Presidio budget passes with eyes on financial growth

PRESIDIO — The Presidio city council passed its 2020-2021 budget last week, and it included raises, restructuring and some hope that the financial position of the city is on its way up. Mayor pro tem Alcee Tavarez, Ernesto Zubia and Irvin Olivas voted the budget in, with the other two council members absent.

“Property values have increased, so probably it will be a wash in terms of when you get your tax bill,” city administrator Joe Portillo told residents in attendance. Last year the tax rate was .79 per $100 of valuation, but this year that rate will drop to .75 per $100 of valuation. Still, with the increased property values, the new tax rate is designed to keep the overall income of the city the same as last year.

Portillo this week said officials are hopeful that the financial position will improve as the city gets caught up on audits. The city had fallen years behind, but in the past three years, the city has made up for audits from 2012 all the way to 2016. Now doing 2017-2018, the city is hopeful to move into 2018-2019 in about a month.

Why the rush? Getting caught up on audits will allow the city to finance their long term debt, “which will free up immediate monies for our budget to do other projects like an EMS station, with some sort of telemedicine capability,” Portillo said.

That’s just one project on the city administrator’s mind. With the ability to free up cash, the city is hoping to tackle a variety of projects. “We want to start a street paving project, the 9-1-1 project, we need to buy street signs, stop signs. Those are very important things, and tough calls the council is going to have to make,” Portillo said.

“One of the silver linings of the pandemic is Zoom meetings,” which Portillo hopes can be translated into providers offering more telemedicine and locals taking more advantage of it. If Presidio residents feel ill after 5pm or on the weekends, when clinics are closed, having telemedicine available in the EMS station could save everyone a round trip to the hospital an hour and a half drive in each direction. It’d also save the city’s ambulance fleet from taking on so much wear and tear.

Another potential project could be a holding facility in town that would also help Customs and Border Protection detain people at the border who have warrants, and help the local police from driving so far as well.

Still, the city isn’t quite at the point of having money to spend. Property tax revenue was budgeted for $708,100 in the 2019-2020 year, but due to coronavirus, the actual was $321,595.

The city still budgeted $907,260 as an estimated revenue for this coming fiscal year’s sales tax though.

“A budget is a forecast, but just like this year with the pandemic, there could be something that comes up that we did not have on our radar, so you can make an amendment to change the figures and fund the departments based on whatever the need might be,” Mayor John Ferguson told a resident who asked about the certainty of the budget.

Since COVID-19 began, the city has laid off staff that are “non-essential,” shrinking the library from three employees to one part time worker and lowering staffing at the Presidio Activity Center.

“The employees that remain are all essential employees,” Portillo said, pointing to city functions like water, the sewer, the landfill and other departments that keep certain services going.

“For the ones that have put themselves at the greatest risk, we have to find the money,” Portillo said of still giving raises this year. The city used a matrix based on employee evaluations to give raises anywhere between 0 to 3% to cover “cost of living” increases.

The city also shifted code enforcement under the law enforcement budget, which saw a $100,000 increase over last year’s budget. The human resources department was also shifted into administration, since the duties already fell under the job of the city secretary Brenda Ornelas-Acuña.

“We don’t have any plans today to hire anybody,” Portillo told The International this week. “We could use two more EMTs, two more PD, two more public works employees easily. Do we have the money? No.” But he did point to massive government investments by the USA and Mexico that could bring the rail line back into use, shipping goods from Kansas, USA to Topolobampo, Mexico.

“Do I think more revenue could be generated, could our budget grow? Absolutely.” This year’s budget is a conservative guess, but Portillo said there’s lots of room for growth should it come Presidio’s way.