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Liberty County commissioners approve Dayton Park application with split vote

July 9, 2018

For weeks, commissioners and the Liberty County Grant Committee have toiled over the decision on whether to give the Dayton Park Housing Project an additional $1.4 million in funds that they promise to use to rehabilitate the apartments, and in a 3-2 split vote, the deciding vote came from County Judge Jay Knight to award the money to Hettig/Kahn Holdings, Inc.

While it might seem like an easy prospect, there was some trepidation over the for-profit company receiving the new funding after just receiving another $1.2 million a few years prior for the same project.

In an earlier commissioners court workshop on June 20, Barry Kahn, president of the company who owns and operates Dayton Park, explained the organization needed the additional funds to complete repairs they had made previously with the first grant.

“We’ve already successfully completed two prior disaster relief rehabs,” he told commissioners during the workshop.

Kahn provided commissioners an itemized list of repairs and replacements done at Dayton Park Apartments with disaster relief funds and those afterwards. Total expenditures exceeded $2.031 million that was offset by the General Land Office grant of $1,046,193. That left more than $985,000 out-of-pocket expenditures for the owner.

The money is an award from GLO originally for hurricane relief housing for those displaced during Hurricane Ike. That’s been some 10 years ago and there was funds leftover to the tune of $1.4 million. The grant deadline for using that money is Dec. 31, 2018. If the money is not used, it goes back to GLO and the funds would be given to Matagorda County.

Commissioners allowed the transfer of the money from the hurricane relief to rental housing subsidized for low-income families.

Almost immediately after reading the recommendation, Knight asked for the court’s pleasure on the matter, Pct. 1 Commissioner Bruce Karbowski asked that the court take no action on the recommendation with the GLO grant, effectively sending the money back to Austin to be distributed to Matagorda County.

“My understanding is we didn’t get a clear recommendation from the grant committee on whether to do it or not,” said Pct. 2 Commissioner Greg Arthur.

“We were excitedly ambivalent,” announced County Attorney Matthew Poston when quizzed by commissioners for the committee’s input. “I’ve heard every concern in the workshop that we held. There are policy reasons not to do it and policy reasons to do it. I see no legal impediment to do it. There’s no significant risk of exposure (liability) to us.”

He told commissioners that there was some potential headaches as to the management of it, but, speaking for the grant committee, they saw some value to the community for granting the money to Dayton Park.

“We wanted to be transparent with our analysis, but ultimately, it’s a policy decision to be decided by the court,” he said. “I think we have vetted out some of the concerns about it that would be an absolute no.”

Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson continued to press Poston on the committee’s action and recommendation.

“We hesitated to miss out on capturing this money for Liberty County. If we don’t spend it here, we all know this, it’s going to Matagorda County,” he said.

Poston said he and the committee believed that Kahn’s company did provide a valuable service to folks who desperately need it, the vast majority being low-income families who needed affordable housing.

The committee was divided as a group, internally and individually and were unable to come up with a clear consensus.

Knight, who rarely calls for a vote on a no action consensus, took a vote and the commissioners were split as well.

Before doing another thing, the judge spoke.

Talking about growth coming to Dayton, Knight told the court and commissioners, “Y’all ain’t seen nothing yet.”

“The majority of the people who live there are low-income families and that’s the purpose of this money,” he said. “Any kind of enhancement that’s going to help the facility, especially in its longevity, I’d be in favor of. It’s a 20-year-old facility now and if we want to see it make it to 40, 50 or beyond, you have to put some money into it.”

Knight reminded them that the grant was advertised in the newspaper and every housing entity had a fair chance to apply for the grant but didn’t.

“Just because one company did and they’re not afraid to do the paperwork, and it is a pile of paperwork, when you start dealing with this kind of reporting it’s on a weekly basis if not daily, then let it be a lesson to those who did not apply. Maybe in the future they’ll do so,” he said.

Then the judge went back and revisited the “no action” recommendation.

Wilson made the motion to approve and it was seconded by Pct. 3 Commissioner James “Boo” Reaves and when the vote came, it was a split with Reaves and Wilson for and Arthur and Karbowski against.

The judge took the vote again and this time voted with Reaves and Wilson to give them the majority vote and the money will go to Dayton Park Apartments.

Following the vote, Wilson reminded the owner that he had promised to use Liberty County contractors as part of the agreement.

“I’m going to hold your feet to the fire over this,” he told the owner sternly.

And Kahn told the court that he would follow through with his promise.

dtaylor@hcnonline.com

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