Thursday, September 17, 2015

Presidio County Commissioners Court Budget meeting 9/15/2015 Part II

This is part 2 of the meeting from the 15th that lasted about 7 hours. I am transcribing notes from a recording of the meeting that was made on an Ipad, so I have the complete meeting to write out, which is taking a good bit of time.
The Big Bend Sentinel came out today and I read it at lunch between typing sessions. I understand that the material discussed here is not only extensive and complex, but also quite boring to a regular person. That being said, I was disappointed that there was no coverage of this meeting, beyond the introduction of Patty Roach as our new County Auditor. I see this year as a potential turning point for County accountability and responsible government policy, but without public involvement I fear that leadership will revert to taking the easier ways out of controversy and the pain of progressive improvements and bow to forces that have their own motivations in opposing change. I guess the upside of minimal coverage of this budget planning cycle is that it motivates me more to take the time to write on these pages. Next meeting is in Presidio Tuesday at 9 AM for the tax rate hearing, by the way, with the final budget hearing Monday the 28th at 9AM in Marfa. Commissioners Court must pass a balanced budget before September 30th, which is the last day of Fiscal Year 2015.

Budget meeting 9/15 (continued)

Crisis Center and autopsies discussed. Autopsies unpredictable, we have a new bill from an inquest in Presidio. $40,000 in autopsies in line with 2015 actuals.

Marfa EMS: $36,000. Marfa EMS director Bert LaGarde is here to present as is Mayor Dunlap. City Council in Marfa has been aware of the $36,000 proposed contribution from County; not asking for an increase in County funding. Mayor has figures that show that Marfa EMS took care of 62 patients outside city limits last year, 4 patients in Candelaria, 14 in County jail, 4 greater than 30 miles outside of city limits. 13 patients from Presidio, 6 patients from Big Bend Regional Hospital to Marfa airport due to bad weather at Alpine airport, 11 patients from Jeff Davis County. 292 patients total, 96 are patients from outside city limits in Presidio County, 17 additional from out of County. Hernandez asks what Marfa EMS total budget is. Mayor Dunlap says city loses about $150,000 per year on EMS services. Has collection agency which collects bills and Medicare, etc. Totals collected are around $150,000 per year. Total of between 250-300 thousand per year costs. Judge asks if $36,000 is enough to cover out of city. Dunlap says that although they are not asking for more, the city will evaluate boundaries of service, and especially try to avoid unpaved roads to preserve ambulance, which is near end of life. Says that County is only paying $375 for each out of city limits patient, a bargain for County. Dunlap says that city can continue except for off road service. Judge says that City is giving an excellent report; she would like to see every organization that receives money from County giving similarly detailed reporting with actual numbers and stats. Says County has $10,000 budgeted for study into creating an Emergency Services District (taxing entity which would be Countywide that would cover all EMS- known as an ESD) and that in researching an ESD the County will need detailed numbers so that they can predict how an ESD might function properly within Presidio County. Bert says that everything is kept track of, including reports on medication levels, trips, log books, Jesse Pena of Marfa EMS says that everything must be tracked by law; it's all there. Judge asks about ambulance condition. Dunlap says that truck is wearing out, but box is still pretty good. Already been refurbished once, is 15 years old. Needs a new ambulance, used are junk as they are all worn out. New ambulance would make current ambulance a good backup. Judge asks about when a new one could be budgeted. Dunlap says that city is exploring a new ambulance at some point in the near future. Hernandez wants to get same information from Presidio EMS, will try to get info. (current proposed budget ups County contribution to Presidio EMS from $65,000 to $100,000 for FY 2016!)

Probation service: same as last year's budget for juvenile probation.
Appraisal District: Friday County did not have exact numbers. Proposed was $110,000 but should have been $124,000 as per request by Appraisal District for raise, as was granted by Commissioners Court 2 weeks ago.

Insurance= $140,000- includes air care and vision for County employees. Added $14,500 total for air care and vision. White it's a huge benefit to employees. Judge says that given no raises for employees, this is the best the County can do at a cheaper rate.White says it's a huge benefit for a very good cause.

