On Tuesday night, the City of Mercedes unveiled its brand-new, 28-foot-tall Christmas tree. Claimed to be one of only three in the world, the LED tree is not new; it is 20 years old. The tree itself comes with a massive price tag of $65,000. The city also purchased two custom street signs for the tree and imported them from France for $27,000. With interest and shipping costs, the project totals out at a whopping $107,000.
For comparison, a 2012 Bloomberg article estimated the cost of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York City to be about $75,000. That tree is 80 feet tall and features a star embedded with Swarovski crystals. Though that tree is, in part, donated to the city, it is much larger and still comes in at a price that is only $10,000 more than the Mercedes tree and $32,000 less than the total cost that Mercedes spent.
In a statement to Valley Central, City Manager Sergio Zavala said he is hopeful the $107,000 tree is “going to be a beacon of inspiration that will strengthen one’s spirituality once they see it and reflect upon the intent of the season.”
The extravagant purchase is just the latest reason why citizens are voicing their anger at city leaders; residents have already begun the process of organizing a petition to recall Mayor Henry Hinojosa and Mayor Pro Tem Leandro Villareal.
Citizens like Israel Coronado, a mayoral candidate who is leading the recall effort, argue the city’s job is to responsibly manage taxpayer funds to maintain the city and its services. On Tuesday night, Coronado posted on social media, saying he hopes the light from the tree “would be symbolic to the enlightenment of our citizens.”
Coronado is among many citizens asking instead that their money be used to fix potholes, clean the city, and improve drainage. Mercedes is one of many Rio Grande Valley cities to experience severe flooding and drainage issues in recent years.
During the 2019 budget process, Mercedes officials claimed they were keeping the same tax rate as the year prior; however, that is misleading. The adopted property tax rate for 2019-2020, while it is—on paper—the same as last year, is 2 cents higher than the effective tax rate. The effective tax rate, also known as the “no-new-revenue” rate, is the rate at which the city would not collect any more revenue than the year prior. This number is calculated by adjusting for rising property values.
Despite claiming to keep the same tax rate, the city will raise $116,490 more in property tax revenue. Mercedes citizens will continue to see their property tax bills rise, all while the city spends $107,000 to create its own Rockefeller Center on the Rio Grande.