Presidio citizens to vote on city charter in May

PRESIDIO – On Tuesday night, the Presidio city council decided that changing the city’s charter would go on the election ballot this May. Presidio has been operating as a Type A General Law Municipality, but the ballot measure would allow the city to become a Home-Rule Municipality. According to Presidio Mayor John Ferguson, “Once the city reaches 5,000 citizens, we have that option of becoming a home rule city. Alpine is already a home rule city. The city was looking at it as early as 2012, but the process was never completed.”

The city recently reignited the discussion and put together a committee to revisit the Presidio charter, which recommended the change. According to Presidio Mayor John Ferguson, a home rule charter “allows a city to have a little more flexibility in self governance,” and gives more power for cities to pursue “annexing additional property, and getting funding for municipal projects.”

A general law charter restricts cities to only taking actions that are explicitly allowed under Texas statutes. When cities switch to home rule, they are instead allowed to take any action if it is reasonably in the interest of the citizens, and doesn’t violate any state or federal Constitutions or laws.

Ferguson explained, “Paving projects, water/sewer projects, parks—under home rule city, as long as you’re abiding by state law, you have the option to craft local laws in a manner that would help us move forward.”

The mayor stated that the city has had the option to change over since 2010, when the population of Presidio surpassed 5,000 residents, but wants to switch now because, “We’re anticipating some future growth with international commerce and maybe needing to annex property related to that; that’s why we decided to pursue it.”

City officials are specifically interested in looking into ad valorem tax money lost from federally owned homes in Presidio, which they city currently isn’t allowed to collect on. There are about 200 federally owned homes that the city cannot tax, according to Ferguson, and they are hoping to consider an impact fee, something they previously could not pursue under the General Law charter. Neighboring Brewster County receives $1.2 million annually from the federal government, to compensate for the land Big Bend National Park controls, because it is taken off the county tax rolls. “We’re looking for something similar in Presidio,” the mayor added.

To summarize the potential charter changes, Ferguson gave the analogy, “A general law city is kind of like you have training wheels. It keeps you from falling over, but it keeps you from going faster. Until you become a home rule city, you can’t take those training wheels off.”