It's been a very hectic couple of weeks for me with travel, construction, volunteer work, and taking possession of my new "extra" Airstream, which will be ready to go in time for the Terlingua Chili Cookoff in November. So, I am a little late in posting this council meeting update. Since this meeting took place there have been 2 specila meetings (which I will not cover here) regarding the planning and adoption of our 2009 city budget. There is much hand wringing and bargaining back and forth, and the finished results will boil down to a Public Hearing at 5 PM Sept 18th followed by a meeting with the intent to amend, modify, refine and adopt a 2009 budget. The City of Marfa's fiscal year begins in October.
I would encourage any who can to attend this Thursday's (8/28) council meeting at 6PM to see where we are at on the current budget. Highlights (lowlights) include discussion, dissent and failure to agree on the contentious streetlight issue, and agreement yet bitter resignation at the fact that our garbage rates from the provider(s) [Duncan Disposal and West Texas Disposal are the only two options in the area]will go up a MINIMUM of 68% this year; all that will be passed on directly to the citizens unless streetlight concessions can damper the blow. Also adressed are several issues concerning using citation revenue to cover Municipal court and other city costs, golf course expenditures (still losing money) and no proactive action (in fact surrender) of efforts to create and fund a youth program. On the brighter side, our woefully underpaid city employees won't fall further behind the cost of living curve (at least if they're not buying gas) and we will actually likely increase slightly funding for employees in our dangerously understaffed EMS department. More later, but it sure would be nice to have a few more concerned citizens show up and tell the other council members what I hear on the streets (and here at the funeral home/dancehall) every day. Tomorrow I will be performing a short 50's rock and roll tribute at the Marfa Nutrition Center for lunchtime (11:30-1) and I'm sure that, once again, I'll get an earful. All in all, though it's good for me to get hassled and hear everyone's complaints. I can handle it and it's making me more and more resilient to criticism. One thing I can say for sure- I am doing my best and working hard every day on the tough issues that face our citizenry and city government. I will come out of this experience stronger and ready to rock, even if I wind up being a one-term councilman.
On with the re-cap of August 12.
Meeting called to order, 6 PM. All council members (Baeza, Garlick, Beebe, May and Garcia) in attendance. Mayor Dan Dunlap presided. City Administrator Mustard in attendance.
Citizen Comments- Citizen Bill White complained about tractor trailers and other large trucks cutting through from Highland to 17 via Oak St in front of the Post Office. Councilman Scott May commented that he had witnessed this as well. My thoughts are- the truckers haven't figured out that this doesn't actually save them any time. Anyway, signs, etc may eventually be posted. I wouldn't be surprised to see Scott May bring an action item before council at some point banning Jake Brakes (engine braking) and further regulating large trucks in the city. We are at the intersection of three relatively (for the area) major highways and this is not the first time concern about thru trucks has been brought up.
Next up, citizen Lineaus Lorette (sp?) brought up a complaint about the live music (most Saturday nights until about midnight) at Adobe Moon BBQ. A general complaint, he then went into detail about the offense it causes to the neighbors, especially the Catholic church. Anyway, I referred him to the TABC agent in Alpine, as the TABC controls most general law enforcement complaints regarding license holders. I also contradicted his claim about Adobe Moon being now a "honky-tonk" instead of being classified as a restaurant. I am certain they still do more than 50% of their business in food, and until they do more than 50% on beer and wine they will always be classified as a restaurant first before a bar. This situation will take some give and take on both sides, as I, myself, despite occasionally sitting in with the Moondogs band over there on drums, have questioned how long it would take until the ax would come down on their late night outdoor music scene. For those of you who do not live in Marfa, you would not BELIEVE how the sound travels out here on a clear night. You can hear people speak in a normal voice from blocks away- not make out exactly what they're saying, usually, but it sounds like they are 15 feet away. Citizens can hear (and either enjoy or not- I've heard more of the enjoy factor) the Moondogs from clear across town, especially on the higher ground near Marfa High School.
I was pleased that we had some citizen comments, by the way. Thanks for participating!
Next we approved the minutes from the last council meeting. Rudy Garcia wanted more attention brought into the streets and alleyways discussion he had brought up. We approved minutes unanimously.
Mayor Dan Dunlap submits to the council the proposed budget for 2009 (Oct 2008-Sept 2009). We discuss scheduling of workshops and public hearing(s) related to same.
