August 31, 2022 641 PM
MARFA — At Monday’s special meeting, Presidio County passed next year’s budget and tax rate. The budget was passed with minimal last minute additions or subtractions, and the tax rate was set at $0.493833, a decrease from last year. The biggest changes from the proposed budget were an announcement that the county would no longer be paying PIPA (Presidio International Port Authority) dues and that the county would be extending additional funding to the Presidio and Marfa libraries.
PIPA has been the subject of scrutiny for months as the City of Presidio worked to finalize its budget. The PIPA board was created to fund projects that would boost the profile and earning potential of the Presidio International Bridge — since its inception in 2016, the county, city and Presidio Municipal Development District (PMDD) have paid yearly dues of $14,500 to $16,000 apiece. The PMDD board decided not to pay dues this past year, and City of Presidio officials have been debating the merits of continuing their membership as well.
As of July, Board President — and County Judge — Cinderela Guevara was trying to set up the board’s first meeting of the year, but otherwise the county was relatively quiet on the issue. Guevara explained at Monday’s commissioners court meeting that that was because she felt PIPA had run its course. “We’ve accomplished what we set out to accomplish,” she said.
In her estimation, the board’s biggest success was establishing a special relationship with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) called a 559 program. 559 allowed PIPA to donate resources — physical or financial — to CBP that helped the agency carry out its operations on the bridge. After PIPA’s donations, wait times on the bridge shrunk considerably. “It’s been successful, because I believe the wait time now is minutes and not hours,” she said.
While the suspension of PIPA dues represented the biggest shift in the budget, the county also agreed to extend an additional $1,000 apiece to the Presidio and Marfa libraries. Carmen Elguezabal, director of the Presidio Public Library, attended the meeting virtually to advocate for more funding. As local COVID waves rise and fall, she wanted to invest the money in an air purifier. “I want to make it as safe as possible for the children to come in,” she explained.
Judge Guevara stressed that the Marfa Public Library deserved matching funding because the library had lost an important yearly grant through the Lannan Foundation. The Lannan Foundation, a literary residency with a presence in Marfa for almost 25 years, announced this spring that they would be “sunsetting” the foundation and spending out all assets. “Without getting the grant from the Lannan Foundation, they’re going to be pretty tight,” Guevara said.
Joel Nuñez, chief deputy of the Presidio County Sheriff’s Department, also spoke at the meeting to request additional funding for his officers, but the county did not officially decide on a figure on Monday. Nuñez explained that salaries across his department were “very uneven,” and lacked incentive structures to keep employees around long term. “We want to be proactive, so we’re not losing our people,” Nuñez said.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Eloy Aranda suggested doing a regional survey of law enforcement salaries to create a realistic target for Presidio County — he had heard that other counties offered sign-on bonuses and structured incentive pay for employees who had banked a certain number of years on the force. Guevara agreed that trying to keep Presidio County competitive was a worthy goal but that low pay and morale was a symptom of systemic problems in the economy. “It’s a struggle right now, everyone is suffering,” she said.
To round out the meeting, County Auditor Patty Roach offered a helpful explanation of why the county was able to lower the tax rate despite ballooning property values. “The way they have us calculate taxes is just about the most confusing thing in the world,” she said.
Roach explained that as property values go up, the rate of taxes needed to bring in the same amount of money for the county each year go down — hence the trend toward lower tax rates. “Part of that is generated from new construction and part of that is generated from existing properties,” she explained. Folks with relatively lower home values wouldn’t feel quite as much of a “pinch,” as she put it, than folks with more expensive properties.
Judge Guevara lamented the “distortion” in the local real estate market. Commissioner Bentley agreed. “It has a negative effect on people who actually live here,” Bentley, who has deep family roots in Marfa, said. “People are leaving [Marfa] every day for exactly this reason. Realistically, I don’t even know how long I’ll be here.”