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PA Council identifies key areas to focus on

With an eye toward next generations, Port Arthur’s City Council brainstormed in a workshop setting Friday to define a vision for the city’s future, while providing the city manager with a better idea of what he and his staff should focus on the next year.
The all-day workshop was scheduled to coincide with the new fiscal year budget making process, and was attended by not only council but City Manager Bryan McDougal — now on the job for six months — and the city’s brand new interim Finance Director Jerry Dale.
Led by moderator Alan Bojorquez, an attorney who specializes in municipal government affairs, the workshop covered numerous topics ranging from citizen complaints to the future of Pleasure Island and a water and sewer fund that is costing the city money, and lots of it, rather than generating its own operational funds.
“I have never seen as many calls as we get on a daily basis for potholes and drainage,” McDougal said.
The city is currently in the process of instituting measures to improve response to customer complaints, including making it a priority to fill the  senior management positions including directors for parks and recreation, finance, human resources, and public works departments.
Also at the top of McDougal’s marching orders for the coming year is finding ways to shore up the city’s water and sewer service which currently owes the general fund some continue to address a s$2.5
According to Dale, the water and sewer fund not only fails to generate enough money to pay for itself as most cities do, it owes about $30 million to the city’s general fund.
That practice can jeopardize the city’s credit rating, it also takes money away from other areas such as streets and roads.
Dale said the city should be able begin paying down that amount from water revenue generated from new customer Chenier, which is expected to buy upwards to 5,500 gallons per minute when the new liquefied natural gas facility is fully up and running.
In the process, the city’s credit will look better to lenders.
“The water fund for whatever reason in the last few years has not been able to pay…if you buy into the concept that each operation should pay its own way, then we are not operating as efficiently as we should be,” Dale said.
McDougal recently moved water and sewer bill collections from the finance department to the direction of Jimmie Johnson, the city’s director of utility operations.
Johnson told Council during the retreat that already he has discovered about 30 percent of water and sewer bills are outstanding. That amount is above the norm for industry standards, and equates to about a loss of $3 million, he said.
Council directed staff to not only develop a strict policy for all current customers to avoid more accounts going into arrears, but also to aggressively step up collection efforts.
Council also determined they are unified in a desire to continue downtown revitalization, and will look at an upcoming report to be presented next week from Freese and Nichols, an architectural firm hired by the city to develop a parks master plan.
Council did on Friday direct staff to increase efforts to demolish some of the dilapidated downtown buildings by purchasing some of the properties.
The future of Pleasure Island is another area the Council is planning to delve into this coming fiscal year.
District 5 Councilman Willie “Bae” Lewis would like to see a beach developed at Pleasure Island. Other ideas included bringing an restaurant to the area and taking steps to get the golf course reopened.
Council opted to have a special workshop session in the coming weeks to further develop plans for Pleasure Island.
E-mail: sherry.koonce@panews.com
Twitter: skooncePANews