By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
Port Isabel Interim City Manager Jared Hockema was the guest of honor at a recent all-member meeting of the Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce.
The group gathered for breakfast at Pirate’s Landing last Friday and listened as Hockema discussed the current state of the City and its most pressing concerns. Hockema sought to assure Chamber members that though the City faces serious issues, including financial woes which have led to a budget deficit, as well as various parts of City infrastructure in need of repairs or improvement, the future remains hopeful. “We have challenges and we can overcome them,” Hockema said.
Hockema touched on several issues besides the budget deficit, including street repairs, dredging, the Yacht Club, the Port Isabel Event and Cultural Center and the City’s museums. He stressed the importance of allowing sufficient time to address each issue, as well as maintaining transparency between the City and the public.
Part of that transparency, he said, would come from involving citizens more in discussions of City projects such as street repairs. For Hockema, clearly outlining the City’s plans would allow residents to have confidence. “People can get a little sense of assurance that, yes, there is a plan as funds become available to address some of these issues,” he said.
Speaking of the ongoing problems with maintenance dredging, Hockema said the City is seeking a solution via the Army Corps of Engineers. The City also needs to find a suitable spoil site where dredging materials can be left, he said. The City chose to use its previous spoil site as parkland. “Since then the City has applied for additional spoil sites,” he said, saying that regulations are strict.
In the event the Corps is unable to dredge, the City is pursuing other options, he said. “We’ll know by mid-September if they’re going to be able to do it,” Hockema said. He added, “If the Corps is not able to help us then we have our own plan.”
“We wouldn’t be Port Isabel if we didn’t have access to the water,” he said.”One way or another, we’ll find a way to get it done.”
Hockema spoke next of the Yacht Club, which he called a great gem of Port Isabel. Hockema said the City’s initial plan was to buy the building, renovate it and then seek tenants. “It has become apparent that we don’t have the resources to finish the project on our own,” he said. Approximately one quarter of the City’s current budget goes towards the building’s debt service, he said.
The City is currently reaching out to developers, but, is also mulling whether or not to proceed with the project. “We’re taking a really hard look,” he said. Hockema stressed that, whatever the future of the Yacht Club, it will remain “something that serves the citizens of this area.”
Another approximately $300,000 of the budget is allocated for the Museums of Port Isabel. Hockema said City staff are evaluating how the three facilities operate to see if, perhaps, changes need to be made. “The museums are not going to close, but will we change the focus? Perhaps. Will we change how they … are going to operate? Perhaps,” he said.
Finally, Hockema discussed the Port Isabel Event and Cultural Center (PIECC). “It’s a little bit hard for the City to digest in the terms of operating cost and debt service,” he said, explaining that some of the recent actions undertaken by the City in regards to the budget have come as a direct result of trying to absorb the costs associated with the PIECC.
“We are on our way to narrowing the loss at that facility,” he said.
“There is a lot of good things that can happen here (in the City)” Hockema said. “We just need to have the structure in place to achieve that,” he said, responding to a question from a Chamber member.
“I think that, whether I’m here or whether anybody else is here, the City’s going to do just fine,” he said.
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