Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said he has nothing but praise for a political science class from The University of Texas-Pan American and their detailed analysis of the county's operating budget.
"They put a lot of work into this project and it shows," Garcia said. "I'm very appreciative of their hard work and I will be relying on their input in preparing next year's budget."
"This was an outstanding class. They took on a project that was far and away above and beyond a regular term paper," Turk said. "I think they walked away with a tremendous appreciation for county government."
As part of the assignment, students worked closely with Garcia and his staff. They analyzed the budget for fiscal year 2002. They researched and reviewed it line by line then they compared it with budgets from Cameron, El Paso, Nueces and Webb Counties.
"Comparing allowed us to see there are different budget formats, reporting requirements and performance measures," Peña said.
Students said it took a lot more than just paperwork to complete the project. They said much of the project's success hinged on interviews with county officials such as the tax assessor/collector, county treasurer, sheriff, fire marshal, jail warden and other top managers.
"I was really impressed with the commitment of county officials, with their openness to discuss issues and their sincerity and willingness to cut costs to balance the budget," McKenna said.
Based on the results of their study, the students have made recommendations that could significantly improve the county's financial situation. They've presented the final draft to Garcia.
"The most immediate impact would be changes in format. We'd like to see a less complicated format, a more user friendly format for county leaders and for the public as well," Peña said. "We also recommended goals and objectives be better outlined and the county needs performance measures for those goals and objectives."
By all accounts the budget analysis was both challenging, and time consuming, but the five students admit it was rewarding work.
"It was tough but we're excited about this. This is something Judge Garcia can actually take and use," McKenna said. "It's rewarding to know the time and energy we put into this project can be put to good use for the benefit of the county."