Port Arthur’s requested repayments drastically reduced by more than $700K

Published 12:40 am Wednesday, October 20, 2021

PORT ARTHUR — A request from the Texas Division of Emergency Management to the City of Port Arthur to repay more than $1 million in Hurricane Ike-related funds has been rescinded after the state department found the city was overcharged.

In August, TDEM requested more than $1 million in repayment from the city claiming it had not used a large portion of the funds on intended projects.

Instead, the amount has been reduced to $293,344.46.

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“The check has not been cashed,” City Manager Ron Burton recently told council members. “The check is going to be sent back to us. And then we’re going to pay the $293,344 and close the account. TDEM has indicated that it was an error on their side.”

Originally the state claimed in 2016 it requested additional background information to justify payments intended to repair Ike damage but did not receive the requested proof.

TDEM then requested repayment for multiple grants that included Adams Park, emergency protective measures-generators, debris removal, Leger Field, Sabine Wastewater Treatment Plant and Port Arthur Fire Station No. 2.

At the time in question, Port Arthur was under the direction of then-City Manager Brian McDougal, who resigned in 2017 following an executive session set to discuss his “duties, responsibilities or dismissal.”

In August, the council approved taking $1,216,000 from the police department’s $20 million budget to repay TDEM, saying vacancies in the department resulted in significant savings.

Last week, council members voted to rescind the original resolution approving the $1 million repayment and voted on a second order approving the lesser amount.

“At first we didn’t agree with having to pay that amount back,” Mayor Thurman Bartie said Tuesday. “This causes you to internally examine what happened, and that’s what we did.”

Bartie said city staff double-checked TDEM’s list and requested they reassess. He also praised the department for rectifying the situation.

“We are appreciative and this will benefit the taxpayers and the City of Port Arthur,” Bartie said.