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Baytown council forms new economic development advisory committee

October 27, 2023

After working for over a month, Baytown City Council has formed the Baytown Economic Development Advisory Committee. The new committee will include citizens that live in extraterritorial jurisdiction areas.

Councilwoman Laura Alvarado spoke about the proposed ordinance at Thursday’s council meeting, saying it would include seven members. She said the members would include one person from a real estate agency, one from a financial institution, another member from a  large business development group, one member from a small business development group, and three interested citizens who “do not have a professional or personal affiliation similar to those represented by other appointees on the committee.”

“This is something we did similarly with the Animal Advisory Committee,” Alvarado said. “If you remember, we made sure that the interested citizens were not in any way affiliated with other appointees on the committee.”

Alvarado said currently, the new committee’s members would serve two-year terms with one serving staggered terms, quarterly or as needed.

“So, once we start meeting, it would be up to them to determine how often they should meet,” she said.

Alvarado said the advisory board will work with the city economic development staff to identify and review opportunities that “will grow and enhance the quality of life for the City of Baytown including but not limited to reviewing business improvement grants and make recommendations to city council on other economic development projects of high community interest.”

“We want to make sure they have that opportunity to review different projects that come into the city,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado added that they plan make appointments to the advisory board at the council’s December meetings. She also said she would like to roll over any existing applicants who applied to serve on the Municipal Development District board for the new advisory board.

“We are looking at dissolving the current makeup in November, which is what we discussed. But it could be effective when we appoint the new members as well,” Alvarado said.

David Isaac, an activist who said he resides in an ETJ on Landmark Drive, spoke during citizen’s comments to advocate for people living in ETJs.

“If you take a look at the Planning and Zoning Commission, there is one representation from the ETJ, Miss Helen Berrott-Tims, who occupies that seat,” Isaac said. “As you know, (Planning and Development Services Director Martin Scribner) and his department have a strategic plan that includes a lot of the ETJ in this town. We want representation when it comes to our tax dollars. We spend money at the marketplaces, at the restaurants. Whenever you make decisions in the MDD,  whenever you decide to make decisions in this (committee) that you are choosing to create today, it will have a profound effect on the tens of thousands of people who live right outside the city limits.”

Isaac said this includes neighborhoods such as Springfield, Preston Place and Meadowlake Village.

Isaac also implored council to consider exploring “the ethicacy of lowering the sales tax.”

“We want to spread business in Baytown, we want to spread economic development,” he said. “I think it would have a positive effect on at least explore the ethicacy of doing so.”

 Councilwoman Heather Betancourth brought up a proposed amendment to the ordinance, saying it included “but was not limited to reviewing business improvement grants.”

“We were concerned that it could be interpreted in the future that was the only objective for the committee,” Betancourth said. “So, we wanted to propose an amendment that added ‘including but not limited to including business improvement grants or other economic development projects of high community interest.’”

Betancourth said they are thinking about future councils and administrations and wanted to be sure “the spirit of our intent is captured in our resolution.”

City Manager Jason Reynolds clarified that “high community interest” does not include Industrial Development Agreements, Chapter 312 agreements, and some, but not all, Chapter 380 agreements. He said that this was because of confidentially pieces that could be jeopardized with this type of review. He emphasized that this did not mean the 380s would be automatically excluded, but they would not go after every 380 that comes before them, only the ones of high community interest.

Alvarado said they would ask staff to differentiate as these agreements are presented.

Councilman Ken Griffith asked, in reference to Isaac’s earlier comments, if there would be an ETJ representative on the new committee.

“Typically, I believe the ETJ has to be stated on there as a member, not just blanket interests as a citizen,” Alvarado said.

Reynolds explained there were conversations about who council would like to consider from a pool of applicants, and if they wanted people outside the city, including those in the ETJ.

“The intent is to look at the overall economic aspect toward this board and actually moving economic development forward,” Reynolds said. “I think it would be naïve of us to say that anyone that works just within the City of Baytown knows better than other experts that are on the outside of the City of Baytown.”

Alvarado said the new committee members would report to council, not the MDD. She concluded by thanking everyone that worked on the ordinance.

Councilman Mike Lester, who was acting as Mayor pro tem at the meeting in Mayor Brandon Capetillo’s absence, thanked everyone who contributed to making the new committee a reality. He said it was a “good product.”

“And I appreciate that,” Lester said.

By Matt Hollis, Baytown Sun