“Las Luces del Tinaco Están Prendidas”
As We Look Up to The Lights, All of Weslaco Is Looking Up.
As originally published by Texas Border Business newsprint edition March 2017.
February 28, 2017 – Mayor David Suarez stepped to the podium and said, “Good afternoon. Thank you, Gene, for that gracious introduction.” The following is Weslaco’s 2nd Annual State of the City:
Thank you all for joining us today in our second annual State of the City. Together we now make it a tradition. And because it is only in doing anything together that we can do so much, please allow me to recognize those with whom I share the days, also here today:
Gerardo “Jerry” Tafolla, Mayor Pro-Tem, District 4;
Leo Muñoz, Commissioner, District 1;
Greg Kerr, Commissioner, District 2;
Olga M. Noriega, Commissioner, District 3;
Letty Lopez, Commissioner, District 5;
Josh Pedraza, Commissioner, District 6;
Mike R. Perez, City Manager;
Other distinguished guests join us today; please stand and be recognized:
Precinct 1 County Commissioner David Fuentes;
State Representative Armando Martinez;
State Representative Oscar Longoria;
State Senator Eddie Lucio;
Congressman Vicente Gonzalez;
and Congressman Filemon Vela.
And of course, all those who put us to work — our School District Trustees, our Economic Development Corporation and Chamber boards, our service clubs, particularly our Lions and Rotarians — are also present today. To all of you I give all the credit and your own applause.
To all of you I give all the credit, but all the glory I give to God and His gift to me, my beautiful wife. Please help me in giving due credit to my life partner, Ramona, who created with me both a family and a family business. Our boys, Xavier, Johnathan, and Gabriel, are here, too.
As I am sure many of you today can relate, the challenge for any parent is to teach their child harsh truths; the greater challenge is to do so without a harsh voice. Some of these truths we teach by example.
I’d like to think maybe I’m teaching my sons about the truths of character and integrity, by example from a boy from a Labor Camp who became Mayor of a City. But they keep me too humble for that. And so instead we keep it fun. And I find teachable moments, in all places, at HEB where I can point to a piece of fruit and lecture my sons on being proud of who they are: after all, even a pineapple stands tall and wears a crown. Apparently, another life truth is that even when your sons are grown, you can still embarrass them with corny jokes.
It is true that character and confidence stand tall. In Weslaco, our pride stands 100 feet tall, on six concrete pillars, and wears a crown of gemstone lights. Our El Tinaco, our original water tower, was completed in 1941 and last year received a modern upgrade with LED lights and even more recently, and more modern, its own trending topic on Twitter: Hashtag #ElTinaco.
Constructed as a concrete cylinder by the Works Progress Administration — I’ve been told, one of just two of its kind in Texas — it was immediately proclaimed a marvel of modern construction and in 1982 designated with a marker by the Texas Historical Commission as a testament to a “progressive city.”
But supposedly it was a National Geographic Magazine article in the mid-1970s that certified it as an icon. Because by then, it had already brought all new meaning to the term “Friday Night Lights.” In 1971, lights were installed on El Tinaco, and almost as soon as the first football game that followed, the tradition was born to light it up with every gridiron victory.
Local sports commentators memorialized the phrases: “Las luces del tinaco están prendidas,” literally translates as, “The lights at the Weslaco tower are on;” commonly means, “Panthers won.”
“Weslaco está oscuro, están con veladoras.” Translates: “Weslaco is in darkness and is with candles.” Simply means, “Panthers lost.” And so goes the story how an elevated cement tank built at the center of town became a beacon from the heart of the community.
There was a sad chapter in this story recently, when it started to leak and after sustaining this tradition four full decades, the lights went out on our El Tinaco. This was no reflection of our performance on the football field; it was more a reflection of contractual issues or regulatory concerns or just bureaucratic excuses.
Those dark days are behind us. Look to them now, “Las luces del tinaco están prendidas”. Back and better than ever, more than just the flip of a switch, but a colorful display of community: purple for Panther pride; white for East side, strong side; red and blue for National Night Out; even a twinkling red and green throughout the holidays.
