City Council approves water and wastewater rate study, county clerk take over of registrar duties and more at latest meeting

MARFA — City council met for a brief meeting this week in which they approved a number of initiatives, including a water and wastewater rate study and the formal passing off of local registrar duties to the Presidio County clerk, with councilmembers Mark Cash, Raul Lara, Mayor Pro Tem Irma Salgado as well as Mayor Manny Baeza, City Manager Mandy Roane and City Attorney Teresa Todd present. 

The meeting began with Roane presenting a draft proposal submitted by Willdan Financial Services, one of two companies which responded to the city’s request for proposals to conduct a water and wastewater rate study. Jason Gray of Willdan was present via Zoom to respond to councilmember questions as needed.

Willdan, who council ultimately awarded the project to, will assess the city’s water and wastewater utility rates which haven’t increased since 2015, said Roane. They will recommend changes to the utility rates in order to cover basic cost of service as well as capital improvement projects for the next five years. Possible capital improvements the new, likely increased, rates could help fund include the city’s new water storage tank, extending city services to the East Heights neighborhood, and more, said Roane.  

Gray said they could turn the study around within 60 days at the earliest. Mayor Baeza said council would like to have study results in hand in early to mid-September in time for the next city budget cycle. 

Next, council approved the renewal of the disc golf course lease to the non-profit that maintains and utilizes the city property, with Coleman Morris-Goodrick there in person representing the disc golf group. Morris-Goodrick advocated for a five year, versus one year, lease, which he said would allow the group to work toward their goals of more signage, equipment and maintenance. But Mayor Baeza recommended one more one-year lease which will extend until June 2023. At that time council will reconsider a longer lease for the disc golf course, he said. 

After approving a firework ban for July 4 due to continued drought conditions, council moved to discuss the matter of Presidio County Clerk Florcita Zubia taking over as the county-wide registrar of birth and death records through the Texas Department of State Health Services. 

Zubia, who was present at the meeting, said the county would have registrar capabilities up and running within the month, and she believed the process of her office taking the duty over from the Justice of the Peace would streamline the process for citizens. 

“They wanted me to take it on when I first came into office, but I needed to get my feet wet first,” said Zubia. 

The city agreed to transfer birth and death records they were holding to Zubia for years 1931 to 2018. Roane said it’s been frustrating in the past having to turn people away who had requests related to birth and death records, but no city staff had registrar capabilities so their hands were tied. 

“I think it will be a big benefit to all of the residents to be able to get everything that they need in one place,” said Todd. 

Council next approved a fee waiver for Zubia to host a convention of 40 to 60 individuals for the County and District Clerks’ Regional Convention at the USO this fall. Marfa Director of Tourism Abby Boyd said the event could be a good test run for welcoming back more conventions to town in the future. And said the city was considering actions that might incentivize hotels to lower nightly rates for convention attendees sometime in the future. 

“Marfa’s a little bit hard to promote convention wise, because we have smaller venues, our hotels are pricier than other places,” said Boyd. “So this kind of sets a good precedent for us. We can host these smaller conventions, but still make a big impact on our town and our HOT taxes.” 

Council went into executive session to discuss actions related to a February 2021 natural gas invoice the city received this past December from provider West Texas Gas that totaled $114,000, which the city has been working with a lawyer to remedy. Afterwards, council stated there were no major updates but authorized their attorney to request additional information from West Texas Gas. 

The final significant update was the announcement that the public Marfa Activities Center pool meeting set for June 16 would be postponed, due to council members not meeting the supermajority attendance requirement needed for special meetings. Mayor Baeza said they would work on rescheduling for the month of August or September.