PORT ARTHUR —
A local radio station hoping to obtain assistance from the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation with expansion costs may have to look elsewhere for funding.
A Texas Attorney General’s opinion delivered this month, indicates the project likely would not qualify as an allowable expense under Proposition 12, which voters approved in the May 2013 election.
The proposition permits the EDC to expend up to $400,000 in tax dollars on entertainment-related expenses including the costs of any roads, streets, water and sewer facilities, etc.
The Breeze Radio station, a low power FM station in downtown Port Arthur, presented its expansion plans to the EDC after voters approved Proposition 12, hoping to obtain financial assistance.
The proposition had been placed on the ballot at the request of The Breeze after radio officials submitted a petition with the signatures of 1,436 registered Port Arthur voters.
A summery of the AG Request for Opinion states that if the EDC opted to fund renovations to the radio station, and someone challenged the expenditure with legal action, it likely would not standup in court.
A summary of the AG opinion obtained by The News states, “A court could conclude that funding for a private radio station’s building renovations and equipment upgrades is not of the same kind or class of project as those projects expressly authorized in section 505.152 of the Local Government Code and that section 505.152 therefore does not authorize an economic development corporation to fund that proposed project.”
In the end, it is the EDC board that decides which projects it considers worthy of funding, the AG’s opinion stated.
Stephen Mosely, chief executive officer of The Breeze and a candidate for the Port Arthur District 4 City Council seat said the AG’s opinion did little to sway the station from seeking funding from the EDC.
“The energy don’t stop because a ruling was given to that degree,” Mosely said Thursday. “The citizens have indicated they want this. It’s their tax dollars, they thought it was a worthwhile investment, and it is the only radio station in town, and it provides all kinds of education, emergency information and entertainment.”
There are people all over the Golden Triangle that cannot hear the radio station, Mosely said.
If radio officials continue their quest to obtain EDC funding, EDC Director Floyd Batiste said he would advise the EDC board to be very careful.
“If this board decides to fund this thing, there are some risks,” Batiste said. “My recommendation is to be cognizant of the AG’s opinion.”
Batiste said the law specifically spells out what the money can be used for.
For that reason, he asked State Representative Joe Deshotel to seek the AG’s opinion concerning not only the radio station upgrades, but also whether EDC funds set aside for entertainment projects can be used on the city’s downtown pavilion.
In the case of the pavilion, the AG indicated expending EDC funds would be an authorized project, in keeping with the Local Government Code.
“A court would likely conclude that funding for a city owned pavilion is of the same kind or class of project as those projects expressly authorized in section 505.152,” the opinion stated.
Though construction on the pavilion was recently completed, the project had been scaled back because of a lack of money to complete the original plans.
If City Council so desires, an application could be submitted to the EDC board for additional funding to fully complete the pavilion project, Batiste said.
So far, one has not been received.
Any of the projects approved for funding by the EDC requires the approval of City Council.
Mosely, a candidate for the Port Arthur District 4 City Council seat, said he does not see a conflict. If elected, Mosely said he would recuse himself from voting on the matter.
Other public entities have submitted eligible proposals, but the projects have not been clearly defined and no money yet awarded, Batiste said.
Mosely said the radio station is planning a fundraiser to raise money to help pay for the property they are currently leasing, at 300 E. Fifth Street.
“This is not the end-all,” Mosely said. “Even if the AG says it is not a good idea, the court may or may not approve, so lets wait until we get to court.”
District 5 City Councilman Willie “Bae” Lewis, an initial supporter of the radio station’s expansion plans using EDC dollars, said the AG’s opinion should be considered strongly.
“If the AG’s opinion came down and said no, you should not do that, then I don’t think they (The Breeze) should proceed. It will end up costing money to defend it, they will just have to find other way,” Lewis said. “What they need to do is have some large-scale fundraisers and raise they money that way.”