PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

August 16, 2011

EDC leaves PA Council in limbo

PA budget process stalled

PORT ARTHUR — Finding money to whittle down a nearly $4 million budget deficit fell flat Tuesday when a joint meeting between the Port Arthur’s City Council and the city’s Economic Development Corporation didn’t happen.

The two boards had planned to discuss using EDC money for city infrastructure improvements, but the lack of a quorum among the EDC board put a kink in those plans.

Tuesday’s meeting was the second scheduled to discuss the matter, and the second time the EDC board failed to establish a quorum.

“It is obvious to me that the board has decided to not have a joint meeting with us,” Harold Doucet, Port Arthur’s mayor pro tem, said. “Right now we are just wasting our time trying to set a joint meeting with the EDC.

“We have to do our budget and deal with what we have. I don’t want to rely on an organization that doesn’t want to meet with us.”

The city had proposed calling a special election in November for voters to decide if a portion of the money the EDC gets from sales tax revenue for specific 4B projects such as repairs to waterlines and waterline facilities, recreational and parks facilities and projects related to business development.

City leaders met before the scheduled joint meeting for a budget workshop where City Manager Steve Fitzgibbons delivered good and bad news.

On the plus side, the 2010-2011 budget did not end up as short as was anticipated — only $1.46 million shy of the expected deficit.

Fitzgibbons said an extra $200,000 in property taxes, another $200,000 in increased sales tax, gross receipts coming in $350,000 above what was expected and health care claims down by $500,000 factored in the deficit decrease.

The bad news is the 2011-2012 proposed $111 million budget is nearly $4 million short of what is needed for city operations.

The proposed budget does not contain money for employee pay raises, no additional capital improvements and an only $600,000 increase in capital equipment.

Fitzgibbons said the deficit could be decreased by using the EDC money, decreasing payroll costs through employee attrition or moving employees around, and efforts to obtain additional grant money.

The suggestion to use EDC money drew mixed reactions from the PA Council.

“I don’t understand how we can adopt a budget then go to voters,” Morris Albright III, District 3 councilman, said. “What if the voters turned it down.”

District 6 Councilman Robert E. Williamson said he agreed with Albright. “Budgeting based on future approval is based on limbo,” he said.

Elizabeth “Liz” Segler, District 2, Councilwoman, said she was in favor of letting the voters decide.

“If it’s taxpayer money, then they (the EDC) ought to be able to turn loose of some of it for the betterment of the citizenry. Let the citizens vote, that way they’ll have a stake in how their money is spent.”

The Council has the right to ask voters how to use EDC money, as long as the projects are in accordance with the law.

To fund the projects, the EDC would dedicate an eighth of the half-cent already collected from sales tax revenue reimbursements.

On Monday, EDC Director Floyd Batiste said the EDC board was willing to help the city and Port Arthur residents, but wanted to make sure they had enough money to complete their own projects.

The only EDC board member in attendance was Chairman Roosevelt Petry, who denied that the board had purposely not made a quorum.

“I just think it was a timing issue. One EDC board member had to go to Galveston and the two brand new ones have not even been sworn in yet, and one had back surgery,” Petry said.

City Attorney Val Tizeno said the City Council did not need the EDC’s permission to call the November election, but should make a decision by Aug. 30 in order to get the matter on the November general election ballot.

skoonce@panews.com

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