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Local leaders at odds over disbursement of $180 million in Hurricane Harvey money

Leaders were ready to battle for their slice of the pie, but it was something that was put on pause even before the meeting really got started.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Just about every city and county leader from across the Coastal Bend packed into a room for a Council of Governments meeting Friday. 

Almost $180 million from the General Land Office is set to be divided up among the 11-county area. It's money that local leaders didn't have to apply for that will go to communities affected by Hurricane Harvey that shook the Coastal Bend in 2017.

But it turns out, the meeting came to an end even before it had much of a chance to begin.

Leaders were ready to battle for their slice of the pie -- but it was something that was put on pause because of a question over whether leaders were given the required 72 hour notice that the meeting would take place. 

When millions in free money is up for grabs, you can expect to get the attention of local politicians.

"Most of us in county government believe that we are here to serve a region, it's part of our mission, water knows no boundaries, that is why money is so important," said Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales. 

The judge adds that the county stands to gain $31 million in funding, with the city of Corpus Christi receiving about half of that amount.

"The City of Corpus Christi has objected to the methodology. I think this is why you see a packed room," Canales said. 

The funds are specifically to be used for protection against future disasters. Projects that include flood control. 

Emily Martinez, Director of Regional Economic Development for Coastal Bend Council of Governments, said there are endless possibilities for the funds.

"There could be some infrastructure, shoreline protection, everything from wastewater treatment facilities average drainage project," Martinez said.

The Council of Governments was appointed by the General Land Office to figure out how to distribute the funding. They teamed up with the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi to come up with ways to divide the money.

"You can not argue with data, because we use very specific data, weighted them, population 15-percent use things like low to moderate income, flood plain," Martinez said.

But that doesn't come without argument over how the money should be distributed.

"Each agency is all fighting for dollars. There is a dispute to how the formula was calculated," said District 3 Corpus Christi councilman Roland Barrera. 

Barrera's concerns center around his district, district 3.

"My district has some of the poorest in the area of which we actually have drainage problems in the western area of the city," Barrera said, "however the demographic was calculated based on the average of the entire city. So that brought the average up for me that included ocean drive and padre island."

However, even before it could be disputed, concern over whether leaders were given proper notice of the meeting itself was raised by Portland City Mayor Cathy Skurow.

"In order to make sure that everybody has a voice at the table it's important  for us to have proper notice for these meetings, that was my point of order today," Skurow said.

Instead of arguing over the point, a motion was made to come back to the table next week.

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