City Administrator's Report-
James Mustard announces that he and the Mayor will travel on Wed 8/13 to El Paso to the Rio Grande Council of Governments (COG) meeting in support of our recycling center grant application. UPDATE- the grant was approved and we will receive the money to buy a new cardboard baler and to extend three phase power out to the recycling center. Baler and power should be operational by Oct 1. Marfans- RECYCLE YOUR CARDBOARD! Besides aluminum cans it's the only recycling Marfa makes any measurable money from- plus it saves major dumpster and landfill space.
Mustard says we also filed for an extension of the sewer system replacement grant application (SW side of city) from TWDB (Texas Water Development Board). Surveys for the income-related aspect (low to moderate income neighborhood requirement) were accomplished with volunteer citizen labor (THANKS!!!)
More news- although the library renovation project is not yet finished, the portion using the ORCA grant is done. ORCA will make a visit and inspect with a walk-through before releasing final funding.
Councilman Manny Baeza inquired about eliminating our Municipal Court. City Admin Mustard informed him that AG Abbott had ruled that Muni Court is required in cities of our size and greater (at least)by the state Constitution.
Councilman Scott May wanted an update on the Gas Board's (SWTMGC) franchise agreement
No other councilman comments
Discussion with action as appropriate to convert Gonzales St between Columbia & Lincoln as a one-way street running north during construction of the new Marfa I.S.D. gymnasiums.
Estimated cost for signage and traffic control devices= +/- $3000. We discussed, with school and police chief input and agreed unanimously to approve the change in traffic designation and split the cost 50/50 with the school district. Change expected to be permanent, but to be re-evaluated, if necessary, following conclusion of construction one year from now.
Next- a controversial and emotionally charged discussion with action as appropriate measure to waive and/or reduce building permit fees for the two new gym projects at Marfa I.S.D. Total cost= $2385.90.
We were given information by superintendent Teola Swinney (sp?) that the previous contractor had been relieved of his duties and that the City of Marfa had refunded the original permit fees at that time. Further information given was that neighboring communities of Alpine and Presidio had all granted exemptions to permit fees, etc to The local school districts for their projects. Additional info requested from me and other councilmembers- amount of bond for gym projects= 2.9 Million dollars. Funding for permits/city fees are built into current bid. After some discussion mostly focusing on the fact that Ms Swinney felt that she had a fiduciary duty to ask us for a refund of less than 1% of 1% of their budget for the gyms and my agreeing and asking more questions regarding funding in general and the fact that, despite her protestations that tax money is all one big ball and we should let them have it back, tax money IS NOT ALL THE SAME (we don't have a 2.9 million $ bond for city services, for starters, the council voted 4 to 1 to reject a refund. Councilman Baeza voted in favor of a refund. There was some sharp language on both sides of this issue, and I have fielded some in-person and telephone vehement criticism on my vote, I stand behind it for these reasons:
Despite many protestations, I do not see this as double taxation, No promises or even remote suggestions of a refund to taxpayers or early bond pay-down of this money was made by the rep for Marfa I.S.D. despite my baiting with suggestions/mention and borderline parody of refund checks of $1.40 or so top each school tax paying citizen.
Secondly, part of my job is to ensure that the city is run like a business and also that there are no "special favors" to any one or more groups- community based or not. The special favors mentality is part of why the city had incurred so much debt several years ago that we are now just barely paying off.
Thirdly, the simple fact that $2385.90 is a lot of money for the city at this point (we being broke) and that it is less that 1% of 1% of the gym budget AND had been funded in the design/build bid. I feel like since no assurances were made or even implied about paying down the bond note early or refunding to taxpayers otherwise by the school district that this money they would have "saved" would have been spent on design accents or the like.
My final comments before voting Nay on the measure was that I respected the school's position in the community and also the traditional cooperation between the I.S.D. and the city, but that everyone is subject to these fees, and given the low rates plus the city's granting a parking variance to the project in order to reduce the parking lot burden issue (a different council/BOA session) we will stick to our original fees.
Since that vote, as I mentioned, I have been chided for "not caring about the kids". "not doing what you promised by representing all of Marfa", "not understanding double taxation", and "not caring about the Mexicans, since all the kids are Mexican" I kid you not. I hope the citizens will understand that not only do I have nothing to gain by standing my ground and requiring all my votes to objective based on what's fair, coupled with what's best to keep city taxes and services as low as they can be. There is no other way I can vote with clear conscience since I feel that this city needs honest, unbiased leadership with high integrity more than anything else. I can say that I have been and will continue to operate at the highest level of integrity I am capable of and that, being fairly new to this town, I owe nobody anything - STILL. Surely this will keep getting me into trouble, but I am doing my best, and working hard to be the best councilman I can be.
