Commissioners Court met on 9/15 for an extremely long meeting covering the 2016 proposed budget for the County.
A short recap of what has been happening prior to this meeting includes the presentation of a proposed budget with a just shy of $200,000 shortfall in tax revenues vs expenditures without a cost of living adjustment or raises for any county employees. By the time this meeting occurred budget amendments and modifications to the initial proposed budget had added approximately $400,000 or more to the expenditure side of the budget with no corresponding cuts elsewhere. Most of those occurred at a meeting the preceding Friday in Presidio that I was unable to attend.
This meeting also marks the first appearance of a consolidated budget statement to be included with the individual department budgets. I will attempt to scan all the documents I have and post them here after transcribing this 7 plus hour session. I am splitting this post into two parts for the purposes of getting at least something posted soon, instead of having to wait on completing the entire process. Since I had planned to comment at this meeting I used a voice recorder to record it instead of typing as the meeting went on. The plus side to this approach is that, in this case, I was pulled out of the meeting three or four times for some emergency duties related to the JP office. The recorder stayed in the meeting, so at this time of transcription there will be some information I have not yet heard.
The County Commissioners have less than two weeks to pass a balanced budget and only two meetings posted at this time of writing. One of those meetings (Tues Sept 22nd) is only listed as a tax rate hearing in Presidio at 9 AM, although it's not too late for the Judge to post an additional agenda for a budget hearing to directly follow that meeting. I am hoping she does, as it's pretty clear to me that there is a lot of work to do before a budget can be passed. Fiscal year 2016 starts October 1st; the final day posted to meet to pass a budget is Monday September 28th at 9 Am in Marfa at the courthouse.
NOTES From meeting 9/15/2015, Presidio County Courthouse, Marfa, 9:30 AM
All present, court convenes at 9:35 AM
Judge Beebe makes comment: Request for the commissioners to remember that in this difficult year for planning the budget that they have been elected to first and foremost represent Presidio County government operations. All decisions regarding budget rest with the commissioners, other employees, dept head, etc have no say on the final budget. There are other interests that are external to County government who have good projects going on and are here representing their interests. Their job is to ask the County for money, resources, etc for their organizations. These organizations all have their own budgets, and if they are functioning properly they have contingencies in place for either receiving funding from the County at current levels or receiving less or more funds from the County. If they don't then they are not doing a prudent job of budgeting for their own organizations. They all have wish lists, will ask for more from County. Beebe doesn't like the fact that he missed one meeting last Friday and now the budget deficit number has gone from $200,000 to $800,000 in one meeting (sic) and that most of the extra funds dedicated have been out of general fund monies going to other organizations outside the County that we have no checks and balances on once the money is given to them. Asks commissioners to please be cognizant of the fact that their first job is to look out for the fiscal interests and operations of the County itself and that any duties to an outside organization is secondary.
No further comments from public.
Comments from Judge: None
Commissioners Comments: None
FY 2016 budget workshop begins. Commissioners Court goes directly into executive session to address a personnel matter at 9:45 AM
Reconvene into regular court at approximately 10:00 AM
Judge announces that new County Auditor (former internal Commissioners Court Auditor) Patty Roach has been sworn in. Applause.
First section of budget to be addressed is consolidated budget as per Judge with Patty Roach present, as she has to leave at some point.
Patty gives a short overview of what a consolidated budget is, M&O funds, enterprise funds, dedicated funds,etc
Hernandez mentions that we have over $400,000 more in revenue than last year but we still have a budget deficit. Non departmental expenses have increased by nearly $250,000. Jail expenses also increased approx $230,000. Patty says that jail enterprise fund has money set aside for air conditioner repair/replacement and that is reflected in planned expenses for this coming year. Aranda asks about jail fund transfers. Patty says she does not know what happened at Friday's meeting so she is unsure about certain budget adjustments.
Hernandez asks again about non-departmental, what is it, what departments, more than one dept? Judge clarifies that it is where things like utility bills for the courthouse, indigent defense, liability insurance, etc goes.
Patty mentions that consolidated budget really helps with the big picture as to what has increased and what is going on within the County. Reminds everyone that the Jail fund is an enterprise fund and that any money coming out of there has to be an official transfer into the general fund. Can support M&O for County, but it is a bad idea to budget salaries out of a reserve account, as eventually reserves could be depleted and then funding for salary does not exist. Patty says that capital projects, one time uses are a better, safer use of fund monies. Vasquez brings up air conditioning money coming out of jail fund, Patty says that commissioners can designate a portion of reserves for that project and then that money is exclusively for that project unless commissioners formally redirect that money down the line. Vasquez says he prefers jail funds to be used for jail maintenance and security of operations first before using money for anything else; preserve the resource that generates the funds. White asks that if you designate money out of the jail enterprise fund for a project you could take it out of the jail reserves or out of the jail budget, right? Yes, says Roach. Says you could take a/c dollars out of budget line item and designate it to be spent out of reserves, can affect the bottom line. Will alter jail budget page. Will not affect bottom line right now either way.
