City of Presidio makes progress on next year’s budget, search for new city administrator

PRESIDIO — At Monday night’s meeting, Presidio city council received preliminary guidance on fiscal year 2023’s budget and narrowed their finalists for the open city administrator position. Both marked a positive trend in city government, as City Hall seeks to build better bookkeeping practices and fight for more accountable leadership. 

Director of Finance Glorisel Muniz and Finance Specialist Malynda Richardson led the bulk of discussion at the meeting, offering their suggestions for where to cut costs as the city prepares to set sales and property tax rates at the end of this fiscal year. These rates will be set by council in a public meeting, so members of the community can be a part of the process.

The process of slimming down Presidio’s expenses is complicated because, as Richardson explained, “the biggest expense is personnel.” Staffing shortages in departments across the board have led to hefty overtime payments, and the general state of the economy — rampant inflation, high gas prices, and the lingering effects of the pandemic — have tapped the city’s resources.

Despite the call for cuts, Police Chief Margarito Hernandez addressed council to advocate for a modest raise for his officers, who currently make around $14.95 an hour. “If you look at the big cities, Whataburger pays at least $15 an hour,” he said. 

Every year, one of the biggest hurdles to balancing the budget is addressing losses in the general fund — the part of the city’s budget that provides services that don’t make money, like the municipal pool or the senior center. “We are legally bound to have a budget where there is no deficit in the general fund,” Richardson said. “Ideally, we need about three months of reserves.”

Richardson and Muniz’s major recommendation was for each department to focus on where they could cut costs, down to “little bitty things”: “It’s kind of like a slow drip on your faucet,” Richardson said. “It may not be very much, but over time, it adds up.” 

Several department heads brought up the urgent need for investments in areas like the city’s aging vehicle fleet. “We have a vehicle from 1981,” said Cesar Leyva, head of Presidio’s Water and Sewer Department. His department reportedly also has another old truck whose mechanical problems are so severe they’ve nicknamed it “Smoky.”

While the city is trying to correct its financial course and act with more accountability, the state of the city’s vehicle fleet and personnel led many in the room to agree that taking on some debt for big-name purchases like new trucks and utilities equipment may help save some money down the line. “Strategic planning is how we line up these projects and make sure that they’re done in the proper order so that we’re not just wasting money on stuff that is gonna get wiped out,” Richardson said. 

Mayor Pro Tempore John Razo reminded the room about the city’s master plan, which outlines the priorities city officials have agreed are important. “We paid to make a master plan,” he said. “Let’s use it.” 

Council then adjourned into a lengthy executive session where they narrowed down applicants for the open city administrator position to five candidates. The position has been vacant since April, when former Administrator Brad Newton was fired. City staff has had to shoulder extra responsibility in the meantime, as council decided not to hire an interim and instead assign much of the workload to the mayor. 

The candidates come from all over Texas and represent a range of experience in city government: Arvin Tucker of Brownsville, Daniel Bueno of Vinton, Henry Arredondo of Del Rio and Jessica Carpenter of Port Lavaca. Presidio’s hometown candidate is Pablo Rodriguez. 

Mayor John Ferguson was pleased with the progress made at Monday night’s meeting — after a few years of adverse and delayed audits, it was refreshing to feel like the city was getting back on track financially. “Basically, we finally are able to look at our city finances in real time and have a clearer picture of where we’re at,” he explained. “It was all really helpful. Not necessarily all good news, but at least now we know.”