Council passes measure on 4-3 vote
By S. Barot
Sugar Land City Council recently approved a controversial $100,000 donation to Texas State Technical College’s (TSTC) Fort Bend County campus.
In a 4-3 vote, council amended Sugar Land 4B Corporation’s (SL4B) budget to specifically fund costs relating to the TSTC Career Center. The move caused uproar among some residents within the community. As it stands, the SL4B is a nonprofit with the purpose of promoting, assisting and enhancing economic development activities and quality of life opportunities within Sugar Land.
The TSTC’s Fort Bend County campus is in Rosenberg – the main point of contention among some council members and residents in the area. Funding from SL4B comes from a quarter-cent sales tax which was approved by voters in 1995. Since then, the organization has provided Sugar Land with more than $80 million in economic development funding. Previous SL4B projects include University of Houston – Sugar Land, Sugar Land Town Square, the Houston Museum of Natural Science – Sugar Land, Constellation Field and most recently, Smart Financial Centre.
City council members were undoubtedly divided on the subject. While some said that awarding funds to TSTC would become precedent-setting others argued that Sugar Land belongs to Fort Bend County and should “be at the forefront and lead the effort” of this project.
The grant will be awarded to TSTC under a “performance agreement.” TSTC must meet certain requirements that Sugar Land sets and if those requirements are not met, TSTC must return the monies. In this case, the performance agreement will tie to a direct number of jobs created and retained within the city through the employment of TSTC students and training of existing employees.
City staff did not have the performance agreement for council to review, as it is still in draft form.
“I’m not opposed to funding anything,” said Hillary Goldstein, a Sugar Land resident and speaker at the city council meeting. “I am opposed to the dollar number of $100,000.”
Goldstein also mentioned granting monies to the James Reese Career and Technical Center – FBISD’s forthcoming career and technical education center in Telfair.
According to FBISD documents, the facility will offer advanced junior and senior-level courses that will give students the opportunity to explore careers in agriculture and natural resources, architecture and construction, arts and audio video communications, culinary arts, cosmetology, education and training, information technology, law and public safety, manufacturing, and transportation and logistics.
Students will have access to dual credit courses and multiple opportunities to earn industry certifications while completing coursework at the facility.
“If we can come to an agreement with FBISD and give some money toward that, I’d be doing cartwheels,” Goldstein said to council.
Mayor Joe Zimmerman tried validating the $100,000 expenditure by listing other organizations that contributed more monies to TSTC, including Fort Bend County, the George Foundation, the TSTC Foundation, the Rosenberg Economic Development Council and the Development Corporation of Richmond, among others.
“I view the $100,000 as an investment in Sugar Land’s future,” Zimmerman said. “I believe it’s an appropriate investment to make.”
The council members who voted against awarding the grant were Amy Mitchell, Harish Jajoo and Mary Joyce. All three council members agreed that TSTC is a great educational addition to the community and that this is not about TSTC, this is about using city money to fund an entity outside of city limits.
Mitchell said that there are students from Katy and Houston attending TSTC yet those cities were not asked for funds.
“We are the only ones outside of the Richmond and Rosenberg area that they asked anything from,” Mitchell said. “We are not the cash cow. We have an obligation to our citizens to use the money here. There are other things that SL4B cannot pay for if they don’t have this $100,000.”
Jajoo said SL4B should have a policy in place regarding entities seeking funds that are outside of city limits.
City Manager Allen Bogard, who was also present at the meeting, said that if Jajoo is talking about the expenditure of funds outside of the city, a policy could be discussed in the future.
“If the council would like to consider that, we would look at that,” Bogard said.