August 23, 2023 602 PM
MARFA — The Marfa City Council met last week for the first in a series of workshops to hash out the 2023-2024 city budget.
The mayor’s preliminary proposed budget involves a 3% cost of living adjustment for full-time city employees, raising customer rates for garbage collection, spending $2.1 million on street repair projects — a carry over from last year’s budget, unable to be completed due to delays in engineering services.
The city’s roughly $12 million budget is supported by $8 million in revenue from city services and taxes, including $580,000 in property tax collections, as well as a $3.5 million tax note the city took out last year for capital improvement projects that it must spend over the next two years and pay off in seven.
The city will collect slightly less property taxes in 2023-2024 than the previous year, Presidio County Tax Assessor Collector Natalia Williams told council members, due to a $39 million increase in taxable values that caused the tax rate to go down.
The city’s current property tax rate is $0.371 per $100 taxable value and the new rate — which council voted to accept but is pending final approval after a public hearing later in September — will be $0.323, a decrease from the previous year.
Below is a breakdown of the key takeaways from the proposed budget.
Marfa’s EMS budget was chief among concerns raised by city officials during the budgeting process. In a letter submitted Wednesday, the city requested that the county nearly double its regular allotment to Marfa EMS, arguing the current allotment is not equitable compared to what the county gives the city of Presidio. County commissioners said they would consider the request but that they’re working with a tight budget themselves. (For a full story on the EMS budgeting, see “As budget process begins, Marfa requests greater allotment of county EMS funds.”)
In other emergency services news, phase one of the Marfa Volunteer Fire Department expansion, which involves constructing weatherized storage for equipment and vehicles, is nearly complete, said Roane. The long-awaited project finally received a funding boost last year with the help of a $224,000 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grant from the county as well as tax note funds from the city. Roane said the fire department still had some funds to contribute, as did the city, and it would cost around $70,000 to see phase two of the project — interior additions of an ADA-accessible restroom, laundry room and kitchen — completed.
“We’ll finish phase one because that was the big one, and then phase two we’ll see what is left over in our funds, what we can scrape together from the county, if they want to give us anything else, and then the fire department’s banked funds,” said Roane. “Then we’re just going to piece it out over the next couple of years until we get it done.”
As it did last year, the city will increase water and wastewater customer rates by another 8% this year, which it plans to do for five consecutive years in order to pay for costs of running the service as well as fund infrastructure projects. The regular increases were initiated by a water and wastewater rate study conducted last summer, prompted by the fact that the city hadn’t raised customer rates since 2015.
The city has budgeted $923,000 for solid waste removal, an increase from the $539,000 budgeted last year. The city renewed their contract with solid waste removal company Republic Services, which, although the most competitive bid, saw costs increase by around 40% — fees the city will have to pass down to its customers but plans to absorb to some degree to lessen the impact, said Roane and Baeza.
“On average everything went up like 42%,” said Roane. “People are going to see that increase in their trash rates because we went five years without an increase, and I think Republic probably did take a hit when you look at how much gas [increased] and inflation. We were riding along at that old rate.”
Baeza explained that the city’s original goal was to offer a 5% cost of living adjustment to full-time employees, but a 3% bump was what the city could currently afford. Last year, the city opted to approve a 3% raise for only hourly employees.
Roane said salaried employees had not seen a raise since 2019. In addition to the cost of living adjustments, she had worked with the mayor and the city’s contract accountant, Dan Dunlap, to establish a system for merit raises across city departments.
“We went through and calculated if they do get the merit raise how much it will be, so we feel pretty confident in the salaries for every department,” said Roane.
Baeza said there was also a purposeful emphasis on providing training and professional development for city staff this year. “One of the things we pushed a lot, if you noticed through all departments, is travel, training — law enforcement as well — we want them to be as trained as possible, we want them to better themselves,” said Baeza.
The city intends to push forward on $2.1 million worth of street repairs originally budgeted for last year that were unable to begin in earnest due to engineering delays. Routes slated for repair include Third Street, from SH17 west to Austin Street; Gonzales Street, from Columbia to Third Street; Summer Street, from Columbia to Lincoln Street; and Edinburg, from U.S. 90 to Sacramento Street.
New code enforcement department initiatives, which are being headed up by City Secretary Kelly Perez, saw an increase in revenue from the previous year. Since the city has begun more stringently enforcing alcohol permits for local businesses, it has brought in $6,000 compared to the previous year’s $175, and short-term rental registration fees — which council opted to raise significantly and finally begin to enforce last year, causing some STR owner push back — totaled around $53,000 out of $62,500 budgeted. The city budgeted to receive $62,500 again next year. That money is helping support Perez’s salary and permit enforcement.
Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds will likely be spent on repairs to the historic USO, or Marfa Visitor’s Center, and Baeza said the Marfa Activities Center (MAC) was badly due for upgrades as well, including adding insulation to the building, totally redoing the bathrooms and the dance floor. (Discussions as to how to utilize the MAC building moving forward, including its potential as an aquatic facility and community center, have taken place in the recent past but have since stalled.)
“I want to beautify that MAC building since we’re going to hang onto it,” said Baeza. “It’s a great facility, but it’s also like 35 or 45 years old now.”
Two additional budget workshops will take place next week on Monday and Wednesday at 6 p.m. at City Hall in the Caser Room. A draft budget should be uploaded to the city’s website soon. The Big Bend Sentinel will provide updates in forthcoming issues.