State Comptroller payments: $190,000 budgeted, $139,000 YTD thus far. These are fine monies passed through to State. Comes from JP Courts, County Clerk, County Courts. Hernandez asks why it's on the expenses if it's a pass through. Judge Beebe says that proper accounting has a corresponding entry on the revenue side, but all monies, even if pass-throughs, must be listed in budget. Katie confirms that the money is listed on the revenue side in the gross totals of collections from courts; Frances confirms as well that they are on the balance sheet. Judge says that $190,000 next year out to State is in line with what's happening this year; not all reports are in for FY 2015. Hernandez wants to see total revenues related to this line item. Aranda is concerned that every year could be very different. Beebe says that different times of the year are busy or slow, but averaged out for the year the totals become consistent. Judge mentioned that State fines keep going up, cutting into County fines. Has changed so much since she took office 26 years ago. Clarifies with Commissioners that basically Defendants are paying these costs, not the County, but through the County. Frances clarifies that different departments report quarterly or monthly, it's not all the same but adds up into total.

Presidio Library Contribution at $5,000

ESD Consulting for $10,000. Judge stresses importance of reports from heads of EMS agencies for use in consultation. Also meet with hospital district to see if anything can be worked out between agencies. Judge calls on Mayor Dunlap to answer Hernandez question about what to do with the hospital district. Mayor says that hospital district and ESD are two different things. Hernandez repeats he is interested in seeing what Hospital District can do for County. Mayor says not much, had a meeting, but not interested in much. Aranda wants to know if cities are in favor of an ESD. Mayor says yes as long as cities can get together. Says that County and cities will still have to put in money but not as much. Will take burden off of city residents and spread it across the entire service areas. Judge says that Mayors and Judge should get together with hospital district to find out what to do. Mayor says that hospital district will help initially but don't want to be players, want to back off once the ball is rolling.
Carlos Nieto says that for as much money that the Hospital District receives approx one half million dollars from residents of Presidio County and should be players in an ESD effort. Much of the money has been going to the for-profit hospital in Alpine. Hospital District is not providing bang for the buck in Presidio County and both cities and their citizens are strapped for cash, providing life saving services that should be partially covered by all those monies. We need to push our two reps, Laura Bruggett and Marco Baeza to push for more help from the District on EMS. They are only two votes, but they're what we've got and they have been influential in the past.

