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VISd Bond Election
Voters reject VISD's $156.8 million bond proposal
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Victoria voters rejected the Victoria school district’s $156.8 million bond proposal on Saturday.

The bond proposal received 3,128 votes in favor and  4,006 votes against. About 15% of registered voters voted in Saturday's election 

The multimillion dollar bond calls for the rebuild of Stroman Middle School for $73.7 million and Mission Valley Elementary School for $23 million. It also calls for district-wide repairs for $58.4 million and the addition of playgrounds at each elementary school for $1.5 million.

If approved by voters, the middle school would take about three years to plan, construct and open. The elementary school would take about two years.

The bond came with a tax increase to voters. It would have increased the district’s Interest and Sinking tax rate by 7.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation, according to the bond proposal. That would have amounted to about $75 annually for a home valued at $100,000.

Bonds are typically paid off in 30 years.

People who are 65 years or older and have filed a homestead exemption would not have been affected by the school bond tax increase. These property owners can see school tax increases if major renovations have been done to the home.

School board president Mike Mercer said he appreciated the community involvement when it came to the bond. He would have liked to have seen a higher voter turnout though, he said.

Mercer, who is a member of the Building Our Futures Together group in favor of the bond, and about 20 others gathered for a Election Day watch party to watch the bond ballot item.

Early election results were not on the groups side, but Mercer and others held out hope for a good outcome.

“I’m hoping it carries,” Mercer said. “Even in the event it doesn’t, this was an incredibly important decision for the community to make.”

Victoria resident Jayne Lemke favored the $156.8 million bond.

“I am a strong supporter of it,” Lemke said. “Our facilities have exceeded usefulness.”

Lemke said she would like to see local dollars go toward the betterment of future generations here in Victoria.

As a business owner, Lemke sees the bond as a way to boost the economy. Residents should stop postponing the passage of a bond because it is desperately needed now, she said.

In November 2017, Victoria residents shot down a $157 million school bond. That bond looked to rebuild Mission Valley and Stroman along with two other campuses. It also looked to create a multiactivity complex. That election took place months after Hurricane Harvey made landfall.

Victoria resident Emmet Alvarez voted against the bond. He said it will be a challenge for the bond to receive enough votes in favor to catch up.

“I don’t feel good,” he said. “It’s not a good thing when you get rejected twice.“

Alvarez said the district made a good attempt at including the community in the bond process, but some of the big ticket items like the rebuild of Stroman missed the mark.

Victoria resident Bill Pozzi, who also serves as the county’s Republican chairman, who said he was on the fence when it comes to the $156.8 million bond. But, he is leaning toward voting no.

There are portions of the bond Pozzi likes, such as the rebuild of Mission Valley and the district-wide repairs.

The hesitation for voting yes comes with the Stroman rebuild because of the $73.7 million price tag, Pozzi said.

“It’s a lot of money,” he said. “I just think $73 million is too much for Stroman.”

Pozzi said Saturday he voted in favor of the bond on Election Day.

This story was updated May 3, 2021 to clarify how the tax increase would have affected people aged 65 and older.

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'Can't let it be forgotten': Mass pays homage 18 years after deadliest human smuggling case in nation's history
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Churchgoers trudged through heavy rain Saturday morning for a Mass in remembrance of 19 immigrants who were found dead in Victoria County nearly 18 years ago.

A Mass is held annually in May to commemorate the tragedy, often referred to as the deadliest human smuggling case in the nation’s history, outside a convenience store on Fleming Prairie Road near U.S. 77 South in Victoria County, where they were found dead. However, the Mass was relocated to Our Lady of Sorrows because of inclement weather Saturday morning.

“We felt we should still hold this despite the weather,” Pastor Jacob Koether said. He said Saturday was the first time, to his knowledge, that the Mass was not held at the location where the dead were found. “It is important for us to have this every year so we never forget their suffering.”

On May 13, 2003, smugglers left Harlingen after packing at least 74 immigrants who entered the country illegally into a sealed tractor-trailer. The next morning, the driver abandoned the trailer outside the convenience store.

Sheriff’s deputies found the bodies of 19 people, including a 5-year-old boy, who died from heat, dehydration or suffocation. Investigators said it was likely about 170 degrees inside of the tractor-trailer. The driver who abandoned the tractor-trailer, Tyrone Williams, was sentenced to more than 30 years in prison without the possibility of patrol.

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“It really was just awful,” said Aurora Sanchez Garza, a longtime Victoria resident who attended the Mass. She said she remembers being heartbroken after hearing the news in the days following the police’s discovery. “I try to come to come to this every year to pay my respects.”

She said her lineage has connections back to New Mexico, but that she has many family members and ancestors south of the U.S. She said the incident is more tragic because of the conditions the immigrants, she said, were likely trying to escape.

“They wanted a better life. That is all,” she said.

Koether said he wanted to draw parallels between the immigrants and the stories of St. Joseph, as Pope Francis proclaimed the current year as “Year of Saint Joseph.”

“(St. Joseph) had a similar life. He was a worker, he cared for his family, he had to escape Palestine and go to Egypt to find work ... there are a lot of people who live lives like that,” he said after the Mass. “While it is important not to forget their situation, it is also important to remember there are so many people going through the same thing today.”

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victoria city council
Incumbent Bauknight beats Franco for Victoria's District 3 council seat
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On Saturday, residents of Victoria's District 3 chose Jeff Bauknight to represent them again on City Council for the next three years.

