mayor Darling was elected mayor in 2013, he proposed a bond issue for roadways and expansions to deal with the city’s growing traffic volume. “Some projects involve partnerships with state and county entities, which may delay implementation but save McAllen citizens significant tax dollars and enable us to complete additional projects under the bond election program.” He continued, “As a driver in McAllen, I understand people get frustrated when waiting for a red light to turn green. McAllen has between 150,000 and 250,000 people traveling our streets each day, which creates traffic challenges. We are constantly working on ways to improve our traffic flow,” he stated
Mayor Darling became the mayor at ‘Ground Zero’ of the immigration situation. “I can tell you our city was faced with the decision of what to do with families from Central America who were dropped off at the McAllen Bus Station by Customs and Border Patrol agents.”
In addition, he said, “We decided that instead of closing the bus station to these families traveling north, we would show them the humanitarian spirit of our city and of the Rio Grande Valley by teaming up with Catholic Charities at the Humanitarian Respite Center.” He said, “We have battled false publicity about an unprotected border, which equated to an unsafe McAllen and an unsafe region. This has hurt our economy and has damaged our relationship with our friends and neighbors in Mexico.”
Mayor Darling emphasized, “We will continue to seek federal reimbursement for our service at the Humanitarian Respite Center, as it is clearly the responsibility of the federal government to provide for individuals who have been given bus passes to reunite with family members in other parts of the country. We urge our legislators to ask Border Patrol agents what is needed to secure our border, not people who live thousands of miles away.
As chairman of the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority (chairman of the board for 8 years and now the executive director) and as a member of the Region M Regional Water Planning Group for the past 15 years (6 years as vice chair), he is aware of the needs and challenges in meeting water supply availability and quality for the citizens of McAllen.
Mayor Darling said that McAllen is the only city along the Rio Grande River that has provided a long-term, adequate supply and redundancy of delivery from multiple water districts to meet our city’s needs. “I commend the McAllen Public Utilities Board for being innovators in water supply and treatment, and I am proud to have been both the board’s lawyer and now a board member,” he said.
The topic of tax rate is a favorite for many, including Mayor Darling. “McAllen’s tax rate is still one of the lowest in the state for cities with a population over 100,000 and the lowest of any city in the Rio Grande Valley with a population over 25,000.” He said, “When you apply the ½-cent sales tax to reduce property taxes, our tax rate is only 36 cents, which is the lowest in the state. We will continue to follow a strategic business plan that has as its goal NOT raising taxes.
Transparency is without a doubt a topic that has highest priority. Mayor Darling said, “Go on our website (mcallen.net) to see how transparent we are.” He continued, “McAllen residents can contact me any time by phone (956- 681-1020) or via email ([email protected]).” TBB