We have taken something old and made it new again, giving an old tower new lights, giving an old tradition new future. But all over Weslaco, beyond El Tinaco, “Las luces están prendidas”.
In some places, it’s taking the familiar and making it new again. Our parks have new signage, new workout stations, new shade systems, newly paved trails and newly resurfaced courts. Our dogs even have a new space just for them within Harlon Block Sports Complex with Weslaco’s first Dog Park.
Our roads have 5.25 miles of new asphalt — some of it three lanes wide, like that beautiful new section of South Border Avenue, completed in partnership with our Precinct One – and our roads now have two more miles of newly accessible sidewalks. Our cyclists too have space just for them as we brought to Weslaco the new concept of a “complete street,” with 2.25 miles of the first bike lanes striped.
This doesn’t include the paving we did at the Airport, lengthening our runway another 1,000 feet, since they frown on it when you try to drive over it on a car. But that new asphalt is getting traction, too: The Governor landed on it in the official plane when making a border visit at Christmas. And if that wasn’t already the gold star seal of approval for general aviation and corporate business flights, the Texas Department of Transportation awarded our T65 Airport the Airport of the Year.
We replaced all of 9,245 feet of water line and 7,560 feet of sewer line with new pipe. That’s over three miles of new underground infrastructure, which means better pressure for our homes and businesses but also whole tracts ready now for new development.
Some infrastructure projects we took to new depths: we widened our drain ditches and deepened three detention ponds, adding new storm capacity to existing areas and adding relief to our neighborhoods.
Some projects we took to new heights: we demolished ten structures around town, among them the old Valley Nature Center building, making way for new construction… including, finally, the new state-of-the art Valley Nature Center environmental and educational facility. The new Boys and Girls Club building also opened, adding 12,800 sq. ft. of new indoor recreational space for the children of our community.
In some of our activities this year, it was making the familiar new again; to do that well, we brought new tools to old jobs. We bought a long-reach excavator to claw the debris from deeper ditches. We bought a new ambulance and new custom pumper fire truck to arrive at any emergency faster and better ready. We launched new technologies, like new livestreaming of Commission meetings from our new website, making your government more accessible and more accountable to you at your convenience. A new online permitting system is up next.
We also brought new training, to bring new perspective to familiar jobs. Every City employee received customer service training, which then through a grant from the Texas Governor’s Office and by the coordination of our Chamber, we extended to every employee working anywhere in the City, for any business. Some of you may have participated; all of you benefited. One business told me at their ribbon cutting earlier this month that when they decided to expand into the Valley market, they chose Weslaco because of the hospitality they received at our City Hall and all other businesses they encountered here. That’s our training at work to bring new investment here.
Our new training is also working to bring a new level of safety here, too. Ours is one of only two police departments in the United States to train every police officer in the DDACTS philosophy, which is the modern policing strategy in the crime reduction model. Again, we all benefit: we ended the year with an 11% decrease in violent crime and 8% decrease in property crime, serving 52 felony warrants on violent offenders.
We brought new services to you this year, too. We held our first Clean Sweep in October, galvanizing our heavy equipment fleet with hundreds of volunteers; they hit hard one neighborhood one Saturday morning, picking up 49 tons of garbage and 350 tires. We plan another one of these events in a neighborhood near you in April.
We added two new reasons to love our library. We added a 3D printer and 25 ft. movie screen at the Library, to bring modern conveniences to our loyal patrons… Weslaco checks out more books already per capita than all other libraries in the Valley second to McAllen and is above the 90th percentile of visits per capita within the whole state of Texas. Now let me give you your own reason to get to our Library: those clever Tinaco centerpieces were made by that 3D printer I just mentioned; and as Gene indicated, only the person sitting in the chair with my business card gets to take it home today… but go to the Library and they will sell you your very own for just $25. Now back to our program…
We held our first Youth Preparedness Camp in June, bringing kids together from across the Valley to learn about how to assist in disasters, how to be leaders in service to their community. The second annual camp is scheduled this Summer. But not to let them wait until then, we have already put these kids into volunteerism alongside our paramedics and firefighters to conduct Home Fire Preparedness Campaigns, installing smoke detectors in 400 Weslaco homes, and the Vial of Life Campaigns, documenting the unique medical considerations of every resident of Alta Vista Tower. These young men and women have done such a tremendous job, the state recruited two of them to the Texas Youth Preparedness Council.
