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Nueces County energy savings contract questioned by commissioners

Richard M. Borchard Fairgrounds.jpg
Posted at 5:16 PM, Aug 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-16 18:21:43-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Nueces County commissioners are expressing concern over a $23 million contract that is intended to bring energy savings to some county facilities.

The improvements include heating and air conditioning LED lighting upgrades, roof repairs, transformer modifications and boiler replacements as well as several other replacements and modifications at facilities.

It also includes improvements such as landscaping, parking lot replacement, new paint and carpet and an amphitheater at the Richard M. Borchard Regional Fairgrounds.

During a Monday Nueces County Commissioners Court meeting, Precinct 4 Commissioner Brent Chesney said he had concerns about the debt obligation the county was taking on with the project.

He also questioned whether the numbers originally presented to the court -- in terms of energy savings as well as what the county would receive in terms of offset costs -- were the numbers the county would actually see.

According to the county auditor, annual utility savings and operational savings from the improvements being made will save the city $645,464. But a portion of those savings will not be realized by the county because the fairgrounds are managed by another company, which pays the utility bill.

Any savings from improvements made at the fairgrounds will be realized by that company, not the county.

Chesney says the county should expect $1.5 million in debt added to its general fund balance annually and asked the county attorney to examine the contract to see what options the county may have to lower this obligation.

"I feel a little betrayed by this because to say that there's any way I can see us having a $1.5 million every year put into our budget for the next 20 (years) or whatever we've committed to this for 16 years, this is not something that I have any interest in continuing with, in the way that we're doing," Chesney told commissioners. "I'm just not seeing how we can ever do a budget and put in, you know, that's, that's, that's like a guaranteed tax increase every year for the next 20. And I mean, I'm sorry I said, if I made a mistake on this, I will stand up and say I made a mistake in supporting this."

County Judge Barbara Canales says that project completion has not occurred so savings are speculative, she added that the project went through an 18-month vetting process.

"The buyer's remorse is because it doesn't fit nice and neatly into something that I think you had a perception of but it was presented openly, publicly, transparently," Canales said.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Joe A. Gonzalez asked for specific costs on the amphitheater. Those costs were not known but will be provided to the court. He argued that the theater does not provide energy savings and the fairgrounds already operate at a loss.

Chesney says that while he may have supported the project financing originally, he feels as though the issue must be revisited now.

"I'm not going to perpetuate a 'my bad' by not looking at something that I think is in the best interest of this county and I'm not sure today that this is in the best interest of this county," Chesney said. "And I am not ashamed about that and you can try to shame me all you want Judge (Canales) and say we have a contract and so forth and so on. But sometimes things change and things have changed dramatically in this community and what we need and what we want."

Before going into executive session to discuss legal issues, Canales rendered her own legal opinion regarding the request by Chesney to potentially modify the contract.

"But what's not okay, is to say I'm going to break the $23 million contract because guess what you would owe $23 million." Canales said. "That's my legal opinion."

County attorney Jenny Dorsey responded by asking that legal opinions be kept in executive session and reminded the commissioners that the meetings are recorded for use against the county at a later date.