City Council reviews audit results, Marfa and Presidio County Museum renovations and renews contracts for city employees

MARFA — At last week’s regular city council meeting, council members reviewed audit results for fiscal year 2021, discussed next steps relating to the renovation of the Marfa and Presidio County Museum, renewed contracts for the city manager, attorney and police chief, and more. 

All council members and Mayor Manny Baeza were present. Preston Singleton of accounting firm Singleton, Clark & Company kicked off the meeting with a presentation to council regarding an audit of the previous fiscal year. He said the firm found the city’s financials were “accurately stated” and they were able to issue a clean report.

Singleton, whose company was performing an audit of the city for the first time, did have a number of suggestions and recommendations moving forward. He said the city should create more formal processes for paying out invoices, add greater checks and balances in a number of areas including utility collections and bank reconciliations, better organize grant funds, and keep a closer watch on city credit cards. He also cautioned that the city’s general fund should have three times a month’s worth of operating expenses — around $400,000 to $500,000 — and should not fall below that amount. 

City Manager Mandy Roane characterized the new audit as a chance to revisit and improve routine practices, to be adopted by the city’s bookkeeper. Roane was previously briefed on the audit results and is making steps to address the firm’s concerns, she said, including seeking financial director services and getting the city’s new accounting software system, which has yet to be fully phased in, up and running. 

It was previously stated the new accounting software, which will affect the user interface of the utility payment portal, would be complete later this summer, but it has been delayed into the fall, according to City Secretary Kelly Perez. Council unanimously voted to approve the audit, and it will be available for public view soon on the City of Marfa’s website:

Council moved on to discuss the status of the Marfa and Presidio County Museum’s structural failures, which are currently undergoing an engineering assessment by company INSIGHT Structures. The museum has had to close off two rooms due to severe sloping of the floor and walls, and the city has allocated $218,556.51 this budget cycle to repair the 1880s-era adobe structure.  

The city’s plan is to work with INSIGHT to develop a list of needed renovations which they can then use to put out a request for construction services to complete the project. Roane and Councilmember Eddie Pallarez met with the engineer recently who recommended the floor be removed in the affected areas to allow for further structural study. 

“For the engineer to actually put a stamp on it and make a recommendation he wants to remove the floors so he can get down there and see,” said Pallarez.

“Because if we just fixed the floor and the wall without doing the subfloor and [seeing] what’s underneath it, we’re just gonna run back into the same problems,” added Roane. 

The city previously spent $50,000 on repairs to adobe walls for the museum but failed to fully address the scope of repairs required. Roane said while it would be delicate, labor intensive work, the existing wooden floor boards would be kept, save for a few that are too warped to salvage. Council voted to authorize Roane to solicit bids for the floor removal, which they anticipated would be a minor project in terms of cost. 

Next, Mayor Baeza said the city would have money to spend on repaving a couple more streets — on top of the streets already earmarked for repaving — because the water well and groundwater storage tank projects that were supposed to receive those funds have been delayed and cannot be completed this fiscal year. The delays were due to factors out of the city’s control, said Baeza, and the groundwater storage tank was repaired and holding up despite its leaks. The city will instead divert funds to pay for the repaving of Russell Street from San Antonio to Columbia streets and Mesa Street from San Antonio to Lincoln streets. 

The streets department will repair and seal coat the streets, which should give them a seven to ten year lifespan, said Roane. Dates for construction are pending, but the city will work with TxDOT and Union Pacific moving forward on the repairs. The Marfa Activities Center parking lot and Nutrition Center/Meals on Wheels driveway will also be assessed for replacement. 

Council approved two requests from the Marfa Chamber of Commerce to hang banners and close streets for the Marfa Lights Festival taking place from September 2-4. Council then went into three consecutive executive session meetings, held behind closed doors, to conduct annual reviews of City Manager Roane, City Attorney Teresa Todd and Marfa Police Chief Steve Marquez, all of which resulted in renewed contracts.

Roane rounded out the meeting with her city manager’s report, stating that the recycling center is no longer taking plastics. The regular recycling centers the city utilizes are no longer purchasing plastics, she said, and the city’s attempts to pay someone to pick them up were also unsuccessful to date. 

“Logistically, we just can’t take any more until the market opens back up and we can start selling them and getting rid [of them]” said Roane, explaining the issue was widespread and not only affecting the City of Marfa. 

Richard Villareal, the city’s recycling supervisor, told The Big Bend Sentinel he is currently in talks with a San Angelo recycling company about arranging a pickup.

In conclusion, Roane said the library would be closed on Saturday, August 6, because the facility would be without power while American Electric Power (AEP) replaces a pole. She said the city recently filled two positions at the library, one part and one full time, and was still seeking a full-time public works utilities worker and would accept applications until August 5.