Marfa council takes on audits, the pool and museum renovation at final meeting of the year

Marfa council takes on audits, the pool and museum renovation at final meeting of the year

MARFA — The Marfa City Council convened Tuesday night to hear a presentation of the 2019-2020 audit from their auditing firm, select new auditors and discuss paths forward — both short and long term — for the municipal swimming pool and the building that houses the Marfa and Presidio County Museum. 

Marfa’s finances received a clean bill of health this week from auditing firm Cherry Bekaert. David Forrest, the firm’s audit director for Marfa’s fiscal year 2019-2020 audit, presented an “unqualified” audit, meaning the city’s financial statements fairly represented the city’s financial situation and complied with government accounting standards. Forrest reported, “It’s a clean opinion on the financial statements, that they were in fact fairly presented,” noting a few adjustments and “no other significant audit findings or matters.”

After voting to accept the results of the audit, the council, with all members present, moved on to discuss hiring a new firm for fiscal years 2020-2021 and 2021-2022.

“The audits have been coming in late,” Mayor Manny Baeza had said in October when the city put out a request for proposals to complete the next two audits the city needs. At the October meeting, they talked about seeking an audit closer to home next time around. Cherry Bekaert, which is based in Richmond, Virginia, had bought out their previous auditing firm, and city staff said high turnover at the firm made it more difficult to get through the audit process.

Council was keen to hear about the firms who had entered proposals to be Marfa’s new auditors, and two proposals rose to the top of the pile at the meeting. El Paso’s Gibson Ruddock Patterson LLC and Cedar Park’s Singleton, Clark & Company were in close competition.

Preston Singleton, of Singleton, Clark & Company, attended the meeting in person, and told the council their firm had recently established an office in Alpine. Mario Arenas of Gibson, Ruddock, Patterson LLC also presented about his firm’s bid for the job.

Both companies had good recommendations from local clients like Alpine and Fort Davis ISDs, Brewster County and the Rio Grande Council of Governments. They offered a similar number of hours, similar start dates and a willingness to travel to Marfa when necessary.

“Cost is one factor to be considered but not the only one. You’re supposed to choose them based on their qualifications and experience,” City Attorney Teresa Todd advised the council.

“They both have their pros,” said Mayor Baeza, adding, “I like that Singleton is out of Alpine.” City Manager Mandy Roane said, “I do think it would be nice to have someone in Alpine, but I’ve heard good things from GRP.” Council debated the merits of the proposals and considered how close the two firms’ proposals were in meeting the city’s needs.

Councilmember Eddie Pallarez moved to choose Singleton, Clark & Company and the council agreed unanimously. Just one night earlier, Singleton was in south county, where he had received a standing ovation from Presidio City Council for their recent audit. Presidio City Councilmember Nancy Arevalo called the firm’s work “a breath of fresh air,” after Singleton presented the city’s audit results.

EMS Director Bert Lagarde also presented a request from the Big Bend Regional Medical Center for the city’s EMS to assist with transfers when air ambulances can’t land at Alpine Municipal Airport due to bad weather.

Currently, Marfa EMS is a 911 service, but not a transfer service, which means the city would potentially take on liabilities by transferring people in that manner. Council discussed expanding Marfa EMS to include transfer service, and the pros and cons that accompany it.

The issue was further complicated by current uncertainty among regional EMS after the sudden death of Alpine EMS Director Mike Scudder this month left the future of Alpine EMS up in the air. Lagarde reported that Terlingua EMS would assist temporarily, adding, “At this time, I think we need to assist Alpine at the highest level we can and help with transfers during bad weather days.”

Lagarde said he would like to revisit the issue with council at a later date, and with a BBRMC representative present, so the agenda item was tabled.

Next, George Deines of Counsilman-Hunsaker, which specializes in aquatic facilities and works with municipal pools, offered a three phase feasibility study on the Marfa Municipal Pool in the Marfa Activity Center (MAC) Building.

The study would first determine the needs by looking at the existing city pool and giving a brief conditions assessment of the pool “on the physical side — the pumps, motors, structure — but also the functional side. Does this pool meet the needs of the community of Marfa?” Deines asked.

Once needs are identified, the firm would do community outreach, potentially putting together stakeholder groups, running online surveys and hosting open community meetings “to get as much feedback from the community as possible,” he explained. Deines said communities’ aquatic facility needs can go beyond just recreation, including wellness and therapy, swimming lessons for children and adults or competitive needs.

After listening to those, the firm would come back with several options for the council to consider, offering different sizes or types of pools to accommodate the wants of city residents as well as the estimated costs and revenues, both initial and long term.

Whatever the results, Councilmember Irma Salgado wanted assurance that the study would not interfere with the reopening of the current city pool this coming summer, to which City Manager Roane assured the study was for a long-term plan that shouldn’t impact summer 2022 plans. “This is so we can get grants to repair things,” said Councilmember Buck Johnston. “We are opening it this summer. Let’s all repeat that together. We are opening this summer.”

Council voted all in favor to approve the estimated three month timeline for the MAC Pool feasibility study.

In other business, Councilmember Johnston updated council on a meeting between herself, Roane and Mary Williams and Terry Norman from the Marfa and Presidio County Museum board. The group met with a historic architect to discuss the ailing state of the museum building, which the city owns and rents out to the museum.

While the architect gave a brief rundown of what they believe needs to happen to correct the slow collapse of the building’s eastern wall due to water damage, council was reluctant to put out a request for proposals because they wanted the RFP to be as specific as possible about the work needed.

During a meeting on site, Johnston and Roane were shocked to learn that part of the building was being braced by “a cinder block and 2×4,” on a dirt basement floor, Roane said. “We might need to have more of an inspection on that,” she said, noting there was no point in fixing the building if it was still sitting on such tenuous support.

Councilmembers Pallarez and Yoseff Ben-Yehuda agreed to work together to assemble specific items for an RFP. “My goal would be for us to come back with a long list that’s prioritized and we can have a discussion,” Ben-Yehuda said. Council voted together to have the two council members put together items for a future RFP.