Judge asks if Patty would like to take consolidated lone by line. Patty says not necessarily, she just wants everyone to look at the consolidated and how it works. Hernandez asks what the figure is- how much in the red right now? Approx $315,000 she predicts, but not all information is necessarily there. "So we went from $190,087 to $315,000?" Hernandez asks. Aranda asks if the number is based on .062 rate or new .0638 rate? She says .0638 rate. Patty says that things were added Friday but she wasn't there so she doesn't know exactly what was added. Hernandez wants to know if departmental wide 3% cuts are included. She says whatever was added and subtracted in Presidio is reflected here. Judge clarifies that not all departments submitted a 3% cut, example being the Sheriff's Office, a very large portion of the overall budget. Items are based on what is written in this budget. Hernandez says that commissioners are going to have to go through each individual budget page and try to get the 3%, Aranda agrees and says that they will have to start with the ones they hadn't covered yet and then try to get the 3% from the budgets they weren't able to find cuts in and try again. Patty says yes, worst case scenario is to take more jail reserves to support M&O. Judge says we had a good year at the jail, there's no guarantee that will continue, could really hurt ourselves by relying on that funding for M&O. Judge says that County has new departments, heads who are doing a great job, but that makes more expenses. County needs these new depts, people, projects (airports, road and bridge, facilities manager, capital projects, etc) and is growing, needs to grow, but there's still a deficit, not enough money, We have to make cuts. Hernandez reiterates that he is looking at three areas in the budget which are greatly expanded. Non-departmental, parks, and jail. Also airports. Patty says airports are skewed by the pass-through monies provided by TXDOT grants and also from a misstatement in prior budget. Will be corrected. Hernandez asks about air conditioning for jail last year. Gracie says that last year we budgeted for last year but did not use it. Hernandez asks why this money went up this year for A/C since we didn't use it. Patty explains that last year's A/C/ improvement project did not happen, this year it's fully budgeted to begin replacement of system. Last year $165,000, this year full cost budgeted. Judge also mentions the $367,000 in maintenance monies also include funds for parapet repairs to building, new ice machine, new washer/dryer, new transport van. New van must be budgeted. Aranda asks about vans. Gracie says jail has two working vans, one old broken one that has been broken since before jail reopened. Don't know what's wrong with it, but jail needs three since often more people need to be transported than one van can hold and both vans can sometimes be out working two different transport jobs at once, forcing jail staff to make multiple trips to locations, delaying transport, etc sometimes. Up to 30 inmates sometimes need to be transported at one time. Aranda asks if jail can use surplus vehicles to do this job. Gracie says that maybe, but in that case those vehicles would only hold 2-3 prisoners, doesn't really help the situation. Judge wants to send old van to the shop to get it diagnosed immediately. Hernandez wants to see detail on air conditioning funds budget outside of other costs budgeted. Hernandez wants to know where the jail's 3% cut is, asks Patty to stay to go through the full jail budget page. Gracie says that repairs to evaporative coolers at jail have been ongoing this year, so some of that money was spent. Katie also says that $40,000 was also spent out of that fund to pay for the new truck for the Sheriff that was received before commissioners court accepted the purchase. Was supposed to have been reimbursed through Stonegarden grants but was denied. Aranda wants to know if Gracie expects to pay all this money this year for the various items including the A/C. Gracie asks where Cobos is to help answer question. Judge says County got an estimate to repair or replace. Cobos says they are talking about changing from evaporative to refrigeration. White interjects and says more research needs to be done on this; he and Hunt investigated replacing evaporative with refrigeration and had people come down to look at fresh air intake and exhaust systems in relation to jail standards for fire safety, etc. Jail was designed to have evaporative, which relies on external air circulation to cool air and reciprocal exhaust systems. The way the system is currently designed likely will not work with refrigerated air with regard to air flow requirements. White says he has forwarded Cobos multiple emails on this topic, gets no response, Gracie says she has received about 15 from White, has forwarded to Cobos. Cobos says he has received some, not all. Back and forth between Cobos and White as to who is communicating with whom regarding this issue. White wants documentation that refrigerated air will work before anything moves forward. Judge asks about Gracie's inspections- has jail standards said anything about A/C? Gracie says inspections have been in Nov and they are already on heating, so it's never come up. Gracie says that complaints come from within. Cobos confirms that current system is all central air, but there are flaps that are opened and closed to the 7 evaporative air units to the system that the water runs through. During the winter those flaps are closed and the system runs a boiler for heat. Says boiler system has recently been repaired for gas leaks, etc. right now evap system is working properly, but main problem is that if humidity hits over 30% system stops cooling, so on hottest days of the summer around 3 PM when it gets cloudy outside it feels uncomfortable in the jail since the overall humidity level is too high. TW heating and cooling analyzed system and said this is the only jail in the area that still has evaporative system; all others are upgraded to refrigeration. Cobos would like to do a trial to convert one to refrigeration to see how much it would cost and then work to convert whole system. White reiterates concern about air handling, smoke alleviation in case of fire. Compatibility issues could make us fail jail standards test. Cobos agrees. Says jail has 7 evap units, 35 exhaust fans working on roof. Katie says that refrigeration bills could run an extra $5000/month or more for electric costs. Aranda still does not understand why we would want to change. Cobos says that evap units don't work in high heat, prisoners complain to their lawyers, staff complains, is uncomfortable, and that current equipment could last 2-3 more years but will need to be replaced soon; this is the time to work on a long term solution. Aranda says OK, but County does not have the money, right now is not the time. Vasquez says that he has been to jail and it's too hot in that jail certain afternoons. He used to be a jail inspector for customs/border patrol and the system we have now is not up to par. These are people in there, locked in cells, uncomfortable. Vasquez feels like jail reserve funds should be used to replace the A/C as the first priority for those funds. Let's get 4-5 estimates and go for it. Do not wait for a problem with jail standards. Judge asks Gracie what she thinks. Gracie says that jail could be shut down if enough complaints come in; also employees don't have good working conditions currently. Hernandez says to go ahead and look into it.
