September 13, 2023 812 PM
MARFA — In recent city budget workshops, Marfa City Council voted to increase residential and commercial garbage collection rates by an average of 39%, give a 3% cost of living raise to all, not just salaried, employees, and assess overtime expenses for the public works department.
The large hike in garbage fees is due to the fact that the city’s monthly bill from solid waste company Republic Services is also going up 39%, from around $51,000 to $72,000 a month. (After five years with the same rates, the city recently renewed its contract with Republic after it provided the lowest bid compared to Texas Disposal Systems.)
Council members agreed the significant increase wasn’t ideal, but their hands were tied. “We cannot absorb all the costs, there’s no way that we can leave everyone’s monthly cost the same and face this increase. We don’t have the funds to,” said City Manager Mandy Roane.
For regular residential customers within city limits — which make up the city’s largest customer base with 935 accounts — the monthly garbage collection fee will increase from $34.54 to $48, an additional $14 a month. Shared commercial rates within city limits will increase from $78.48 to $109 a month.
Short-term rentals (STRs) are required to pay commercial garbage fees per city policy. According to City Secretary Kelly Perez there are currently around 204 registered STR units in the city.
Residential customers outside city limits will now be charged $64.93 a month for garbage collection, while shared commercial customers outside of city limits will be charged $147 a month. Increased rates will also apply to medium and large commercial accounts both inside and outside of city limits, as well as roll-off dumpsters stationed at the landfill, which the city pays for at no cost to citizens.
The new monthly fees are planned to go into effect in October. The city will first need to pass an ordinance detailing new garbage collection rates, which will likely include an 4.5% annual increase in order to keep up with the costs of providing the services.
Earlier on in the budgeting process, the recycling and solid waste fund was only netting around $84,000 — which Mayor Manny Baeza remarked was low for an “enterprise fund,” or fund that helps the city make money in order to pay for non-revenue generating departments like the library, nutrition center and more. But with the increased rates the city was profiting closer to $285,000.
The additional revenue, in part, helps offset a 3% cost of living raise for all city employees as well as other expenses. While it was originally planned to only apply to full time staff, Councilmember Eddie Pallarez pushed for part timers to be included as well.
“Our part time employees are just as important as our full time employees,” said Pallarez. “Just a small increase, because it sounds like we have some solid part timers.”
Those who have been employed with the city for at least a year will get the raise in October, and those who have been there less than a year will receive the bump on their one year anniversary, explained Roane.
“That will give a 3% raise to everyone employed by the city — full time, part time, salary, hourly. Our employees will appreciate that so I appreciate y’all working to make that happen,” said Roane.
The city also budgeted $20,000 to create administrative file storage in the EMS garage in order to balance the budget.
The question of overtime hours performed by the public works department was also discussed in a recent budget meeting. Councilmember Mark Morrison said annual overtime hours accumulated — around 769 for Public Utilities Supervisor Chuck Salgado — seemed high. In a follow up call with The Big Bend Sentinel Morrison clarified that another public works employee performed around 300 hours of overtime, and those hours were significant compared to other city departments like streets and gas which also work overtime.
The overtime for Salgado and the other employee cost the city around $58,000 last year, and Morrison as well as Councilmember Mark Cash and Mayor Pro Tem Raul Lara wondered if it was an efficient use of city funds.
In an interview with The Big Bend Sentinel, Salgado, who was unable to attend the city council budget meeting due to the new water tank being delivered, said the overtime was needed to keep the local water utilities functioning.
“I understand our department does have a lot more overtime, but we’re probably the busiest department there is in the city. We work weekends, we work holidays.” said Salgado. “The infrastructure of the town is aging. We’ve got water leaks, we’ve got sewer backups — things come up.”
Overtime performed in order to address power surges, which routinely occur when wells kick on causing other wells’ breakers to trip, according to Salgado, came under scrutiny in the meeting. Roane explained that, per the city employee handbook, public works employees received two hours of overtime for each of those incidents that happen after hours. Council members were under the impression the fix could be made remotely via a cell phone, requiring no field work, making the policy seem like excessive compensation.
Salgado said the process to address the power surges does begin on employees’ cell phones, but it also requires them to physically go in to reset pumps. He estimated the power surges occur four to five times a week, and did not make up the majority of overtime hours.
Council members asked whether it would be more cost effective to get a new system at that rate as opposed to paying for constant overtime needed to address the power surges. Salgado claimed the software the department uses is “just perfect,” and he had no complaints.
Morrison explained that the intent isn’t to undercut people’s wages, but if they were relying on overtime for a large portion — 40 to 50% — of their pay perhaps the city should consider paying a more competitive salary.
Roane agreed to look into the records of the power surges, review the employee manual and assess salary structures for department heads being paid hourly, rather than a salary, of which there were four, including Salgado, within the city.
In the meantime, the city budgeted as usual for the overtime costs, with Roane stating they could always amend the budget later on in the year if they decided to restructure employee pay for certain departments.
In addition to the COLA raises and new garbage rates, the city notably budgeted $2.1 million for street repair, a carry over from the previous year. A public hearing on the proposed budget will take place at 6 p.m. September 25 at City Hall.
Citizens had an opportunity to comment on the new tax rate — $0.323 per $100 taxable value, a slight decrease from the previous year — Tuesday night and the city will officially adopt the rate later this month when it adopts the budget, a process referred to as the “Texas Two Step.”