PA Manager details budget process

Published 9:20 am Monday, July 20, 2015

Port Arthur City Manager Brian McDougal will present his first budget in the coming months and already knows the process he thought would be challenging just became more difficult.
“Things will change pretty drastically now that the budget director is gone,” he said.
On Monday, Deborah Echols, Port Arthur’s finance director, resigned her position without notice.
McDougal plans to bring in outside help to help with the budget process, and will likely announce who that person is this week.
He’s not shying away from the prospect of preparing a balanced budget that meets the city’s needs. Afterall, the new city manager’s head for finance is one of the attributes that led to his hiring little more than six months ago.
“I just have a good acumen for finance,” he said. “And, I hope to have a balanced budget by Aug. 15 to present to Council.”
One thing that McDougal does understand, and will bring to the city’s budget process, is that, “your income cannot exceed what is outgoing, and what is needed for a rainy day fund.”
McDougal said the process started earlier this month when department heads presented a needs list.
During that time, city officials hone what is needed from what is wanted, or what can wait.
Among the items that cannot wait is funding to start a forensic audit made necessary after a group of residents presented a petition asking that one be performed.
“We have to do what the citizens’ petition said to do first,” McDougal said, adding that the entire process would take about three years.
The city has sent out requests for proposals, and expects to hear something back any day.
Once the RFP process is complete, the city will begin to negotiate price.
McDougal said he hopes to have a firm hired within 60 days so the city will know how much to budget for the expenditure.
McDougal identified new vehicles as needed purchases and said he would like to see the city institute a pass-through fleet system.
As such, when one highly used vehicle such as a police car is retired from the force, it could be used in an area that doesn’t require as much driving.
He’s also noticed a practice of using vehicles that are too large when a smaller vehicle would work much better.
“We need to get more lean and mean with our fleet. When you can get around in a Ford Ranger, why use a 1/2 ton pickup?” he said.
The city’s police force, he said, needs to be buying 10 to 15 vehicles a year within the realm of what it can afford.
Among capital improvements to be included in this year’s city budget is a $200,000 match portion for improvements to the downtown pavilion.
The library has requested $25,000 to repair the bronze statue that was stolen from the grounds two years ago, and boardwalk repairs need to be funded.
The city also needs to buy an asphalt zipper, a piece of equipment used to smooth out asphalt road surfaces.
There are also requests for replacement of a bulkhead at Pleasure Island, which would cost about $75,000.
“One of the biggest challenges we will have to address is future capital improvement needs of city streets,” he said.
McDougal said he would like to get away from what he considers a reactive budget and move toward one that anticipates future needs and has funding in place to meet those needs.
He does not anticipate a rate hike for water and sewer customers, especially since the Chenier LNG project has already started buying water from the city during the construction phase.
By the time the project is complete and operating at full capacity, Chenier is anticipated to purchase 5,000 gallons of water per minute.
Now, Chenier is using a couple of hundred gallons per minute.
During this budget cycle, McDougal said the city needs to be mindful of a $12 million overpayment from the Motiva refinery in sales tax revenue.
The city is currently waiting to hear from Motiva as to an exact figure before it can negotiate a process to pay the money back.
McDougal said he expects a small increase in revenue.
The city is realizing about $300,000 in new revenue from licensing for gaming machines.
The city’s new budget will also have address new hires, most of which will be to replace department heads from jobs that have gone unfilled, those that were eliminated, employees who were let go, or those, like Echols, who resigned.
In all, the city will need to replace its human resources director, finance director, and public works director.
Port Arthur is also looking to fill the vacant parks and recreation director position and two assistant city manager positions.
McDougal said the main thing to remember about a budget is that it is fluid.
“A budget is a living document and can change throughout the year,” he said.
The city must have its budget adopted by Oct. 1, according to state law.
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