Council covers upcoming infrastructure projects, new STR ordinance in last meeting of 2022

MARFA — The Marfa City Council met on Tuesday night and swiftly ran through a lengthy agenda including discussion of grants for street repairs, new Parks Board appointees, an ordinance for newly-adopted short term rental (STR) regulations, and more before adjourning their last meeting of 2022. 

Mayor Manny Baeza, Mayor Pro Tem Irma Salgado, council members Mark Cash, Eddie Pallarez, Raul Lara, City Manager Mandy Roane and the city’s new attorney, Sylvia Borunda Firth of Bojorquez Law Firm, were in attendance. 

City seeks grant for street repairs

No citizens turned up for a public hearing to solicit feedback on community development needs in relation to the Texas Community Development Block Grant (TxCDBG). The city is applying for $500,000 for street repairs from the program, which is designed to improve low to moderate income communities and is administered by the Texas Department of Agriculture. Council then approved requests for qualifications (RFQs) for companies GrantWorks and FXSA, which will provide administrative and engineering services for the city should it be awarded the TxCDBG grant. Specific streets for repairs, should the city be awarded the funds, have yet to be chosen. As part of the grant requirements, projects must impact areas where at least 51% of the population qualifies as low to moderate income persons. 

$4 million from state to fund city water infrastructure projects

After approving the appointment of new Parks and Recreation Board members Michael Camacho and Erik Gomez, council heard from Trey Gerfers, general manager of the Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District, on the recent award of $12.6 million dollars from the Texas Water Development Board’s Economically Distressed Areas program (EDAP). 

The city will be receiving around $4 million of those funds for water infrastructure projects including a new wastewater line for Fort D.A. Russell and the development of first-time water and wastewater services to the East Heights neighborhood. 

While the county’s pre-application has been approved, a number of financial and administrative details will be worked out over the coming months, explained Gerfers. As is typical with similar programs, the county is anticipating 70% of the funds be grant-funded and 30% of the funds be issued in the form of a loan. 

At the meeting, the city agreed to pay their portion of the fee for the grant writer Bill Moriarty, who spearheaded the application process and will now help form a team of bond and financial advisors as well as representatives of the county to manage the funds. 

The city also approved a resolution allowing themselves to be reimbursed for the $11,000 fee later when the $4 million is received, potentially sometime this summer. 

New STR ordinance takes effect in January

City Attorney Firth then took the floor to review the city’s revisited hotel occupancy tax (HOT) and STR ordinances. The HOT ordinance remains largely unchanged, but the city has chosen to make a separate STR ordinance that fleshes out the new fees and regulations adopted this fall. 

The new STR ordinance goes into effect on January 1, 2023, and outlines the new fees — $500 registration fee plus $100 per unit — as well as self-reporting safety inspection requirements and penalties for non compliance. 

Firth explained that the city needed to prove the amount of money being collected from the new STR registration fees was not punitive, and that the city was simply recouping the cost for enforcing registration fees and health and safety requirements. City Secretary Kelly Perez has been tasked with monitoring Marfa’s STRs more closely on behalf of the city moving forward. The city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) has always been subject to STR fees and regulations and will continue to be under the new ordinances. 

Letters will be distributed to STR operators in the new year, alerting them to re-register or register for the first time with the city. The new ordinance will be available online after it goes into effect in the new year, but can be requested sooner through an open records request on the city’s website. 

Resigned council member’s seat to remain vacant

Council then officially accepted the resignation of Councilmember Jason Ballmann and discussed whether or not to fill the vacant seat. Mayor Baeza recommended that council leave the seat vacant due to Ballmann’s resignation being so close to the May election. Others agreed the work required to appoint someone for just a few meetings before the May election was impractical. Candidate filing for available city council positions will begin in January. 

Lannan Foundation park donation finalized

Firth addressed council regarding the donation of the park on West 2nd and North Gonzales streets from the Lannan Foundation, for which legal agreements were recently finalized. Council members agreed the park should remain a city park for the citizens of Marfa and to accept the gift as such. Firth said the foundation generously took care of the surveying fees and more. “This is coming to you all without any expense at all. It’s a true gift,” she said. 

Customers get increased utility bills, city seeks school resource officer

The meeting concluded with the city manager and police chief’s reports. Roane let council know they were receiving a good amount of public feedback on the most recent utility bills, which reflected higher gas prices the city is now paying to provider West Texas Gas, but the majority of customer bills were correct with less than 10 containing errors. (The city recently switched over to a new software system and as a result, some customer bills have been incorrect.) Chief Steve Marquez said all of the new police fleet vehicles had finally arrived and the search for the school resource officer (SRO) was beginning in earnest, with applications open now until January 9. He said they are hoping to attract a candidate with more experience because they will be stationed at the school, but they are willing to train up.