By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
Changes continue in Port Isabel as the City Commission seeks to remedy a budget deficit and increase efficiency in City operations. Among those changes will be new hours of operation for the recycling center.
Currently, the center is open six days a week and is manned by three Public Works employees who also split their time attending to other duties throughout the City. “Our recycling center in Port Isabel is a successful operation but it does require a lot of resources,” said Interim City Manager Jared Hockema during a regular meeting of the City Commission Tuesday. ” We have longer hours of operation than other cities nearby,” he added.
The City of South Padre Island and the Town of Laguna Vista also offer recycling services to their residents, but their operations are limited to Saturdays. As a result, Hockema said, Laguna Madre area residents flock to Port Isabel to leave recyclable material in the City’s facility located on Railroad Avenue.
The Public Works employees assigned to the recycling center are also responsible for maintaining the upkeep of the City cemetery and parks. “We don’t have full time employees for recycling. They do other work, also,” Public Works Director Balde Alaniz said last month.
Only once their duties there are fulfilled do they turn their focus to recycling, Alaniz said. “This summer has been overwhelming. People are really starting to use a lot of the recycling. We didn’t expect this overwhelming success,” he said. Eventually, recyclable material, much of it unsorted or improperly sorted, stacks up and creates a backlog of work for the employees, he said.
The material is loaded onto a brush truck for transport to a recycling facility in Brownsville, but the improperly sorted materials mean employees have to go through each bag and bin by hand. Plastic bottles presented one particularly time consuming issue, Hockema said. The plastic used for their caps is a different recyclable from the plastic used in the bottles themselves. “Our workers were physically sitting there removing the caps,” Hockema said.
Another issue the City is looking at is the profitability of the recyclable materials themselves. Some materials, Hockema explained, don’t have as much demand from recycling processing centers, and draw lower prices. “Because the recyclables are so low in value, that we end up creating high cost,” he said. “Of all the plastic we sorted, we got $11 for the whole year,” he added.
“What we’re requesting with this is that we align our open hours to that of South Padre Island and Laguna Vista,” to “be open every Saturday and to cease accepting these plastic bottles,” Hockema said.
The commission approved the motion.
In other business, the Commission approved the allocation of funds to several projects and people. In a meeting earlier in the evening, the Port Isabel Economic Development Corporation (EDC) approved $40,000 for the operation and maintenance of the Museums of Port Isabel, $22,250 for the marketing services of Valerie Bates, an $80,000 payment from the EDC to the City to pay the salaries of City staff who work at the EDC, and $15,000 to fund the promotion of community events such as the Shrimp Cook-off and the Boat Parade. The EDC also approved $50,000 to go towards the Wave bus service, which provides rides to Laguna Madre residents free of charge. The commission ratified the EDC’s decisions unanimously. “I just want to thank the commission for continuing to support public transportation,” Mayor Joe E. Vega said.
Near the end of the meeting, the commission approved the scheduling of several public hearings regarding proposed tax rate increases. The hearings will occur on Tuesday, Aug. 18 and Tuesday, Aug. 25. The vote to adopt the tax rate as well the first hearing of the budget will occur on Sept. 8. The final hearing to approve the budget will occur on Sept. 21.
The commission met in executive session to discuss the lawsuit between the City, mayor, Commissioner Maria de Jesus Garza, former Commissioner Guillermo “Memo” Torres versus Commissioners Juan Jose “J.J.” Zamora and Martin C. Cantu.
Once they rejoined public session, the commission voted to table the item because no discussion had taken place.
In a second closed session item regarding a contract with the Reyna Network, which runs the City’s Revolving Loan Program, the commission passed a motion to acknowledge the recommendation of the city manager and directed City Attorney Gilbert Hinojosa* to proceed as directed in the closed session.
In a final item, the commission acknowledged a report about the Yacht Club delivered by Hockema.
*Correction: In the print edition of the PRESS, Hinojosa’s first name was incorrectly listed as Richard.
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