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Do Not Elect Port Commissioners

In the March PIBA bulletin, Commissioner, Brent Chesney, proposed that state law be changed to elect Port Commissioners rather than appoint them as we do now. I disagree. Port Commissioners have been appointed over the Port’s 100-year plus history. During my 35 years living in Corpus Christi, we have had both good commissioners and poor ones. However, the good ones out numbered the poor ones and held a majority vote. The port commission’s performance has been reasonably good.

The port is a self-sustaining business. It charges user fees to its customers which are the industrial plants that use it to receive their raw material and ship their finished products. The other customers are the vessel operators that use the port. However, vessel operators pass their fee cost through to the shippers in their fees. Therefore, industrial plants are the sole customers. The port uses these fees to pay the maintenance and operating cost to maintain the channels and public use docks. Right now, it is spending about $500 million to deepen the channel from 45 to 54 feet because vessel sizes have increased. The port does not have tax revenue and never was since its initial start-up in the 1920s.

I fear that elected commissioners would use the port’s cash revenue as a cash cow to finance all sorts of public projects that have nothing to do with the port’s mission to provide shipping services to its customers. They would just increase customer fees to pay for it.

Mismanagement of the port’s finances could result in its failure and bankruptcy. The port is too essential for the local economy to allow that to occur. The industrial plants that use the port create about 40 percent of the local economy. Without the port they would shut down. Bailing the port out could cost local taxpayers several $billion.

Are we really willing to trust elected commissioners with that job? In my 35 years in Corpus Christ, out elected city council and county commissioners have not always performed well. For over 30 years, city council used all tax revenue to increase salaries for city workers and neglected street maintenance and sewage system maintenance We are now paying about $1 billion each in bond issues and user fees to catch up. In the late 1990s, city council spent about $30 million to remodel the downtown convention center and built the arena. Its revenue was supposed to pay its annual maintenance and operating cost. It never has. Tax revenue has been used for that. Last September the city manager recommended city council stop wasting $14.5 million of hotel occupancy tax each year for its maintenance and operating cost. The city council refused.

A previous county commission spent about $30 million to build the Robstown fair ground. It was supposed to be self-sustaining but has never been. Recently the previous County Judge gave away 15 acres of North Padre park land without authority to do so. She also appointed a County Fire Marshall and County Medical Examiner who did not have the required license for the job. True, the present County Commission is good. Previous ones have not always been.

The port can’t afford that kind of mismanagement. ~Ralph Coker