Valero talks expansion at PAISD meet

Published 10:16 am Friday, July 14, 2017

Talk about refinery agreements, budgets and taxes dominated this week’s board meeting of the Port Arthur Independent School District trustees.

Vice President and General Manager of Valero Port Arthur Greg Gentry addressed the board about a possible new operating facility within the plant under Chapter 313 agreement. According to him, it would create additional products and additional jobs and require an estimated 500 construction workers to build it.

“It would be an expansion of values and bring more tax base to the city, county, drainage and district,” Gentry said. “And we’d hire more employees for the operating facility.”

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Gentry said the additional workers the expansion would bring would result in more money being spent in Port Arthur because they would stay in local hotels, eat at local restaurants and generally spend more money in the area.

“We work very hard to hire Port Arthur workers,” Gentry said. However, he added that many workers who work in the city for two to three years tend not to stay in the area long after.

Trustee Kenneth Lofton asked how many permanent jobs would be created. Gentry said he didn’t have exact numbers, but estimated 30 to 40 including 20 operator positions.

Trustee Robert Reid asked how it would benefit the Port Arthur community overall.

“We look at our company as one of the most giving companies there is,” Gentry said.

He cited Valero’s participation in charities, volunteer employee hours and fundraising events for children as part of the benefits it brings to the city.

Trustee Joseph Guillory expressed concern that the 313 agreement would only benefit the refinery and not the community. He said he would like to see Valero hire more PAISD graduates.

Gentry said Valero and other business partners engage in hiring practices and qualification processes that specifically target Port Arthur residents and businesses. In fact, according to him, the sponsors have trouble getting Port Arthur residents to apply for scholarships.

In addition, Gentry said Valero works with Texas Workforce Commission and Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation in reaching out to local residents.

“We use some money to pay some contractors to hire Port Arthur residents. We pay part of their salary,” Gentry said.

In bond news, Charles Kelley with Skanska updated the board about the status of various school construction projects.

Kelley said Woodrow Wilson would be the first project to be finished in early August; Tyrrell Elementary would be expected to be completed some time in early September.

Kelley described the progress at Memorial 9th Grade Academy, Sam Houston and Travis as “going well.”

“There are no significant challenges. All projects are under budget and on time,” Kelley said.

Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Phyllis Geans provided a budget update for the district, including a projected expenditure budget if the Tax Ratification Election (TRE) in August does not pass.

Geans made special note of the state’s unfunded mandate, which would require PAISD to increase teacher pay by $1,000 with no new money from the state. Geans estimated the cost for the district as $662,000.

She said the state has slowly been phasing out its additional state aid, which has been the share of money it has doled out for public education. This, in turn, has forced many school districts to increase their taxes.

It was yet another reason PAISD seeks to raise its Maintenance & Operations tax from $1.04 to $1.17 pending voter approval in August.

Porterie and Geans explained some aspects of recapture to Guillory.

Specifically, Geans said the district would be subject to recapture in the 2019-20 fiscal year after the 313 agreements expire in the previous year.

Porterie said that whether voters approve the $1.17 tax rate or not, the district would still have to pay back the estimated $13 million owed the state after recapture.

“We’ll have to pay it back, not if,” Porterie said.

Geans said voters would determine how to pay it back in a Chapter 41 election during the 2019-20 school year.

And, as Porterie pointed out to Guillory, PAISD is already considered a Chapter 41 district, or a property-wealthy district subject to Chapter 41 rules.