September 7, 2022 744 PM
MARFA — At a special city council meeting last week, Mayor Manny Baeza introduced the proposed 2022-23 Marfa city budget and council members voted to accept a new proposed tax rate.
All council members were present. The city will host budget workshops throughout the month of September to further discuss the proposed budget. The meeting schedule, along with a draft of the city budget, is available online on the city’s website.
First, council heard from Dan Dunlap, contract accountant for the city, on setting the new tax rate. The city’s current property tax rate is $0.363 per $100 taxable value and the new rate — which council voted to accept but is pending final approval after a public hearing — will be $0.371, a 2.35% increase from the previous year. The public hearing on the proposed tax rate will be held at 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, September 20.
Next, Mayor Baeza presented a rough draft of the 2022-23 fiscal year budget and council members went through department by department to go over the basics and familiarize themselves with the new proposal.
The bare bones nature of the budget was emphasized by Baeza and City Manager Mandy Roane, who said it didn’t reflect a cost of living adjustment for city employees or potential new rates that result from the city’s water and wastewater study, which she is expecting to be completed by the end of month.
Baeza also clarified that the budget did not include potential grant monies because the money was not yet in hand. The budget presented was slim, with some utilities departments, including water and natural gas, which are designed to be revenue-generating sources for the city, losing money.
“You’re looking at a negative revenue of $41,000 for one of your enterprise funds,” said Baeza of the natural gas department. “This is where you should be making money to provide services for the city.”
Council again addressed a matter previously discussed in early August — the anticipation of citizen’s natural gas utility bills rising, potentially even doubling, as a result of the hike in natural gas prices. At the time, Roane said the city would be unable to absorb the difference in price due to such high increases from the market.
Baeza put it plainly, explaining that most city departments lose money. “Your library loses money, your admin loses money, EMS loses money, law enforcement loses money. A lot of the services we provide are not profitable,” he said. “You have to focus on your revenues, you have to focus on water and sewer, natural gas, your enterprise funds, so that way we can offset the services provided to the City of Marfa.”
The city, which has not raised water and wastewater rates since 2015, will likely decide to do so, but has yet to discuss specifics as council members and city administrators await the completion of the water and wastewater study.
In addition to allocating funds for maintenance to City Hall, council discussed Marfa Police Department’s facilities, stating there was $32,000 allocated for the renovation of their space in order to increase security and privacy for citizens. The city recently submitted an Operation Lonestar grant for $40,000 for overtime for Marfa PD officers and $80,000 to pay the remaining cost of police vehicles which were funded, in part, by the city’s first grant from Governor Greg Abbott’s border security program.
The city budgeted that Marfa ISD would reimburse a $40,000 salary for a school resource officer, who would work on school grounds but be a city employee under the umbrella of the Marfa PD. The Marfa Volunteer Fire Department’s budget, which was recently awarded over $200,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in order to expand its facilities, was likely to change, said Baeza, and did not yet reflect those forthcoming grant funds.
Other city-run entities like the Marfa Public Library were facing some fiscal challenges. Due to the dissolution of the Lannan Foundation, who has long provided $10,000 a year to the library to expand its book collection, library leaders were looking elsewhere for funds, including to the Hancher Library Foundation. The Marfa Activities Center could potentially see some money allocated to fix bathrooms, as well as to resurface and repaint the pool.
Council also reviewed funding to continue street repairs. Baeza said tax note funds would likely help funnell $1.5 million into the repair of Mesa and Russell streets, plus more projects were being considered. The city would also explore applying for another Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which it last received funds from in 2018.
Notably, council members also touched on the idea of utilizing hotel occupancy tax (HOT) revenue more creatively for projects which could benefit the local community, a topic previously discussed at local meetings with the Texas Hotel Lodging Association. Currently, laws surrounding the use of HOT funds primarily allow for the money to be funneled back into tourism activities. So far, the city has budgeted similar HOT revenue from the past of $754,650. Councilmember Jason Ballmann suggested partnering with other cities to lobby Congress on the issue in the coming legislative session. City council met again Wednesday evening at a budget workshop after press time. They will also meet on Thursday, September 8 at 6 p.m. at City Hall. The Big Bend Sentinel will have an update in next week’s issue.