The Rockport City Council, at its regular meeting Tuesday, Aug. 25, approved with a 4-1 vote a request for assistance by Aransas County for in-kind assistance ($15,000) for the Aransas County Workforce Development and Entrepreneur Center proposal to the Economic Development Administration (EDA) Public Works and Economic Adjustment Program.
Prior to the vote Jeff Hutt noted the Aransas County Navigation District (ACND) is also seeking funds from the EDA for its marina project, and that the funds are limited and competition for EDA grants is high.
“You guys have to decide to go with the marina project or with this workforce grant,” said Hutt. “If the ACND doesn’t get the grant, it will have to look at getting money from a different source.
“A workforce grant, or marina grant?” he asked. “It’s a real choice.”
Aransas County Partnership EDC President Jatin Bhakta went over the timeline regarding the proposed TEAM Center, which is what the Workforce Development and Entrepreneur Center is commonly called.
He said the EDC first looked at building a new 20,000-sq.-ft. building for about $6 million.
Then the county stopped looking at the former Little Bay Elementary complex as a possible micro-hospital site, and the EDC starting looking at that site. At first it considered the purchase of the entire site, but the EDA told the county it was still too much money and probably wouldn’t be funded, especially without providing any matching funds.
Bhakta said in the past couple of weeks the plan was scaled back to purchase only the north building (16,000 sq. ft.) in the complex, as well as four lots north of that building, using a $2.5 million EDA grant, coupled with a $500,000 match.
He noted the EDC secured written commitments for the $500,00 in one week.
Public Works Director Mike Donoho said he walked through the building with the city fire marshal and city building official and found there is minimal interior work needed to make the facility ready for use.
“Both buildings are ripe for remodeling. Most of the flooring, etc. has been removed (since Hurricane Harvey),” said Donoho.
Councilwoman Andrea Hattman said the classes provided (by Del Mar College) at the TEAM Center will help local students get jobs.
“Retirees like (these type) programs, as well,” she said.
Hattman asked if there will be additional costs to the city in the future.
Bhakta said no.
Councilman Bob Cunningham said the $15,000 in in-kind work equates to one-third a person salary when the city is already understaffed.
“This is a county project. The county will own the building and it’s coming off the tax roll. Rockport residents are paying taxes in the county as well,” said Cunningham.
He noted as Ward 3 representative he is concerned about the “outdoor education” that could occur on the four lots located next to a residential area, which he said will require a special use permit.
Cunningham also said the project was not brought through the LGC, or that leg of the EDC made up of local government representatives.
“I just can’t see giving four months of salary load when city taxpayers already pay (county taxes),” he said.
Cunningham said the city supports both projects (TEAM Center and ACND marina project), but didn’t think the city needs to add in-kind costs.
Mayor Pro-tem J.D. Villa said, “I understand what (Cunningham) is saying, but we need to act sometime like we’re one body.
“I think this is a great project that should happen.”
Bhakta said, “It’s a county thing, but we all benefit. It will pay dividends for years to come.”
Hattman said, “In the long run the training (provided at the TEAM Center) will pay us back 10-fold.”
Villa made the motion to provide the $15,000 in-kind assistance, and Hattman seconded the motion. It was approved 4-1. Cunningham cast the lone dissenting vote.