Jail situation reviewed, job abolished, and public comments at county meeting

PRESIDIO COUNTY – The Presidio County Jail hasn’t been accepting prisoners since September, but Jail Administrator Gracie Parras reported at the February 6 county commissioners’ court meeting that another smoke test for the fire exhaust system, and an inspection, are all that stand in the way prisoners returning to the lockup.

The jail staff is tentatively aiming for a March 1 reopening, and “the marshals are already calling for bed space,” Parras said.

Door panels and intercoms had also gone down, but both systems were repaired during the shutdown. The recreation yard was also outfitted with steel framed fencing and was repainted.

But during the report that the jail was nearing completion on repairs, jail staff in attendance raised another issue. “The roof is bad. The last contractor that did it made a mess, and there’s holes, and that’s why the ballast and lights are—water comes in and causes lights to fall and shatter on the floor. We really need to get somebody to fix that, but that won’t keep us from opening the jail.” Another jail employee mentioned that the roof looked like it was as old as the building itself.

Commissioners were particularly dismayed by this update.

“We spent a lot of money to get the roof five years ago and now it’s already gone. That’s not good,” said Commissioner Eloy Aranda.

Parras hoped that County Treasurer Frances Garcia could contact the insurance provider and see if they might cover repairs, but it was doubted by commissioners, who said insurance was used to pay for the previous 2013 roof work. The roof was repaired in 2013 by Charles Terry Construction Co. County Judge Cinderela Guevara offered to set up a free assessment from a company in the area that specializes in flat roofs.

Said Aranda, “We need a metal roof, once we put a metal roof in that’s good for 25 to 30 years. You’re better off building a gabled roof with metal on top. It’ll last a long time. Metal roofs are not expensive.” Commissioner Buddy Knight agreed.

Facilities manager  position abolished

Commissioners worked together to distribute the duties of the currently vacant Facilities Manager position between the four commissioners, and abolish the $30,000 position.

The role was previously filled by Sam Cobos, and according to the county website, the position existed to “manage all facets of county facilities maintenance and operation. The facilities managed include county buildings and parks.” Additionally, the manager oversees a handful of employees who perform maintenance on the properties.

County Judge Cinderela Guevara advanced the discussion of getting rid of the position, saying, “At the last commissioners court, I felt things were running smoothly” with the facilities, without anyone managing it.

She proposed letting Precinct 4 Commissioner Buddy Knight oversee the facilities department as he had previously volunteered. The employees in the department currently ask the judge directly for “permission for whatever needs to be done,” and she trusts they are being responsible. “They are doing a good job that if they see a problem in one of our facilities, then they’re informing not only me, but that precinct’s commissioner.”

Aranda said, “Let’s take care of the problems ourselves, let’s work together. If you want to take care of the facilities in Marfa, Buddy, we’ll get [county employee] Billy (Hernandez) to take care of the problems in Presidio.”

Commissioner Brenda Bentley volunteered to review and approve requests when someone asks to use a county building or park, and Guevara would sign off on purchase requisitions for facilities.

Guevara motioned that facilities request forms formerly brought to facilities manager now be brought to Commissioner Bentley, that commissioner Knight oversee the northern portion of the county, and that Commissioners Aranda and Jose Cabezeula would oversee south county facilities, and it carried unanimously.

Block grant for water in  the colonias

The county also authorized Texas Community Unlimited to submit a $100,000 Texas community development block grant program. If awarded, it would be divided between Presidio, Zapata, and Nacogdoches counties, to provide utility operator training.

Presidio County’s remote communities of Candelaria and Redford are considered colonias, unincorporated areas where basic utilities are not fully adequate or serviced.

For Presidio, it has been difficult to hire and retain someone qualified to test the water there. The grant would get operators up to the licensed level that’s necessary for the operation of Presidio’s water sites, by providing six bimonthly sessions of formal training classes during the year, and monthly onsite hands on training.

Someone in Presidio can mentor someone in Candelaria, according to Guevara. The judge noted, “Candelaria is the most unique for these problems for the state of Texas. It’s the most remote, the most unique, with all its issues that it has.”

Aranda suggested, “We need somebody who can go out and help out those people in Candelaria who don’t know how to do this.” With that, the county approved the grant application.

Citizen comments on late  hours alcohol service

During the citizen comment period, the well attended Marfa meeting had a few residents state their opinions on the county approving late night hours for the Stardust Motel property’s liquor license.

Sheri Eppenauer, a school teacher in Marfa whose ranch shares fence line with the Crowley land, said, “I have no problems with the development. I am a compromiser not a fighter. With it being open seven days a week, 365 days a year til 2am serving alcohol, possibly he could consider building a fence that could prevent trash from blowing over onto our ranch. The cattle have swallowed it and died. We’ve had calves lose their feet from broken beer bottles thrown over the fence.”

She continued, saying it was hard for her to understand allowing alcohol until 2am every day “when we’re on a major highway,” before concluding, “I’m asking for consideration that Mr. Crowley could be respectful and work with the landowners. I do not want to be negative, but I truly believe this needs to be looked at closely, what’s best for our county. Is Mitch available 365 days a year at 2am and after?”

Next, longtime Marfa resident Arlene Acosta spoke after, stating her strong opposition to a bar open until 2am. “I believe it will prolong the drinking and we will have even more intoxicated people. Not just the number of people but also how much more intoxicated they will be by 2am.” She added that the high speed of the highway at the property, 65mph, would make it easier for people leaving late at night to be hit by vehicles entering town. She also feared it would increase DWIs, and increase overtime expenses for Sheriff deputies. “This is for the tourists, but what about our own people that are going to be in harm’s way?”

New county historical  commissioners approved

Peggy and Kim Thornsburg, a couple with deep ties to Marfa, were asked to join the Historical Commission, which is only able to appoint commissioners in odd years.

Kim Thornsburg’s father was a pharmacist in Marfa, while Peggy’s father was the Sheriff at one time.