Aransas County Navigation District (ACND) commissioners, at their regular meeting Tuesday, Aug. 6, approved with a 4-1 vote joining the newly created Economic Development Corporation (EDC) with Aransas County, the City of Rockport, and Town of Fulton.
Commissioner Mickey Casterline cast the lone dissenting vote.
“In our May 20 meeting, due to (a number of concerns), we voted not to join,” said ACND Chairman Malcolm Dieckow. “Since then, our attorney has amended the documents.”
The ACND approved its membership for up to three years at a contribution of $2,500, or the same amount the Town of Fulton is providing. The amended documents will have to be approved by the other members. The county and city are providing $12,000 to the effort.
Dieckow noted the EDC already exists, and if the ACND doesn’t join, it will have no input.
“We could sit on the sidelines and complain, but what does that benefit?” he asked.
Dieckow noted other areas are trying to attract the same people Aransas County is trying to attract, even as the county continues to recover after Hurricane Harvey.
“It’s a good thing to work with others,” said Dieckow. “With us being in, it’s better than sitting on the sidelines.”
He said he does have some concerns, including not recruiting businesses to locate here that would be in direct competition with local businesses.
Jeff Hutt, a vocal opponent of the economic development effort, said, in part, “Today, you are either voicing your opposition to or your support of creating a new government entity, which will be charged with economic development.
“This new quasi-governmental entity will outsource its mission to a third party pay-for-play organization and the chamber of commerce.
“The EDC will pick which industries it thinks the community should focus on and which companies meet the vague criterion to receive tax incentives. It will also work with chosen partners to help them gain federal and state monies.”
He also noted some candidates in recent elections were defeated because they supported the EDC.
Commissioner Tony Dominguez, who voted against the EDC at the May 20 meeting, recognized that many of the people supporting the EDC are longtime, or lifelong residents of the county, and have the wellbeing of its residents in mind.
However, he strongly said the EDC, as well as all entities need to not forget the “little guy” and low wages.
“How can you live on $12 per hour?” asked Dominguez.
Commissioner Judy Vlasek said her hope is the EDC helps improve the local economy and can attract some businesses that provide higher paying jobs.
“I’ve lived in a dozen different cities,” she said. “Some of them had effective EDCs, and some didn’t.”
She noted one of the changes in the documents presented at the May 20 meeting is the provision to back out in 90 days.
“We’ve been through a lot. What do we have to lose?” she asked. “Let’s give it a try. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”
A woman speaking against the EDC asked what the success rate is for EDCs in the state.
“People are leaving towns because of EDCs,” she said. “Go to New Braunfels? I don’t want to go (to a city with an EDC).
“We didn’t need an EDC (in the past). We don’t need an EDC now.”
Dieckow said he supports the EDC effort because he wants to be a part of it, not sitting on the sidelines.
“I want to make sure local businesses are protected,” he said. “I have confidence it will go in the right direction. If it doesn’t work out, we can get out.”
Casterline said hopes and dreams is what he built his life on (and people didn’t give him a handout).
“We are a navigation district,” he said. “If you don’t want to live in Rock ‘Port’ then go to New Braunfels.”
He said the ACND focus needs to be on “tugs and harbors” versus tourists, noting a tugboat has 100 men associated with its operation.
Hutt asked commissioners if they support giving tax incentives to out of county businesses. When he didn’t get an answer, he continued to grill commissioners for an answer.
Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Diane Probst got up, walked to the front of the room, and said, “I can’t just sit back and listen to an eloquent speaker (referring to Hutt), and asked what he has done (to try to help the area rebound after Harvey).
“Can you (addressing commissioners, as well as members of the audience) look at these three people (pointing to EDC supporters and lifelong residents and/or longtime local business owners/operators John Jackson, Blake McDavid, and Jatin Bhakta) and say they would do anything to harm this area?”
Hutt said he talked to representatives of the Temple EDC and they said that city has an EDC because others give tax incentives, so it has to, as well.
Commissioner Tommy Moore took the floor and said areas south and north of Aransas County have places for heavy industry.
“I don’t see heavy industry coming here,” he said.
Moore said the first EDC documents presented to the ACND were embarrassing.
Addressing Hutt’s question about incentives, Moore said the ACND has property it wants to develop, and someone could come to the district and say it wants infrastructure.
“I’d like to go for finance incentives,” he said.
“I’m going to vote for this (EDC).”
Echoing Dieckow’s earlier remarks, Moore said, “I want to be a ‘part of’. I think it’s going to help housing, as well as tourism, and we’ll be at the table.”
Vlasek suggested a contribution similar to Fulton’s since the ACND budget is similar to that town’s budget.
Dieckow said, “I’d like to consider more (but not the level the county and city are paying) because our upside is more.”
Moore made the motion to join the EDC with a $2,500 contribution for up to three years, under the amended agreement. Vlasek seconded the motion and it carried 4-1.
Editor’s note: The details about the proposed setup, with a Local Government Corporation (LGC) and C6 non-profit corporation (C6) will not be rehashed in this story because it has been featured in this newspaper in the past.
The basic structure, however, is the LGC includes representatives of local government entities that provide minimal funding (initially proposed at $12,000 annually for an initial three-year period; $2,500 for the Town of Fulton).
The C6 is the non-profit group, which will do the legwork, and is supported by public/private donations, primarily through memberships.
The need for a non-traditional funding source for an EDC in Aransas County is due to the traditional source used by most communities – the additional half-cent sales tax approved many years ago by the state - is already committed to Aransas County (by Aransas County voters) for indigent healthcare and related expenses.