Thursday, May 4, 2017


By Juan Montoya
Some time back, at a presentation by Hinojosa and Estrada, the city's financial consultants, the city commissioners were told that in order for the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport to build a new terminal, it might be necessary to get a $27.5 million "loan" from the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation to pay the airport terminal debt.

Under their Ambitious Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan, the total fund needed to lengthen the runway and build a new terminal amounts to some $107 million. About $80 million would go for the runways and another  $27 million for the new terminal. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has set aside $5 million for the terminal. Estrada and Hinojosa want the GBIC (and perhaps the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation, BCIC) to chip in for $22 million.

Hinojosa-Estrada said that the money could be paid back when the airport (which has always been subsidized by the city budget) started producing revenues expected after the improvements. Not everyone was convinced that it would start to be a money maker, as the consultants averred.

If you remember, Brownsville residents on a special election held on November 7, 2001, voted to reduce the Section 4A economic development sales and use tax from half a cent to a quarter of a cent and adopt the Section 4B economic development sales and use tax at quarter of a cent.
This led to the creation of the BCIC in 2002.

After the initial passage of the 4A Economic Development Sales Tax, came the subsequent funding of the GBIC, which was formed to oversee the disbursement of the quarter cent sales tax collected in Brownsville.
The GBIC board, appointed by the Brownsville City Commission approves funding for job creation incentives and various grant programs related to infrastructure and education.

Each year, both these entities accrue close to $5 million apiece from the half-cent sales tax receipts split between them.

The BCIC has been seen as source to fund quality-of-life projects such as the Brownsville Sports Park and the like. Then-commissioner Charlie Atkinson faced sharp criticism when the cost overruns inflated the original $10 million price tag to more than $35 million.
More recently, the dwindling BCIC fund has also been tapped to fund commissioner Rose Gowen's pet project, the hike-and-bike trails using abandoned railroad right-of-ways. The BCIC, which borrowed heavily from future tax receipts, has a huge debt as a result for the massive sports park cost and now can only leverage other funds or undertake smaller projects.

So when Martinez came before the board to this week's GBIC meeting accompanied by his "muscle," City Manager Charlie Cabler, he expected them to simply obey and do as he and Cabler were demanding. Martinez and Cabler told the members that unless they agreed to the funding and were in the process of undertaking the airport project before July
, the FAA has hinted that it would siphon off the set-aside funds and transfer them to the Harlingen airport. That's why, they said, it was urgent to undertake the funding now.

Witnesses who were there said the reluctance of some members, especially David Betancourt, who is also the Cameron County Treasurer, almost led Cabler to blows and Martinez to hurl a few choice epithets toward the reluctant GBIC member and past chairman.

"It was ugly," said a witness. "I had never seen Martinez talk so crudely and Cabler was looming threateningly over David."

Given the state of affairs in the city and the history of projects under Martinez and Cabler's watch, some GBIC members want some assurances. They say that the airport is a city asset that needs to be supported, but they want another pair of eyes on the project so that it doesn't turn out to be another Sports Park.

One plan calls for GBIC to pitch in two-thirds (about 14.3 million), and the BCIC to pitch in and guarantee the rest ($7.3 million).  But that's not all. A majority of the GBIC board wants to appoint  a committee to supervise the project and that would include people with technical knowledge of aviation as well as community members at large.

"We would feel a lot better if we had someone keep an eye on the city as it sets about on the airport project," said one. "We know our city needs the airport to succeed for the better of our community. But we also feel we have to protect the community so that things that happened in the past with other projects doesn't happen here."


Anonymous said...

Martinez is an arrogant asshole who has come up with big plans...and all have failed to produce. Cable is an ex-cop with no training to be a city manager. While I think David Betancourt is a public leach; I do side with him on this issue. Why spend all those millions of tax dollars to make a new people can fly in and find our streets and infrastructure in ruin. No SpaceX, no Tenaska, no local university but lots of worthless real estate (a monument to Julieta Garcia). Tony Martinez will prove to be the most worthless mayor in our history.

Anonymous said...

Uneducated ex cop always a follower no leadership.