Hernandez asks about revenue numbers: conservative or wishful thinking? (they are above last year's) Gracie says the numbers are reasonable, based on an average over the last 2 years. Katie agrees that's a steady prediction. $140,000-$150,000 per month on U.S. Marshals bills. Other revenue includes Jeff Davis, some local revenue on phones, etc. Patty confirms that between federal marshals fees and other revenue all total revenue look to be right at 1.9 million dollars for the year. Hernandez says he is nervous about optimistic projections. Judge says that she is advocating for a jail reserve transfer ($200,000) to general fund this year with trepidation since there is no guarantee of future success. Patty agrees. White commends Gracie for doing a great job of running the jail and holding down her expenses over the years. No real increases in funds other than maintenance/capital outlay. Van, parapet, ice machine, computer, washer/dryer, A/C on that list. Judge asks for clarification on van- what do we decide? Patty announces she needs to head out (it's approx 11 AM at this time). Aranda asks about capital outlay line- looking at number and would like her to stay at last year's $165,000 number and if we need more then take it later from reserves. Judge asks again about van. Breakdown of costs from Gracie follows. Parapet- Cobos says that one estimate is $35,000 but from a high cost bidder, $165,000 for A/C, (Judge advocates for full $165,000 for air), van is $37,000, commercial washer/dryer is $8000-$10,000, ice machine at $3,000, Computer at $2,000. Equals $124,000 without A/C. White asks again about parapet. Parapet is leaking water into walls, walls are separating, must be repaired. $31,000 for air maintenance at this level. Vasquez says we need to get the A/C estimates done, move forward. Says current state is unacceptable, he would move prisoners out if he was inspector on this jail. Jail reserves should be spent to fix this up first class, immediate action. Judge asks to make number $167,000 on projector. Commissioners agree that A/C needs to be looked into. At this point number is $167,000 and potentially air cond replacement would be funded out of jail reserves. End of discussion.
Judge has everyone go back to non-departmental page again. (pg 6)
Line by line explanations of what the items are. Workman's comp, adult probation, communication costs, commissioners move to research misc phone lines, potentially cut a few to save $. Postage meter for all county depts =$4,000 for year approx. Postage itself is $12,000. Notices for tax office. Judge references many errors on 2015 budget vs. actuals which makes increases in this year's budget look dramatic where there wasn't actually a change to rates, policies, compensation, etc.
TAC email,web hosting= $1000.00 Judge clarifies that 2016 budget line items has been based on actuals over what was listed in last year's budget. Autopsies $45,000 instead of $15,000 based on actual expense of approx $45,000 this year. Professional services: actuals $36,000 + but this year no RCI inventory systems bill at $17,000 so down to $20,000. Last year $15,000 budgeted.
Indigent defense: state augmented by $15,000 this year, $30,000 budgeted last year, just over $45,000 spent. Beebe mentions he hears that systems regarding expenses, costs for indigent defense are inefficient. Per Paul Chambers electronic communication lacking, has to drive to Marfa often to get documents, bill County for hours and travel when could be modernized, saving money and time. Judge asks for more info, Beebe clarifies that he's referencing document handling, not sure of which dept could make improvements. Judge says that possibly county clerk not accepting credit cards could be a factor. Huge trials recently could have had an effect this year. Beebe says it may be better to look at how other counties hold down costs.
Water district: $27,000. Judge asks exactly what that is for? White clarifies that water district's costs include attorneys costs. Carlos Nieto confirms that good legal help costs the water district. Lawyers assist in legislative issues, permitting, negotiations with mine. Nieto serves on water district board. Judge says she agrees, but would like documentation, reports from all outside agencies receiving county monies so that County can understand where monies are spent and why. References that most county depts have monthly reports and that she would like to receive outside reporting to commissioners court as well. Nieto agrees with Beebe that efficiencies in systems can be made countywide and county can realize savings. Recommends county hire a consultant to analyze systems. White says he understands this, but the immediate problem is to achieve a balanced budget. Nieto brings up solar panels on top of jail, unused, wasting county money on utility bills by not being hooked up.
Annual audit costs: Commissioner White says that if we clean up audit cost may go down. Katie clarifies that is a contract, bidded, and cost is the same regardless of workload. $40,000 budgeted, paid this year and for next. Doak Painter is auditor.
End of post 1