August 30, 2023 628 PM
MARFA — The City of Marfa’s 2023-2024 budget process is off to a smooth start, remaining mostly balanced after two meetings, a contrast to the harrowing financial situations and deficit budgets both Presidio County and Marfa Independent School District are facing.
But streets, utilities, code enforcement and more have yet to be discussed, and additional budget workshops are forthcoming. At a meeting Monday, City Council reviewed administrative, EMS and police funds, but so far no difficult decisions or cuts have been necessary. When looking to balance the budget, Council dipped slightly into its water department contingency fund — a $90,000 reserve for vehicle and equipment replacement funded by last year’s rise in water rates.
The city’s recent appeal to the county to receive an equal percentage of EMS aid compared to the City of Presidio was somewhat successful, with county commissioners allotting an additional $20,000 to each city’s EMS crews. Marfa originally requested the county increase its allotment to the city’s EMS by $88,000 — covering 15%, instead of 10%, of their EMS budget, as it does with the City of Presidio.
While it wasn’t exactly what they requested, Council was grateful to the county for ponying up the additional $20,000 for Marfa EMS, making the county contribution $65,000 total this year.
The city is working with a $12 million budget this year and plans to provide a 3% cost of living raise to full-time and salaried employees, raise water and garbage rates and spend $2.1 million on street improvements. It has budgeted to receive $580,000 in property tax collections and $450,000 in sales tax, with other revenue coming from city utilities services.
The city’s property tax rate will be slightly lower than the previous year. A public tax rate meeting will take place on September 12 at 6 p.m. and a budget hearing will take place on September 25 at 6 p.m..
Attaining a balanced budget is a matter of using revenue from city utilities to make up for crucial services that operate at a deficit — law enforcement, the Marfa Volunteer Fire Department, EMS, the library, senior citizen program and streets department.
In an overview at the latest meeting, Mayor Manny Baeza and the city’s contract accountant Dan Dunlap explained that out of the $618,000 budgeted for city administration, around $369,000 would be reimbursed by other city departments, with the expense being split up in the amount of $61,540 across the board.
“What it does is –– it balances the funds and keeps the governmental fund from being negative; it’s just an expense sharing,” said Dunlap.
Administration’s largest expenses are salaries, budgeted in the amount of $277,000 this year, professional services — accountant, auditor and attorney fees totaling $140,000 — and insurance costs. Other than the COLA raise and a $25,000 project to create weatherized storage for files in the EMS garage at City Hall, there were no major changes to the administrative budget.
The law enforcement department is budgeting to receive $560,000 in federal and state funds, $280,000 which have carried over from the previous year and $280,000 it hopes to receive this year, all from federal border security grant initiative Operation Stonegarden. $75,000 will likely go towards the purchase of a new patrol vehicle for the department.
The department’s major expenses are $322,000 in salaries, $85,000 in overtime — which is paid for with grants like Stonegarden — and $78,000 for insurance.
The Marfa Volunteer Fire Department operates off of a budget consisting of surplus charges — which the city automatically signed citizens up for upon switching to the new software system last year — in the amount of $19,470 and county contributions in the amount of $22,500. Soon the department will finish phase one of its fire station expansion project. $70,000 will be required to round out the interior work.
The city soon plans to reintroduce municipal court, which has largely fallen by the wayside since the pandemic. For the first time this year the city will budget $25,000 for a prosecutor to help run the court, a role previously served by the in-house city attorney. Municipal court involves tickets issued by the Marfa Police Department.
Warrants will soon be issued to those who have unpaid tickets with the city. Police Chief Gilberto Carrillo said there was a 42-page-long list of names of individuals with unpaid citations that would first have the option to come in and pay before receiving a warrant.
To date this fiscal year, the city has received $161,000 in municipal court fees out of $325,000 budgeted. Projected municipal court fees for next year are $275,000. “Since we are having court, we should see revenue increase,” said Baeza.
In other mixed news, the EMS department has a new expense of $5,000 annually — $400 a month, which is going to the new doctor, Patrick Daly with Preventative Care Health Services, who is serving as the new EMS director. The department is required to be overseen by a licensed physician and the individual previously serving in the role was pro bono. Marfa EMS budgeted $340,000 in salaries for the coming fiscal year, and will receive $38,000 in surcharge contributions.
It is likely some hotel occupancy tax revenue, which is required by state law to be used to promote tourism, will be allocated for upgrades to the USO, or Marfa Visitor’s Center, including the addition of outdoor bathrooms which will allow individuals to rent the pavilion without having to rent the entire facility.
To view a draft version of the City of Marfa’s 2023-2024 proposed budget, visit cityofmarfa.com/administration/page/budget-reports