City picks up Seagull for updated wealth study
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INFRASTRUCTURE FUNDS AVAILABLE IF CIT RESIDENTS’ INCOME ARE LOWER THAN US CENSUS REPORTED
With offices in New Braunfels as well as Carlsbad, California, the Seagull PME company will be contracted by the city of Cotulla to examine whether the 2020 US Census gave an accurate portrayal of the community’s average household incomes.
Seagull was the only respondent to a call from City Hall for the socioeconomics study and was recommended by the city administration for a council vote Thursday, April 13.
Hanging in the balance are what City Hall describes as vast reserves of grant funds and loans that may be eligible for forgiveness if Cotulla is shown to have an average household income lower than was listed by the census three years ago.
According to Mayor Javier Garcia, the census was taken at a time when most of South Texas was reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown and while the economic boom from the energy industry play over the Eagle Ford Shale was still evident in the region’s median incomes.
Those factors alone, the mayor indicated, made South Texas residents reluctant to respond to queries over how many family members were living together under one roof and how much the household was earning.
The US Census reported a year after gathering data that the entire population of La Salle County was 6,664, which was slightly lower than ten years previously, when the population was listed at 6,886.
A 2022 update to the census listed 6,604 people for all of La Salle County.
While median household income stood at just over $61,000 in 2021, the census reported that actual per capita income for 2020-2021 barely surpassed $18,000.
Other studies have shown the average per capita income for Cotulla is $21,487, approximately 20 percent higher than for all of La Salle County. That figure, however, represents an average income of only three fifths of the norm for the state of Texas as a whole, which stands at $34,255.
Although a separate survey showed the median household income (totals for all those living under one roof) was $63,440 for Cotulla, at least 37 percent of the households in the city had total incomes of under $50,000 per year.
The US Census reported that an estimated 28.6 percent of the people in La Salle County were living in poverty. A separate survey indicated that the countywide poverty rate was just under 23 percent but as many as 31 percent of children and 18 percent of senior citizens were living below the poverty line.
Even though margins of error may be as much as ten percent in the survey results, statistics indicate Cotulla’s poverty rate is more than double the average for the state of Texas.
City Hall believes the average income for all adults across all demographics in Cotulla is lower than the census reported.
“The census was done during COVID,” the mayor said at the meeting. “Not a lot of people wanted to come out.”
According to City Administrator Larry Dovalina, who retired from his position at the April 13 meeting, census tallies may have been bloated in mid-2020 because large numbers of people questioned by census takers may have been temporary residents, employed in the energy industry, and not representative of the typical Cotulla heads of household or other income earners.
“We want a new study of housing and salaries in Cotulla,” the city administrator said. “We want to determine if the census was accurate.
“The census results for the average household income took Cotulla out of the running for Texas Water Development Board forgiveness loans,” Dovalina told the council. “The census used transition workers during the oil boom, and that was a higher average income than the actual. What we need is the actual figures of people who actually live in Cotulla.”
A motion to accept the qualifications submitted by Seagull PME was made by Councilor Eloy Zertuche, seconded by Councilor Gilbert Ayala and supported unanimously.
Seagull PME reports that it specializes in project and program management, engineering services, planning, environmental and water services.
Project manager and engineer Gian Villarreal said last week that his company has worked extensively in water and infrastructure-related programs. Villarreal specializes in sustainable watershed management, water quality and permitting, and surface water protection and stream restoration. He is a regional representative for TWDB flood planning and co-chair of both the Stormwater and Watershed Management Committee at the Texas Water Environment Association and the Stream Restoration Committee at the Texas Floodplain Managers Association.
“We are very familiar with funding programs and requirements,” Villarreal said on Wednesday, April 19, “and we are familiar with the city of Cotulla and its projects.”
Villarreal added that he looks forward to establishing a working relationship between Seagull PME and the Cotulla city administration in its efforts to continue upgrading water services through grant and loan applications.