Some question driving school’s ad pitch on Rio Hondo water bill

HARLINGEN — Some Rio Hondo residents have questions about their new water bill, and it’s not about the rates.

New water bills went out to city residents around the first of the month, and on those bills for the first time was an advertisement.

Juarez Driving School is operating its business in office space it is leasing from the city.

“When I received the bill, there was this on there for a driving school and I called them and I said, ‘Why does my bill have an advertisement on it?’” said resident Judith McCarthy. “And they said this man rents here in the office, rents an office there in the building. And he said we feel like it’s good for the city.”

City Manager Ben Medina confirmed the deal with the Juarez Driving School and said the ad on the water bill was free.

In fact, he called it part of the city’s economic development effort to help promote Rio Hondo businesses.

“We’re trying to make our businesses stay in business, so anything we can do for them, especially here in Rio Hondo where we have very little, very few businesses, anything we can do to assist to make sure they can stay in business, is part of our economic development program.”

For her part, McCarthy wondered if any Rio Hondo business could have an ad on the water bill, which she called prime placement, given each and every city resident receives one.

“That goes into every home in Rio Hondo, it’s not like an advertisement in a newspaper, where you may see it or may not see it,” she said. “Everybody looks at that water bill. It’s some powerful advertising and it’s for an individual.”

But Medina said the driving school does pay for the ad — sort of.

“Basically, they do pay, because for any new student that comes to the school, they pay an additional $5 for that student as they’re going to the classes,” Medina said. “All the money goes to the city. It’s additional to the rent.

“For the summer program, since the kids are out of school, we wanted to just tell the parents don’t drive to Harlingen, don’t drive to San Benito, we have a driving school here in Rio Hondo,” he added. “Support our businesses.”

Vicente Juarez of the driving school said his business isn’t receiving anything out of the ordinary. “We have a rental agreement, there’s no special treatment — we pay for it.”

When asked about the specifics of his contract with the city, Juarez declined to go into detail.

“I have nothing to discuss with you what our agreement is with the city, but we do not get it for free, OK?” he said.

Medina said the city has additional office space it would be happy to lease, and those businesses also would be considered for an ad spot on the city’s water bill.

“We feel like it’s good for the city,” Medina said.