We introduced the “Copsicle” Patrol Van, a first in the Rio Grande Valley, which travels to parks and events with a freezer full of — you guessed it — popsicles, creating a positive way for police officers to interact with the children of the community. Kids are as happy to see that van as grown-ups are to see the graffiti van, another new addition to the police fleet. Its Community Custodian cleaned up over 400 graffiti locations this year.
Certainly, some of these new initiatives and services require investment. But it is also true that success breeds success. The more we do well, it seems the more we are capable of doing.
Those successful policing strategies, for example, have decreased crime and increased citizen participation. But they have also resulted in the ability to capture $1 million this year in federal grants and cash seizures. That is new money we can put into expanding our community policing program.
Federal agencies are taking note of our public safety programs; bonding agencies are taking note of our sound financial protocols. We present quarterly investment and financial reports and this year obtained a good, unmodified (clean) audit opinion. In May, Standard & Poor’s Global Ratings Services upgraded the City from A+ to AA- bond rating, the highest in the City’s history. The City promptly refinanced its 2007 Certificates of Obligation, saving $3.5 million dollars over the lifetime of that debt.
But, when I say success breeds success, our City success is our community success… because money follows money! Last year we added $80 million in valuation to the local tax roll. That’s almost as much as the last two years combined: $30 million in new commercial construction; $17 million in multi-family construction; $18 million in new homes. Because investors take risks, but they don’t like them: they see in Weslaco, stable government and reliable services. So they put their money to grow in the City on the grow. And are we growing now!
Last year was the first that we assembled a 5-yr budget, forecasting our needs and laying out a plan to responsibly meet them. And we intend to grow because we expect others intend to be a part of the success we are making for ourselves here.
We just closed on a 48-acre tract on Mile 11, where we intend to construct a new fire station to service our development to the north. We intend to build out that acreage with a new park for the convenience of those who live north of the expressway. But we also intend, with our partners at Knapp Community Care Foundation, to build out Isaac Rodriguez Park with a new splash pad and disk golf course, to give all those from north of the expressway and around the whole community a new destination for healthy recreation in Weslaco.
We just tore down the old City Shop on Business 83 to make way for the new Public Safety complex we intend to build there, moving our police, fire, and municipal court administration into a modern facility that can meet the needs of a growing community. We will pave more streets, scour more ditches, replace more water lines, we will patch the leaks at our El Tinaco.
We will open the Mid-Valley Regional Communications Center, to unite all the Mid-Valley Police, Fire, and EMS agencies under one roof, to improve response effectiveness for ourselves and our neighbors.
We will renovate the airport and get ready to expand it again. We will re-roof the library and get ready to expand its learning labs.
We will partner with UT-RGV to create another learning laboratory, the first of its kind in the Rio Grande Valley: a business incubator space that will bring together academics and entrepreneurs to cultivate creativity in patents and processes that accelerate the modern economy.
Another institute of higher education is expanding here, too: Texas A&M University – Kingsville announced this year their plans to expand their Weslaco campus to make locally available engineering programs through a bachelor’s degree.
More rooftops are coming to Weslaco, more storefronts. More opportunity. It’s as though they are drawn to the light of our El Tinaco, our beacon of success. We turned on the lights for football, we keep them on for community. “Las luces del tinaco están prendidas”. As we look up to the lights, all of Weslaco is looking up.
I am proud to report that our State of the City in 2017 is more accessible and more accountable. We are stable and solvent. We are ready for every opportunity that finds the light.
Thank you again for joining me here today. Thank you to every citizen of Weslaco who challenges us to be the best city we can be; thank you to every employee of Weslaco who labors tirelessly to achieve it.
May God bless you and them. May God bless Weslaco.