Six candidates are vying for three District 2 drainage commissioner seats in the May 10 election, with the top three vote-recipients to be sworn into four-year terms June 1.
The non-partisan candidates include the three incumbent drainage district commissioners; Julio Garcia Jr., Mario Gracia and Celestino "Pingo" Ramos, and three challengers; Ernest Gallegos, Tina Gaytan and Sam Santos.
Early voting will continue until Tuesday at the Johnny S. Calderon County Building in Robstown from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
The Nueces County Drainage District No. 2 was created about 90 years ago after area farmers went to Austin complaining of flooding on their farms.
"This is how this got started," explained Garcia, chairman of the drainage district. "The farmers are the ones that got approved, but all the water has to be channeled into an area."
The mission of the drainage district is to maintain open drainage ditches in a 106-square-mile area so there are no obstructions during flooding, and to maintain timber bridges over the ditches.
Drainage District No. 2 is bordered by County Road 44 to the north, County Road 14A to the south, Petronilla Creek on the west, and County Road 61 on the east. Candidates must live within the drainage district.
The drainage district is a property-taxing entity, currently at 37.7459 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, and it manages an annual budget of about $850,000.
"We haven't had the need to consider increasing our taxes because we don't see the need at this time," Garcia said. "For several years we have not increased our tax levy."
The district presently has 15 employees and it owns it own equipment, including several pieces of heavy machinery.
"The city is responsible for its ditches," Garcia said. "The county is responsible for those ditches that are in the county outside the drainage district. We're responsible for the ditches within the district."
Garcia is seeking re-election to a fifth term. He said as a retiree that he has the time to devote to the district and to attend other governmental meetings for the benefit of the district.
"I have the time, I have the ability and I have the experience from all my other positions," Garcia said. "My goals are to continue improving the services of the drainage district and continue to assist, particularly with in-kind services, governmental entitles within the district."
Garcia, a life-long resident of Robstown, has served on the Robstown school board, the Robstown City Council, The Regional Transportation Authority, the Robstown Housing Authority board, the Robstown Utilities board and was mayor of Robstown from 1983 through 1992.
He has been a drainage district commissioner since 1992, and has been its chairman for 13 years.
"My position is we will continue to provide the best services to the residents that we're responsible for, including the farmers who have problems sometimes, particularly near areas where we have wash-outs," Garcia said. "There's always room for improvements because of our responsibilities of the length of open ditches that we are responsible to maintain, particularly to restrict the flow of rainwater when it rains."
Gracia, who is completing his first term as a drainage district commissioner, said he wants to continue serving the community.
"I have lived in Robstown all of my life and want the best for our city and citizens," Gracia said. "I have been a drainage district commissioner since Oct. 1, 2004. I have tried to work with the other commissioners to do the best for our district."
Gracia said he was proud of the district's recent accomplishments.
"We have given our employees pay increases all four years and have bought a slope mower, a gradall, two dump trucks, a loader and a back and side mower tractor," Gracia said. "I would like to keep working for our citizens and keep improving the drainage district.
"We have been working with a good budget the last four years and plan to keep improving our working equipment and vehicles so that our work can continue. We also have a good staff that keeps us informed of everything that is going on.
"We have been the only entity that has been out there pumping water to ease flooding on Avenue J. Our workers worked 24 hours a day to ease the flooding in that area."
Ramos has also been a drainage district commissioner since Oct. 1, 2004.
"Since becoming commissioner, I have worked with the other commissioners in the district to improve the quality of maintenance equipment that is used by the drainage employees," Ramos said. "Under my tenure as drainage commissioner, the drainage employees have been given pay increases every year for the past four years.
"We have also purchased a slope mower, gradall, two dump trucks and a back and side mower. The commissioners have been working hard to maintain a balanced budget, which is how we have been able to purchase the new equipment."
Ramos, also a life-long Robstown resident, added that there is much more work that remains to be completed.
"If re-elected as drainage commissioner, I will work on improving the areas of Petronilla, Violet and County Road 81," Ramos said. "There is still a lot of work that needs to be done in district No. 2 and I will work hard to make sure that the work gets done. I am willing to work in harmony with other commissioners to maintain a balanced budget, maintain equipment in top working condition, and take care of our employees-our main resource."
Sam Santos, also a lifelong Robstown resident, worked for Nueces County Public Works for 29 years.
Santos said while working with Nueces County Public Works, he worked closely with Drainage District No. 2 on many occasions, making him knowledgeable about their regulations and working procedures.
Santos said his knowledge and experience with county bridges and drainage issues makes him a qualified candidate for the position.
"I'm familiar with their methods of operations and procedures, so I think I have hands-on experience," Santos said. "I used to work alongside them for many years and I know how they do it."
Santos said his goals are to better the district.
"I think there is still a lot that can be done for the drainage district to improve the district, the waterways they have and the methods of operation that they have," Santos said. "There's always room for improvement."
Now a local businessman, Santos said he supports community organizations and other local businesses.
"We service the community here," he said. "We interact with other businesses around here. We have donated to Little League teams here."
Ernest Gallegos also said he supports higher pay for drainage district employees.
"I would love to see that every employee is being paid according to their duties," Gallegos said. "If I am elected, I would like to see that, of course, and better equipment so that they can perform their duties better.
"I have lived here all my life and I would like to see new infrastructure for the drainage system here in Robstown and throughout Nueces County."
Gallegos said the district faces challenges, including keeping the drainage ditches clear of debris.
"Basically, what we need to improve is get the cooperation from the community to avoid throwing any kind of debris into the drainage system because that is what blocks water off," he said. "If it was up to me and I get elected, I would try to communicate with the community, whether door-by-door or any ad or notice, that if they would avoid doing that, that would help us have a better drainage system in case of a big flood here in Robstown and western Nueces County.
"I think that's the biggest challenge. I have lived here all my life and that's what I've seen in the past."
Gallegos stepping up enforcement would help eliminate the dumping of trash into drainage ditches.
"There are people who are violating city ordinances or county ordinances on trash dumping, especially on the drainage system," he said. "I would like to see some kind of enforcement."
Gaytan, also born and raised in Robstown, said she is a business-oriented person and a community leader.
"I would like to have the chance for the opportunity to represent the concerns of the constituents of the district for drainage improvements," she said.
Gayton said her principle goals, if elected, would be to improve the flood insurance of property owners, upgrade FEMA maps and "work with partners to share cost responsibility for all of the county's needs."
"I hope to bring new ideas for my community," she said.