Candidate Questionnaire – Tudor Uhlhorn, Harlingen Commission District 2

Tudor G. Uhlhorn

Age: 59

Occupation: Farming & Investments

Years in Community: 59 (I have lived in Harlingen all my life except for the time I was in college or graduate school)

Community Involvement: – Current involvement – Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas – Business and Community Advisory Council Member

Texas State Bankshares, Inc. – Board of Directors – Organizer and Secretary, Texas Regional Bank – Board of Directors, Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers, Inc. – Board of Directors and University of Texas Rio Grande Valley – Development Board

Family: Katherine G. Uhlhorn, Wife, Teacher – St. Alban’s Episcopal Day School.

Cutter G. Uhlhorn, Son – Age 27, May 2014 Graduate of Tulane University.

Hubbard M. Uhlhorn, Son – Age 25, May 2017 Graduate of the University of Texas at Austin.

Seton A. Uhlhorn, Daughter – Age 22, Senior at the University of Texas at Austin.

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?

I am proud to report that Harlingen’s financial condition is “very strong” as confirmed by our most recent rating by Standard & Poors Rating Services of AA-.

Harlingen ended its FY September 30, 2018, with a $17.5 million fund balance representing 135 days (4 ½ months) of operating reserves.

Harlingen has not raised its property tax rate in 13 years. Harlingen’s tax rate of $.588827 per $100 valuation is lower than, Brownsville, San Benito, Mercedes, Weslaco, Edinburg, Pharr and many other cities in the RGV.

I would doubt that there are many cities in the RGV that can claim they have not increased their tax rate in 13 years. I am proud to have been a part of passing six Harlingen Budgets without a tax rate increase.

In the last three years, Harlingen has had 21 straight months where it reported Sales Tax increases. Our impressive Sales Tax growth is evidence of Harlingen’s growing economy and that we are attracting more shoppers to our City.

I am pleased with the overall development and direction of the City.

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?

Harlingen’s short term and long term infrastructure needs include street repair and maintenance, drainage system improvements and the expansion of water and sanitary sewer lines.

Since I was first elected in 2013, I have pushed for more funds to be budgeted each year for street maintenance and repairs. I supported the passage of the Ordinance that created the Street Maintenance Fee.

Before the passage of the $4.50/month Street Maintenance Fee, the City was only budgeting about $500,000 per year for street repair and maintenance from the general fund.

At that spending level, it would have only allowed for the City to repave each road about every 100 years. That is not sustainable.

Eventually, the road infrastructure would collapse.

As far as drainage is concerned the City has been steadily working on this issue. The City has invested over $13,000,000 over the past 10 years in drainage projects.

These drainage projects have been paid for primarily through CDBG grant funds. I think that we are making good progress.

The plan is to spend several million more over the next few years on improving the drainage in the City.

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?

I have been a strong proponent of the Convention Center, and I believe that the citizens of Harlingen deserve something nicer than the Casa de Amistad (a metal building with concrete floor).

Our citizens deserve a first-class venue to celebrate weddings, quinceañeras, anniversaries and other events.

Our businesses need a place to hold large meetings. The City needs a place to hold events like the annual Birding Festival.

I am not concerned about the Convention Center and its future finances. The projections indicate that after two years of ramp up the Center will break even.

I have to remind people that Convention Centers are not profit centers for a City.

They are an amenity for its citizens to use and enjoy. An amenity to bring visitors to our town.

The parks don’t make a profit, and the library does not make a profit. The City should be run like a business, but it is not a “for profit” business.

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 about this situation and what is the impact as the renovations on the Baxter Building are completed?

The Downtown is a very important part of District 2 and very proud to represent Downtown. I am very sympathetic to their situation.

I know first hand what a shock it is to open that appraisal notice and see a dramatic increase in your property’s proposed assessed value.

All real property in Cameron County is appraised by the Cameron County Appraisal District (CAD). The CAD and all other appraisal districts across Texas do not perform individual appraisals on each property; they use “mass appraisal” techniques.

The mass appraisal technique takes “comparable sales” of properties in an area and then applies those values to similar properties in the area.

Because appraising all the properties in the county is a large task it may be several years before the CAD reappraises the properties in a given area.

Since several years may have passed since the last appraisal of an area by the CAD, there can be significant jumps in values, especially during a time when property values are rising.

If property owners believe that their property is overvalued, they have the right to protest the new value with the CAD.

In the meantime, Mayor Boswell and I have asked the City staff to look into whether or not there might be a way to provide some relief to the downtown property owners through the Downtown Improvement District.

The CAD has stated that the renovation of the Baxter Building has not played any part in the reappraisal of downtown properties.

It is the recent sales of downtown properties that caused the appraised values to increase.

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 first thing to recognize is that what is happening to Valle Vista Mall is not unique to Harlingen.

The cause, of course, is the increase in online shopping. Mall’s like Valley Vista are adapting to this change in retails sales by changing their business plan.

I am sure that the new owners of Valley Vista will do some of the things that other malls are doing.

Many malls are creating pad sites for restaurants around the edges of the parking lots or inside the mall.

The idea is to bring the restaurant patrons into the mall to shop. Some malls are turning the storefronts from “inside” the mall to the outside facing the parking lot.

Relocating the store fronts makes it easier for patrons to park near where they plan to shop. In San Marcos, Texas an older mall was redeveloped by demolishing the center part of the mall and constructing apartments to create a “mixed-use” property similar to newer properties like The Domain in Austin.

I believe that the City of Harlingen has a vested interest in cooperating with the new owners of Valle Vista to assist them with their vision of revitalizing the mall.

The Mayor and City Manager have already visited the new owners of Valle Vista, Kohan Retail, and expressed Harlingen’s willingness to work with them.

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

For over 20 years I have served on the Development Board of UTB and now serve on the Development Board for UTRGV. I have devoted much of my volunteer time to the promotion of higher education because I believe that it is the key to our future in South Texas. Having UTRGV and the UTRGV School of Medicine campuses in Harlingen will transform our community. Additionally, the City Commission and the Valley International Airport Board have taken some strategic steps to make VIA the leader among RGV airports again.

Editor’s Note: The answer to this question has been edited down due to exceeding the word count.

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

I was born and raised in Harlingen. My wife and I have raised our family here.

I have always volunteered my time to try and make Harlingen the best that it can be. Before ever seeking elected office I served my community in numerous volunteer and leadership positions.

Whether it is being a volunteer or serving in elected office, it is very rewarding to me to be a part of creating a better future for Harlingen and its citizens.

I believe that my background and accomplishments make me the best-qualified candidate to serve the citizens of District 2 and I ask for their support.