Presidio City Council tackles potential police shortage, federal grants

PRESIDIO — At Monday’s meeting, Presidio City Council made a little bit of progress in a lot of different areas, putting the city in a good position to start the time-consuming process of finalizing next year’s budget. Both Mayor John Ferguson and Mayor Pro Tempore John Razo were absent from the meeting, so Councilmember Arian Velázquez-Ornelas was tapped to preside over the short-and-sweet proceedings. 

First on the docket: Council heard an update from Trey Gerfers, chairman of the Presidio County Underground Water District, about a local committee formed to maximize the county’s gains from the state revolving funds dedicated to water treatment and management. Gerfers has been actively updating the Presidio County Commissioners Court since March, but took the time to field concerns from South Presidio County residents at Monday’s meeting. 

Councilmember Nancy Arevalo echoed longtime local concerns about extending the city’s water infrastructure out to Las Pampas Colonia, a subdivision north of town on Highway 67 where developers sold land with the promise to provide utilities but haven’t yet fulfilled that promise. Residents have since been hauling water to their residences, straining vehicles and roads. “There’s a dire need to get water out there,” Arevalo said. 

Next, the council fielded a proposal from Chief of Police Margarito Hernandez to fund the cost of police academy training for a promising young cadet. “We’re hurting for officers,” Hernandez said, repeating a concern he’s been trying to impress upon city officials. The cadet in question is hoping to become a fully-certified peace officer but can’t afford the necessary training. 

Finance Specialist Malynda Richardson supported the idea but suggested Hernandez get in touch with the city’s legal counsel to clear up some questions and mock up a more specific contract. Richardson wanted assurance that if the cadet didn’t pass the academy, the city wouldn’t be on the hook for funding his education. 

Hernandez explained that police academy students are given regular tests and are allowed a certain number of retakes, so tracking the cadet’s progress would be easy. “I like this idea,” said Councilmember Nancy Arevalo. Council ultimately voted to approve the funding, pending legal review of the rewritten contract. 

Council then tackled two sets of federal grants: American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and Federal State and Technology Partnership (FAST) funds. Finance Director Glorisel Muñiz gave a brief presentation and handed out project orders for pieces of the city’s water infrastructure which will be paid for by ARPA funds. Repairs to two wells will be made thanks to the funds as well as an overhaul of the “core and main” system that connects to the city’s water meters. 

ARPA funds were intended as part of the broader Biden administration push to provide stimulus to local economies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic; FAST funds, on the other hand, funnel federal money into projects pitched by local economic development agencies. The City of Presidio is still in the midst of the application process, but are hoping to fund projects that will benefit the city’s EMS and fire departments. 

To close out the meeting, Council set a date for the next budget workshop: Saturday, August 13, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. At that meeting, Council will hear proposals from department heads for their financial priorities in Fiscal Year 2023. The meeting will be held at City Hall, and members of the public are encouraged to attend virtually to accommodate limited space in the conference room. 

Councilmember Velazquez-Ornelas also assured the public that the city was expediting its search for a new city administrator. Presidio has been without a city administrator since April, when former City Administrator Brad Newton was fired. As of the council meeting on June 29, the search has been narrowed down to five candidates: 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. 

Members of council agreed that they were willing to dedicate extra time and special meetings to choosing the next administrator. “We need to have a new city administrator by August,” Velazquez-Ornelas tentatively promised.