Aransas County commissioners, at their regular meeting Monday, Jan. 25 couldn’t make a decision to approve or disapprove acceptance of a $1.7 million Economic Development Administration Grant for a workforce development and entrepreneurship center (total project cost of $2,138,731), and authorizing Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills to sign the Financial Assistance Award Form and any related documents. Public and private sector cash, in-kind, and force account donations in the amount of $438,731 provide the matching funds.

(Note: A detailed story about the awarding of the grant was published in the Jan. 23 edition of this newspaper.)

Commissioner Bubba Casterline made the motion to approve acceptance of the grant and authorizing Judge Mills to sign the required documents for the aforementioned grant. Mills seconded the motion and discussion followed.

After discussion, Casterline and Mills voted for approval, and Commissioners Wendy Laubach and Pat Rousseau voted against that action.

After the tie vote, a motion to table the issue was then made, seconded, and approved unanimously.

Commissioner Jack Chaney was not at Monday’s meeting.

Discussion

Kathy Rutledge spoke against acceptance, asking commissioners if they had read the documents they were being asked to authorize.

“It looks like you’re going to have to provide additional financing (in the future),” said Rutledge. “Are you willing to vote for something you haven’t read?”

She said the EDC and Chamber are leading the effort for the workforce development and entrepreneurship center, adding, “Are they going to take over and not the commissioners?”

She questioned Del Mar College’s ability to pay its costs related to the center, through tuition alone, and wondered if entering this agreement with Del Mar will lead to being pulled into the college’s taxing district.

“It’s incumbent upon you to know what taxpayers share is going to be. It’s not just about constructing something,” she said.

Rutledge also said the county “didn’t need to pay for it” with unemployment at 9%.

Long Term Recovery Team member Kim Foutz, speaking remotely, said there have been multiple presentations made about this issue.

She noted Del Mar will begin with general programming at the site, with adjustments made as time passes.

Foutz noted a Memorandum of Understanding with Del Mar has already been approved, as well.

She said the $2.138 million project is funded with the $1.7 million grant and private funds.

Foutz said the item is on the agenda because “one of the commissioners asked that this be brought back once we got the award (grant).”

Casterline asked Foutz to give the court a overall look at each of the parties’ responsibilities.

Foutz noted Del Mar will run and pay for all operations and maintenance, and the county is responsible for the long-term assets (building). She said the building (the north part of the former Little Bay Elementary) has a new roof and air conditioning units, installed after Hurricane Harvey.

Laubach then made a motion to table the acceptance of the grant, but it died for the lack of a second.

Rousseau asked who will pay for the private commitments if they are not honored.

Foutz said, “If for any reason commitments don’t come in, then we would go out to get additional funding.”

Rousseau also asked if Foutz knew why the original amount requested in the grant was cut about $50,000, down to the $1.7 million.

Foutz said they (United States Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration) does not give a reason if the amount granted is less than the ask.

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