Next- we discussed the BOA appointments. Carolyn Duncan has resigned for health reasons. We moved Ralph McKay to the position of full board member, from alternate. We appointed former city councilwoman Maria Williams as alternate (yay!) There is still one alternate position available. Please contact me via telephone or in person if you qualify as an honest, objective Marfa citizen willing to serve your community in a very important role. I served as an alternate for about 5 months on the BOA before being elected to council and wound up voting every time due to absences of full time members. The BOA meets once a month or less. My phone number is in the telephone book and also national information.
Item 4- we reviewed the Chamber of Commerce budget. No action taken
Item 5- We considered a resolution to create a donations funded bank account for Police Dept renovations, including the remodeling of a Evidence room (by state mandate) and also the creation of a "Safe Lobby", a generally accepted lobby format for law enforcement encouraged (if not required) by the state. Currently the Marfa Police Dept has received $2400 in donations. Renovations will total between $3000-$6000 when complete as estimated by chief J.D. Wilbourn.
Item 6- We move to create a bank account for a City contingency fund. This was a stated goal of the previous council, We are very near full solvency at this point and are no later than 30 days out on all of our bills. That means we are incurring no finance or service charges. The hard work begins now, as we will have to work to keep all floodgates closed...
Unanimous adoption of resolution
Item 7- this meeting is getting long... Approve a Tobacco Compliance Grant Bank Account. thank goodness Marfa National Bank doesn't charge us any service charges for all these bank accounts. I guarantee that is the city was an individual the I.R.S. would be after us for having so many. Approved- approximate value of this tobacco compliance and preventive education grant is between $1500 and $2000. Police dept will administer program.
Item 8- Resolution to create a bank account for the construction fund of a new sewer facility. This is the $1.265 million dollar interest free loan from the TWDB. Parkhill Smith engineering is 60% complete and they would like to receive partial payment. Unanimous.
Item 9 - We analyze and vote on construction bids for renovations of the city-owned USO building. The idea on this one is that the Chamber of Commerce will reimburse us for all or part of these renovations once they make the Amvets/USO building their permanent home and the official city convention center. The building is a grand old dame that needs total and complete restoration, inside and out. Worst case scenario, which I have been assured will not occur, is that we have to absorb these costs ourselves (city gov). The way I see it, the Amvets Hall is a major community asset and must be restored, at least to basic usage standards. Without that it's worth nothing to the citizens or the city gov (as owners). So basically, it needs to be fixed and hopefully all will go as planned. Bids for 400 AMP single phase power (for the whole place but built out only to the front office/greeting.bathroom and kitchen areas) is around $15,000. An Additional $9,800 considered for installation of air conditioning system with three zones for same part of building (but not exhibition hall). Unanimous vote minus Scott May who protested the inclusion or 7M services for the A/C work based on their reportedly shoddy and untimely work on the library project.
Side note- I hired 7M for the flashing/tin job here at Padre's and they did a seriously crappy job. They had not finished (or so I thought) before this vote. Turns out they had. I do not recommend. I still do not understand why supposed craftsmen don't take enough pride in whatever they spent 8 hours plus of every weekday doing during their life to do it right, or at least make the effort to do their best. I guess some people just never learned that work can make you really happy.
Item 10- Schedule budget workshops (open to public). Some of these have already occurred, but we made an effort to be sure that all council members could be present for each meeting.
Here's the results- 8/19 5PM; 8/21- 5 or 6PM; more discussion Thursday 8/28 at council meeting (regular meeting scheduled). Public hearing- YOUR LAST CHANCE TO RAISE HELL- 9/18. Followed by council budget adoption hearing- 6PM 8/18.
Please speak to your various councilmembers regarding your concerns. Once again they are
Me- David Beebe
Also, Mayor Dan Dunlap and City Administrator James Mustard. Other useful ears are Police Chief J.D. Wilbourn and all three of the ladies (Ramona, Lori and Laura) at the front desk. The more you take this stuff around too us, the higher your success level has potential to be. I do not possess everyone's phone number, nor would I publish them here, but Marfa City Hall can assist. Nationwide information has their number as well as local phone books.
Thanks for reading- David Beebe