May 6 General Election ballot preview: Candidates and a groundwater district proposition

MARFA — The filing deadline for candidates and ballot propositions for the May 6 General Election, which ended last week, saw a handful of candidates contending for local public office and the Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District seeking voter approval to become a taxing entity. 

Early voting for the May 6 General Election begins Monday, April 24, and runs until Tuesday, May 2. 

Marfa City Council 

For Marfa City Council, the role of mayor, currently held by Manny Baeza, will be up for election, with Baeza filing to serve for another term and Marfa resident Stephen Salgado Boelter running against the incumbent. Baeza served on city council beginning in 2008, was first elected mayor in 2019 and ran unopposed for a second term in 2021. He said he decided to run for reelection in order to ensure the city’s planned projects — including major street and sewer system repairs as well as the completion of the new water well — come to fruition. 

“We have put together a great team over the past few years that is dedicated to the community. I want to continue to support their efforts for improving our community,” said Baeza of city staffers.

Boelter said he had no comment at this time and plans to share more regarding his candidacy in the future.

Two full-term council seats, currently held by Raul Lara and Irma Salgado, will be up for election. Incumbent Lara filed to run again, along with Marfa residents Christa Marquez and Travis Acreman. Irma Salgado will not be seeking reelection. Voters will be instructed to choose two out of the three candidates on the ballot.  

When reached for comment, Lara provided a list of past city council accomplishments, which included initiatives to repair the city’s streets, grants for five new police fleet vehicles and EMS training for city departments. If reelected, it will be Lara’s third term on council.

Acreman, who works in event production and stage management with New York-based company MJM Creative, said that after becoming aware that the city was struggling to attract candidates for the second election in a row, he felt compelled to run in the spirit of public service. 

“There are real challenges facing us out here in the high desert, and Marfans have the right to reliable, competent leadership,” said Acreman. “It is important for our elected leaders to come prepared to serve a full term, ready to address the very real concerns of its citizens and manage their tax dollars responsibly.” 

Marquez, a realtor and the wife of City of Marfa Police Chief Steve Marquez, has served in roles on the Marfa ISD School Board, the Marfa PTO, and the Marfa Education Foundation board in the past and said she was motivated to run for city council in order to continue to serve the community and represent Marfa’s various citizens.

“Through my experiences in educational and community leadership, I’ve gained the background needed to understand the deeper issues facing our community,” said Marquez.

An unexpired one-year term, left vacant by former Councilmember Jason Ballmann, who resigned this past fall, received one applicant: Mark Morrison, who is running unopposed and will likely be appointed. Morrison is self-employed in the construction business and operates a few long-term rentals in town with his partner, a physician with PCHS Clinic in Presidio and Marfa. 

“I decided to run for the remainder of the unexpired term to be of service to my community. I don’t have an agenda or a pet cause,” said Morrison. “I would like to serve the interests of the town in the necessary areas of budget, infrastructure and the various policy and governance areas that have to be taken care of for a vibrant town.”  

Marfa School Board 

The Marfa School Board will have two trustee positions up for election in May: Place 1 and Place 2. Place 2 is currently held by Lori Flores, who filed for reelection. “I’m in it for the students,” Flores said of her desire to continue to serve on the board. 

Place 1 has remained vacant since the resignation of previous Board Member Christa Marquez in July, and no one filed to run for the seat. The district will likely need to solicit letters of interest and appoint someone to serve on the board. Since Flores is running unopposed, she will likely be appointed and the district will not hold an election. 

Presidio City Council 

Presidio City Council will see the position of mayor, currently held by John Ferguson, up for election, as well as two council member seats. Ferguson has served as the mayor of Presidio since 2013 and filed for reelection. He will be running against Angel Miguel Campos. 

“Presidio continues to face challenges in the lack of opportunity, aging infrastructure and general quality of life needs. Fortunately there are many in our community who step up to address local concerns, and I count myself as one of them,” said Ferguson. “I would be more than happy to continue my work as mayor of our city for another term, if given the opportunity by voters.”  

Council members Arian Velazquez-Ornelas and Nancy Arevalo, whose terms will be up, have both filed for reelection. Presidio resident and realtor with Livingston Real Estate Todd Beckett has filed to run for city council as well. 

Arevalo, a longtime resident of Presidio, said the main reason she was running for reelection was because of her love of the community, adding that she felt it was her civic duty to have an active role in the local legislative process. 

If elected I will be in pursuit of making good sound decisions, which will represent the community as a whole and not to appease a personal or a certain small group’s agenda,” said Arevalo. “I will value and listen to everyone’s different perspectives with respect and dignity.”

Beckett, Velazquez-Ornelas and Campos did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Presidio School Board 

Over half of Presidio ISD’s school board will be up for election, with the terms of Yvonne Spencer, Ethel Barriga, Hugo Ramos and Fidel Baeza expiring in May. The superintendent’s secretary, Elizabeth Melendez, did not respond to repeated requests for comment regarding candidates who filed to run for school board. The City of Presidio will hold a joint election with the Presidio Independent School District in May. Voting will likely take place at the Presidio Activity Center (PAC). 

Presidio County 

There will be a proposition relating to the county’s underground water conservation district on the May 6 General Election ballot, in which voters will decide whether or not to allow the district to become a taxing entity. 

Since its creation in 1999, the district has operated from a budget from the county commissioner’s, rather than levied their own tax. The move to make the underground water conservation district its own independent taxing entity has been a matter of discussion for some time, after County Attorney Rod Ponton initially suggested the change in the summer of 2021. 

In the May election, voters will simply vote on whether to make the district a taxing entity, rather than vote on a specific tax rate. According to state law, the district may levy a property tax not to exceed $0.05 per $100 of assessed property valuation. Trey Gerfers, general manager of the district, said the district will sit down with the Presidio County Tax Assessor-Collector and determine what to make tax rate in order to get the budget they need. 

The district’s current annual budget is around $51,000 according to Gerfers. It’s core expenses are for Gerfer’s salary — $1,600 a month — dues, insurance, legal, training and more. The district has successfully received grants in the past, and will continue to pursue grant funding and partnerships, said Gerfers. 

This fall, the county entered into a interlocal agreement with the district to offset a potential new tax by lowering their tax rate so that citizens would not be impacted, something Gerfers refers to as a “tax swap” that will not appear in the proposition language, but represents an agreement in place with the county. 

“The county commissioners will reduce their tax rate to offset the district’s tax rate so that the property taxes won’t go up for Presidio County taxpayers,” explains Gerfers. 

If the proposition passes, the district will begin collecting taxes in 2024 but not have its own tax revenue stream until 2025, so would be covered by the county until then. If the proposition fails to pass this election cycle, Gerfers said they will be able to put it up for a public vote once more, although the district is hoping the proposition will pass the first go around. He said their work to monitor groundwater, understand groundwater resources and permit accordingly to ensure the county does not run out of water is a vital service. 

“I’m hopeful that people will see their own self interest in this, and they’ll understand that the tax rate swap will offset the tax burden of a new tax and that they will vote for this,” said Gerfers. “But groundwater is just too important to allow our groundwater district to just dissolve because we’re not able to operate unless we can assess a tax.” 

In order to get the word out about the proposition and gain voter support, the district is planning a series of educational videos that will cover how groundwater works, Texas groundwater law, the history of Presidio County’s groundwater district and more, in part funded by the Dixon Water Foundation. 

“It would just be a real shame if we lost this because people don’t understand what’s at stake,” said Gerfers. “Because this is the best shot that we have of ensuring local control of the water and guaranteeing or giving ourselves the best shot at a prosperous future.”