San Benito mulls private financing plan

SAN BENITO — The city continues searching for new ways to fund as much as a $20 million overhaul of its decaying infrastructure.

Tonight, city commissioners are expected to reconsider turning to private financing to repair the city’s streets and upgrade parts of its sewer system.

Yesterday, City Commissioner Esteban Rodriguez said he requested McAllen developer Damian Guevara present a proposal to finance about $10 million in street repairs along with a $10 million renovation of several sewer lift stations.

Guevara, with Avery Resource Consultants, is expected to propose a plan in which he would fully finance city project costs.

Under the proposal, the city would put no money down while paying off the debt.

“There are demands that have to be met,” Rodriguez said of the challenges facing the city.

For decades, the city, while struggling with a low tax base, has searched for ways to repair its pot-holed streets.

In an August town hall meeting, residents called poor street conditions the city’s biggest problem.

“I think our citizens are losing patience,” Rodriguez said.

Meanwhile, city officials are considering borrowing about $10 million to upgrade six sewer lift stations to comply with part of a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality mandate stemming from nine sewage discharges from late 2009 to early 2010.

However, the city remains deeply in debt about 15 years after funding a $32 million project that included construction of a water and sewer plant and other projects.

Now, Rodriguez calls turning to private financing “thinking outside the box.”

“We need to move the city forward — enough of sitting down and doing nothing,” Rodriguez said. “Enough talking — it’s time for action.”

Last month, commissioners met with Harlingen developer Humberto Zamora, who proposed what he called a new program allowing the city to use its $10.4 million in annual sales tax revenue allocated to the state to fund projects without incurring debt.

Commissioners requested City Manager Manuel De La Rosa and City Attorney Ricardo Morado research the proposal.

“It all boils down to who’s going to give us the best deal,” Rodriguez said of the city’s private financing options.

It will be the second time commissioners consider Guevara’s proposals to privately finance projects.

In October, commissioners’ split vote led the city to kill Guevara’s plan to finance a proposed $11 million aquatics center.

Under that proposal, Guevara told commissioners he would finance a competition-sized swimming pool with two water slides.

As part of the plan, the city would put no money down while paying back the debt over an approximate 25-year period.

While Rodriguez and Commissioner Tony Gonzales supported the proposal, Gomez and Commissioner Carol Lynn Sanchez voted against it. Commissioner Rene Villafranco was absent.

In response to Guevara’s proposal, Sanchez said the city was not “in the financial condition” to consider funding an aquatics center.

What is the proposal?

Damian Guevara

McAllen developer with Avery Resource Consultants

Project to privately finance infrastructure upgrades

Proposal would require the city to put no money down