The incumbent will serve a third full term after securing 79% of the votes in Saturday's election. A total of 2,243 votes were cast in District 3.  

All four of the city’s regular districts were up for reelection this year, but only Bauknight, 51, faced a challenger in the 26-year-old Aaron Franco.

"I'm very excited about a third term," said Bauknight. "“I’m very appreciative of Mr. Franco and the race he ran. I’m sure he’s going to stay involved in the community, and I look forward to working with him on future projects.”

Bauknight, a mechanical engineer, was first elected to the Council during a special election in 2013. He has since served two full terms.

“There’s a few things that I still feel like I have to accomplish,” Bauknight said. One of them is finalizing the new Capital Improvements Plan. “It’s really imperative that we get that laid out for a long-term solution.”

Bauknight said he brings a common sense approach to issues on Council. “I have an engineering background, and it lends itself well to analyzing problems that do come up.”

Franco, the financial center manager for Frost Bank, moved to Victoria in 2019 and quickly considered the city home.

By 9 p.m. Franco had called Bauknight to offer his congratulations. 

"Obviously these were not the results we were hoping for, but ultimately I want to thank the people who voted for me. Their voices have been heard." 

Franco said he talked with Bauknight about working together to continue building on the district and the city. 

"I learned a lot about myself and the community and about what people want moving forward," Franco said. "So as disappointed as I am, I'm also excited." 

“I feel like this city is a really great place to be. It just needs a fresh set of eyes,” Franco said previously.

If elected, Franco would have been be the youngest City Council member. He believes that’s an advantage. “I can offer a different perspective on what people of the younger generation are looking for in their city.”

One of the key things he says he would have focused  on if elected was ending homelessness in Victoria.

“I think the key factor is educating the community on the resources that we have in town and partnering with them to end homelessness,” said Franco.

Regardless of election results, Franco said he’s here for the long haul. “I fully intend to throw my heart into this city 100%, whichever direction this election goes.”

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Workout honoring Victoria CrossFit instructor draws huge crowd

The breeze blowing through the gym at CrossFit 302 on Saturday morning reminded Yvonne Reyes of her friend Amanda Johnson.

Reyes, who took afternoon CrossFit classes with Johnson at the Victoria gym for two years, still remembers when Johnson first showed up at the gym wearing the fake eyelashes that became one of her trademarks.

“We would like to talk a lot of mess,” Reyes said. “I noticed them, and I told her, ‘Wait, hold on, let me take a few steps back because you’re hitting me with your lashes.’”

On windy days, Johnson often sent Reyes videos joking that she was trying to keep those long lashes from blowing away. The breeze that filled the gym brought back memories of those videos, which still sit on Reyes’ phone along with dozens of other photos of the two friends together.

Cars filled the parking lot outside CrossFit 302 Saturday morning and spilled out along Profit Street as community members packed the gym for a workout in memory of Johnson, who was found dead in a burned-out vehicle in Matagorda County in mid-April. The mother of two, who also worked as a dance instructor and elementary school teacher, was 38.

Many of those in attendance wore black T-shirts with an image of Johnson, outlined in pink, hoisting a kettlebell in front of her nickname, “A-Rod.” Participants in the workout, which raised funds for Johnson’s funeral expenses and her two children, completed four rounds in which they burned 18 calories on a rowing machine or stationary bike and performed 21 power snatches, 10 burpees and five pullups.

The first three numbers, 4-18-21, commemorated the date of Johnson’s death, while the last two were more lighthearted. Ten burpees was the maximum number Johnson typically wanted to do, said Ray Bazan, CrossFit 302’s owner, while five pullups was typically enough for her to get a good photo for her Instagram.

“It’s a sad day, but we wanted something to lighten it up a little bit,” Bazan said.

The mood at the gym was upbeat beside the sad occasion. As each group worked out, bystanders cheered them on, took photos and danced to a playlist that included “This is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan.

At week’s end, details about the ongoing multiagency investigation into Johnson’s death remained scarce. Johnson was identified in a Victoria Police Department missing persons report on the evening of April 17, a Saturday. Hours later, deputies with the Matagorda County Sheriff’s Office discovered a burned-out 2018 Ford Explorer near Midfield that contained Johnson’s body.

The tragedy has drawn immense interest from the community. Earlier this week, a billboard sitting near the intersection of Navarro and North streets was lit up with a photo of Johnson.

Multiple agencies have repeatedly declined to provide updates or answer follow-up questions from the Victoria Advocate about the investigation, which is being aided by the Texas Rangers.

“This incident is being investigated as a homicide and information about the investigation is very sensitive,” said Lt. James Orr, spokesperson for the Matagorda County Sheriff’s Office.

Sgt. Ruben San Miguel, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Thursday he was not aware of any arrests that had been made or suspects that had been identified in relation to Johnson’s death.

“It’s a very complex investigation, like any investigation where there might be some kind of foul play involved,” San Miguel said. “We’re working it very hard.”

Though he could not provide further details, San Miguel said he does not consider there to be any threat to public safety at this time, based on what the authorities have learned so far.

“This was an isolated incident, from what we understand,” he said. “That’s what the investigation is leading us to.”

Reyes said it was “awesome” to see such a large turnout from the community on Saturday. As participants took to the mats, Reyes remembered one of her first workouts with Johnson, when she had struggled to complete chest-to-bar pull ups.

“She walked me through each and every one of them,” Reyes said. “She was right there with me the whole time.”