McDougal budget crafted during discovery process

Published 6:40 pm Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Editors Note: This is the first in a series articles detailing the city of Port Arthur’s proposed 2015-2016 budget.

Eight months on the job City Manager Brian McDougal presented his first budget to city council, describing it as a good budget, but one made during what is a continuing process of discovery.

McDougal’s $129 million budget is $8 million more than last year’s, and includes money for employee pay raises, new equipment, additional employees, funding to begin the forensic audit, money for streets, and some dollars to start renovations at Rose Hill Manor, just to name a few of the expenses facing the city.

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“During the coming months and years we will dig deeper into the revenues and expenses to continue to get a better picture of the budget and departmental needs,” McDougal told Council.

The new city manager said when he first came to Port Arthur was told by people inside the city and from others around the state that he would never understand the city’s culture.

Councilman Osman Swati said the city manager had confused the plague the city is suffering with what the city has to offer.

“The richness, the prestige the city of Port Arthur carries in culture has nothing to doe with the plague the city has. That’s why we brought you on,” Swati said.

Since arriving last Jan. 19, McDougal has charted a path of discovery that has unearthed great things about the city as well as challenges and some practices that were detrimental to the Port Arthur.

“We are committed to excellence. We are committed to honest, accountability, transparency and integrity,” McDougal told Council during his budget presentation.

Among the challenges facing the city is water and sewer fund that owes the general fund $45 million from years of borrowing; $4 million in grant funding that has not been drawn down from the Federal Transportation Agency over a period of five years.

“We are this close to losing our transit funding after our triennial review last month,” McDougal said

The city is running behind in completing audits, McDougal said.

The 2013 audit was not completed until April 2015, and the 2014 audit is 13 months behind, making the city’s credit in danger.

The city’s former auditor is under investigation, McDougal said.

Because of the delays, McDougal and the city’s finance department, headed by Interim Director Jerry Dale, had to build the 2015-2016 budget in 30 days.

Not all of the city challenges facing the city were borne of negligence.

McDougal detailed criminal activity among city workers that came to light this year.

“We hired a technician to process mowing invoices. She created false payouts and stole over $7,000 from the taxpayer. We hired a felon, and put her in a position to be around our staff’s sensitive information and then we let her handle money. She stole approximately $2,000 from the taxpayer. We have a drug and alcohol policy that allows our staff to test positive twice for drugs and/or alcohol, and keep their job.

“We had a staff member take money from an 86-year-old citizen to fix her water line, on duty, in uniform. Two days she didn’t have water, and he fixed it wrong with city parts. We had staff on duty, on City time with city equipment, taking money from builders to haul off their construction debris to the landfill. We have personnel policies and job descriptions that are 30 years old,” McDougal said.

Since taking the job, 12 employees are no longer with the city.

“There will be no tolerance for mediocrity, no tolerance for theft, stealing, no tolerance for drugs. There will be no tolerance for giving the customer anything less than our best every day. We are in the business of customer service our business is to serve the people.”

Following his presentation, Councilman Stephen Mosely said he was encouraged that the city is on the right path, but knew it would take some time to turn the city around.

“As we talk today, folks have wondered is there light at the end of the tunnel. I am telling them there is. It took us 10 years to get where we are, but at least we have a plan and a vision and we are going to get there,” Mosely said.

Part of that vision is hiring someone to crack down on water and sewer and solid waste bills. McDougal said part of the discovery process it was determined about 30 percent of water and sewer and solid waste customers were behind on their bills to the tune of about $2 million — something that Mosely said could not be tolerated.

“If you don’t pay Entergy they turn you off. If you don’t pay cable, they turn you off,” Mosely said.

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