City council talks pool reopening, HOT funds and overdue bills

MARFA – With COVID-19 mostly in the rearview mirror, Marfa City Council met to discuss a variety of topics that have been impacted by the pandemic. Summer pool plans, grant funds for public gathering events and utility payments stymied by COVID-19-era belt-tightening all came up for discussion, and council hammered out plans for moving forward.

Plans for pool reopening evaporate

The topic of reopening the city pool returned to the agenda at this Tuesday’s city council meeting, where discussion stagnated as prospects dimmed for a 2021 opening.

Newly-titled Public Works Supervisor Chuck Salgado said the department is still waiting for parts to repair the pool pump, which may take until the end of June or beginning of July to arrive. He and his crew “will install the pump, the new piping for that pump and paint the pool. I inspected the pool and it’s got some cracks in the paint, and rust falling from the roof has discolored the paint,” he said.

That paint is special, according to City Manager Mandy Roane, who was advised that the paint must remain wet once completed, urging council to discuss whether to move forward on painting if the pool would not actually reopen this summer.

Roane also highlighted solar panel leaks, an out-of-date chlorinator and the state of the pool’s bathrooms as roadblocks to reopening. “It doesn’t look promising this year, does it?” remarked Mayor Pro Tem Irma Salgado.

“I think that, with COVID, we weren’t sure about opening and we really should have talked about this probably in February and got this on the agenda much earlier than this,” said Councilmember Buck Johnston. “I don’t think we’ll be able to open it this year, but it’s going to be an interesting conversation for the budget cycle.”

Mayor Manny Baeza remarked that in February the city was still operating under pandemic conditions, “So it wasn’t a priority. I think we should focus on fixing the pool and reopening in May of next year.”

When push came to shove, council couldn’t bring themselves to formally close the pool. Though Pro Tem Salgado motioned “that because of all the complications we’re having now, the delay in having things repaired, the possibility of reopening in 2021 is not going to happen. We’re going to keep looking at it in budget time to try to open for 2022,” the rest of the council stayed mum, and her effort died for lack of a second.

Summer events heat up with HOT tax grants

Hotel occupancy tax collections and the subsequent disbursement of those dollars to area organizations languished during the coronavirus pandemic. Money was awarded to only a few organizations last year as events fell by the wayside, but as Marfa and its regular arts, culture and historic events are lining up this summer and fall, the committee finally was able to gather and make new recommendations for spending HOT dollars.

At Tuesday’s meeting, council agreed to accept the committee’s proposals, awarding Viva Big Bend 2021 and Ballroom Marfa’s Espejo Quemada exhibition each with $8,000 in arts and culture grants. Up to $4,000 in advertising grants was awarded to Viva Big Bend, Ballroom Marfa and the Marfa Chamber of Commerce’s Marfa Lights Festival.

Mayor Baeza, who serves on the committee, said these were the only formal applications received on time. Going forward, the committee plans to award grant funds biannually, based on applications submitted and their merits. Those who wish to apply can contact the city manager for an application and submit it to the city’s new, incoming Tourism Director Abby Boyd.

Overdue utility bill payments trickle in

In her city manager report, Roane told council that since letters went out to those with delinquent city utility bills, people are coming in to make payment plans, down payments or completely paying off their balances. “We gave everyone through the end of June to make a plan,” Roane said. “If they don’t, they do risk a disruption in their services.”