City approves 10% homestead exemption

MARFA – City Council gathered for a fifteen minute special meeting on Friday to re-attempt the city homestead tax exemption they had tried to pass earlier in the week. According the Presidio County Appraisal District’s Chief Appraiser Cynthia Ramirez, anyone who claims homestead in Marfa will get to take advantage of these new exemptions as early as the upcoming 2019 tax year.

The meeting was open for citizen comments before council considered the exemption, and longtime Marfa resident Lonny Mendoza took to the dais to speak to address council. “I’m not here to give you a hard time; I’m here to commend you for seriously considering a homestead exemption. It’s the right thing to do.”

Mendoza’s lamentations were similar to many Marfa citizens’ comments. “Our tax bill has increased tremendously over the last five years. We as taxpayers are feeling the pinch.”

As market values have increased tremendously for homes in Marfa, the appraisal district has struggled to keep expenses down for locals, especially during the reappraisal of 2014 when the state told the county appraisal district to reassess and catch up to state requirements.

“Marfa has become a very popular place and that is what has put us in this predicament. People that have houses, whether they’re native sons or new people, have taken advantage of the market. The innocent bystanders are those who are neither buying or selling, who have homes and want to continue to live here.”

Councilmember Irma Salgado has spearheaded the exemption effort on behalf of council. Salgado was previously the Chief Appraiser for the Presidio County Appraisal District, so she was quickly able to see how much revenue would be lost by the tax break and figure out how much relief Marfa citizens would get from various homestead exemption percentages.

“We’ve decided we’re going to do a 10% discount for homestead exemption, except if your exemption value is less than $5,000, then they’ll give you a flat $5,000,” Salgado explained. Council is starting at 10% and hopes that if all goes well, they can work their way toward 15% or eventually 20% exemptions.

Salgado said council is starting low because once a homestead exemption is implemented, “We can’t take it away. If we start at 20% and start having financial problems, we couldn’t bring it back down.”

Earlier in the week, council had gathered to approve the homestead and even voted on the agenda item, but a procedural mistake made the vote invalid. At the Friday meeting, Irma motioned to approve the exemption, with Councilmember Raul Lara seconding it. Council unanimously approved it, though Councilmember Yoseff Ben-Yehuda was absent.

City Attorney Teresa Todd said they council held special meetings to rush the exemption through, so that it could be put into place immediately. Mendoza replied from the audience, “We appreciate the rush.”