Candidate Questionnaire – Frank Puente Jr., Harlingen Commission District 2

Frank Puente, Jr.

Age: 56

Occupation: Owner, Puente Roofing Contractors

Years in Community: 40+

Community Involvement: single father; graduate of UT-Pan Am with a BA-Psychology; Minor in Communications; MPA graduate credits at Northern Illinois University; past President of Hispanic Contractors Association of Texas-Rio Grande Valley; Harlingen Rotary Club; Habitat for Humanity; Parish Council Member Queen of Peace Church

Question 1: How would you describe the city’s current financial situation, including the property tax rate, assessment levels, sales tax receipts and overall development and direction of the city?

The city has a very good bond rating, however, the city council has continued to use the city’s fund balance (reserves) to balance the city’s budget — which means they are spending more money than the taxes they are collecting.

City leaders have excessively and questionably borrowed large amounts of money to subsidize big businesses. City projects have impacted the EDC board and its mission.

Taxpayers are paying a staggering amount of interest that could be spent on important infrastructure.

Assessment levels (appraisal values) would mean less when the tax rate set by the commission is not wasted on a perpetual interest burden, misguided projects and can be considered excessive payroll spending.

Though we’ve experienced what’s considered acceptable sales tax and unemployment numbers, we should not be content with low wage jobs and a mall that’s becoming vacant and utilized as a garage sale.

Creating more middle-income, small businesses, and industry-type jobs will be my focus.

Question 2: Specifically what are the city’s short-term and long-term infrastructure needs and how should city officials address these matters, specifically financially?

Electrical, drainage, street repair/overlay, and water and sewer facility/infrastructure upgrades are most of the key areas of infrastructure needs.

In particular, sewer road manholes. You can also feel the manholes, which are uneven and cause drivers to swerve- which creates a safety issue.

Additionally, residential streets are full of potholes and are not properly maintained. The City must begin to dialogue with railroad company to upgrade their railroad crossings, as they do in other cities.

The current tax and fee structure are more than adequate to address these City needs, if the funds are managed efficiently.

In addition, the continuation and increase in acquiring the numerous federal and state grants available for these needs should be a focus.

Question 3: By the time this election is over, the Convention will likely have had its Grand Opening. What are your opinions about the convention center? What concerns, if any, do you have about the Convention Center and its future finances?

It is very concerning that the city leaders did not seek city-wide citizen approval through a balloted voter referendum before spending the $18+ million on this questionable project.

Convention facilities are inherently money losing investments, and will divert taxpayer funds from other, more beneficial projects for the city.

Question 4: Downtown property owners are facing better than 50 percent property assessment increases, likely leading to higher taxes. What do you think about these assessments and can the city do anything about this situation and what is the impact as the renovations on the Baxter Building are completed?

By subsidizing big business associated with the Baxter building, city leaders have helped to create the dynamics involved in the escalation in values.

At this point, it is crucial for property owners to protest any valuation excesses they believe affect their property and for elected officials to adjust the tax rate and not spend the windfall flowing to city coffers.

I am also very concerned about the big picture of the Baxter Building.

My concerns include: parking across the street without lights and crosswalks, no lighted parking, and security (other than one person living on-site) for both the building and parking lot.

These are all questions that have been met with very few answers.

Question 5: The outlook of malls around the country is dark and gloomy and Valle Vista has seen its share of changing and leaving anchor stores during the past couple of years. What can and should the city do to save Valle Vista or should any efforts by the city be made to save it occur at all?

The national trend of online sales affecting local retailers is nothing new.

However, City leaders are delinquent in changing their policies of investing economic development money towards retail development and parks, and/or partnering with retail to minimize their costs for developing new City infrastructure.

My concern is that the City is not seeing what other cities are doing with malls that are turning into flea markets. The possibility for the City to invest in a building for city department-use would minimize the cost of satellite buildings and could have provided the city a “one stop shop” of municipal offices.

Consideration for other uses, such as serving as a home for TSTC’s pilot projects, could have been possible for this concept.

In another city, an arrangement was made between a city and a community college which ultimately saved the said mall from destruction.

This saved both the city and the community college a tremendous amount of money, too.

Question 6: Are there any issues you believe are key to Harlingen, that haven’t been asked here? How would you address them?

I propose that Harlingen reinvest into a neighborhood crime watch program. At one time, the city was more diligent in neighborhood cleanup in some of the older neighborhoods in terms of demolishing and clearing abandoned structures to help prevent crime. I will focus on this effort.

Police officers, firefighters, and first responders do a fantastic job for the citizens of Harlingen. We need to review our wage structure for our safety programs as well as assure their equipment and staffing needs allow them to maximize their duties towards public safety. This will be a continued focus of mine.

Question 7: Why should voters choose you in this election?

I previously served as a Harlingen City Commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem. I am a small business owner and President of Puente Roofing Contractors, and have been for the past seventeen years.

I will support and provide opportunities for other small businesses to expand and grow. I will continue to concentrate on the improvement of road and utility infrastructure, and will review existing statewide revenue enhancement projects for Harlingen.

It’s time to think outside the box and raise the bar for Harlingen. We live and learn from our mistakes just as I have in the past and as a whole; that’s progress and improvement and this is what I bring to the table.

The need for true leadership is lacking in this administration and I personally feel I am that breath of fresh air that our city needs.

The late and great President Ronald Reagan once said, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”

I am the new voice of Harlingen and soul of the people and that is why voters should choose me, Frank Puente.