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Mayor questions PA Health Department move – “Why aren’t we investing in what we want others to invest in?”

A proposal to issue Certificates of Obligation to fund $32.9 million in Capital Improvement projects in the city of Port Arthur garnered opposition to one of the items — moving the health department north of Texas 73.

The Port Arthur City Council held a workshop via Zoom Friday morning featuring financial advisor Anne Burger Entrekin of Hilltop Securities and a bond legal advisor.

The city budgeted $900,000 in fiscal year 2021 to purchase the property at 5860 9th Avenue, the former site of the Texas Health and Human Services office. The actual cost came in at $1.6 million for a $830,000 additional cost to the city.

According to the deed history on the Jefferson County Appraisal District website, the city acquired the property Dec. 16, 2020.

Should council approve the Capital Improvement Plan and issuing the certificates of obligation, an estimated $4.5 million would go for engineering and construction.

The current site of the health department is 449 Austin Avenue.

In October, the Council approved an 18-month lease of the two story building to Aurora Capital Holdings, a Motiva subsidiary.

The bane of discontent came from Mayor Thurman Bartie over the fact the health department is moving north of Texas 73.

Bartie said he has been questioned, “Why aren’t we investing in what we want others to invest in?” referring to downtown development.

The proposed new location, proponents say, is based on data showing this to be a more centralized location for the residents, but this is data Bartie has not seen. Bartie was elected to the top spot in 2019.

“I can’t embrace this line of thinking. I can’t totally support the certificates of obligation,” Bartie said.

Councilman Thomas Kinlaw III said the issue of the health department was already in motion when Bartie came on as mayor. Kinlaw said the mayor council received the appropriate information on the city’s population several years ago.

“The statistical data shows a majority of the population is north of Texas 73,” Kinlaw said.

Bartie asked if it were possible to approve a majority of the COO until he received the information needed to make his decision. Council is set to consider issuing the certificates of obligation on Tuesday.

Financial advisor Anne Burger Entrekin explained that although there is a timeline in place based on the market, a two-week stay on the decision shouldn’t impact the issue.

The workshop also included water and sewer improvements and a number of other projects.

No decision was made on Friday as this was a workshop only.