Presidio EMS: $67,500 contribution budgeted for 2015, for 2016 budgeted at $100,000. Judge has question about whether it's fair to distribute monies like the County has been doing. Wonders if County could put $136,000 for EMS services aside, but have each EMS agency bill the County for every out of city limits customer to make it more equitable. That way each agency would be reimbursed only for services provided.
Hernandez says that the problem with that is that, at least in Presidio, just having EMS service at all costs more than the city can afford on its own. Whether it's working or not, ambulance must be maintained and staffing has to be maintained. It's not so much the actual services but the staffing. (Noon chimes strike in background). Eric from Presidio EMS describes the area covered. N on 67 to Elephant Rock, Redford, Candelaria, Las Pampas, Big Bend Ranch State Park. Aranda says maybe when Presidio gets its numbers to commissioners these numbers could change. Hernandez repeats that there is no way to really estimate how much it costs overall. Judge reiterates that the responsibility for within city EMS rests with the city.
Carlos Nieto says that most logical way to deal with this is to break away from cities. City of Presidio does not want this burden; costs them $400,000-$500,000 per year, There is an international border, the Feds do not contribute. Once the County takes it on, it will be the County's problem. But the last thing they want is to have to tell anyone that they can't be served. Who are we to judge who lives and who dies within the County boundaries? Not fair, not right, not appropriate. Let's get this study going; the City of Presidio can no longer bear this burden and we are giving the County official notice that we have had all we can take of this. We can't run our city operations on that kind of a deficit.
Judge calls on Beebe. Beebe says that he agrees with Mr. Nieto on many counts but that the County has been sliding down a slippery slope. Has been attending budget hearings for Presidio County for three years in full and before that some County budget hearings as a member of Marfa City Council. Every year the demands go up with regard to EMS on both the cities and on the County's participation level financially to the cities. These projects save lives and totally agree that nobody can deny that or argue with that. What have not heard is anyone actually taking real steps to have the burden fall on an ESD; this is will be the third Legislative Session coming up next year that it's will have been discussed at the County level where there is an opportunity to create one and make it happen. Nothing has really happened outside of 4 years ago when Presidio tried to lock Marfa and northern Presidio County out of an ESD proposal. This is the truth, they tried to cut Marfa EMS out. Also, there has been zero action, or formal action, to try to get the Feds to cough up something for all the patients coming through the Port of Entry, which is the biggest problem they have with the airlift program and inability to collect bills in Presidio. Does the City of Presidio EMS service have a Mexico based bill collection agency at all if in case those bills are able to be collected on? No information provided by anyone, only see County go from contributing $20,000 to $30,000 to $65,000, then again at $65,000 to now $100,000. Where does it go from here? $150,000? $170,000? Because that's what we hear every year. Every year nobody actually ever fixes the problem, just more handouts, same rhetoric, no answers.
Nieto says there is money in this budget for ESD invstigative proposal. Judge Beebe, do not make assumptions that all people coming through the Port of Entry are Mexican citizens taking advantage of the system; there are a lot of Americans coming through living in Mexico. Beebe says he is not trying to make a racist or xenophobic statement.
White says we need data, we need reports from Presidio EMS to see exactly what's happening. Right now nobody seems to know the costs, Presidio EMS has the numbers, Commissioners need to know; how many citizens, how many not, how many from City, etc.
Nieto says that when Presidio EMS investigated ESD option their intention was not to ace out Marfa but that they saw no movement at the time on the County's part and they were hurting so badly they saw no other option. Presidio was not against a County-wide ESD at the time; the County would be better served by a County- wide ESD, just trying to shed some light on the facts. White agrees and says we need to get some hard facts. Nieto says that we can get those and will.
Vasquez asks if City of Presidio has a collection agent for their services. LaGarde says both cities have a billing service. Nieto says they could always do better but the reality is they do the best they can within the City's budget. This is a huge burden and it's a big bear. Impacts are great, costs are tremendous. At the end of the day if saving and preserving a human life is not the highest goal, what is? Judge says it is a priority, that's why we're here. White says that's not the question; we need the facts. Nieto says "You'll get the facts." White says there's no more disputing the importance of life here, not the issue. Nieto agrees, says facts are forthcoming. End of discussion.

Marfa Fire Dept contribution: $15,000 budgeted for FY 2015, $22,500 budgeted for FY 2016

Presidio Fire Dept contribution: $15,000 last year, $22,500 budgeted for 2016.

Marfa Food Pantry: FY 2015: $2,250.00, FY 2016 $2,250.00

Presidio Food Pantry: $4,500.00 for 2015, $4,500 for FY 2016.  Judge says that these all remain the same. Beebe asks if Presidio Food Pantry actually exists anymore. Knows that the County made renovations to building next to County Annex for Food Pantry, that several people were running it, then that changed, has it changed again? who is running it, if anyone and does it even exist? What is the Presidio Food Pantry right now? Silence. Judge asks Cobos if he has met with Food Pantry director. Cobos says that there is food there but it's not active. No other comments, no change in budget.

Historical Commission: $4000 budgeted for FY 2016: Larry Skiles thanks County for donation, asks County to take over bank account since it's a County department and by law it should be under the County's authority. There had been some confusion as to whether donations to that account is public money. Now confirmed that it is public money and that all checks should be signed by County Treasurer. Should be accounted for in County's ledgers. County Historical Commission should have its own budget page, should not be in non-departmental. Judge agrees to make it accurate, take the money, make correction.

Hernandez asks a question to Katie about retirement, unemployment lines in non-departmental. Wants to be sure expenses are not doubled within budget. Conformed not to be.

Presidential Permit funding for PIPA. $16,500 budgeted for Jake's salary. Judge says County may or may not have to use it; may have CBI funding to cover it. Carlos Nieto says that he wants to add an amount for HAZMAT training for bridge so that bridge can carry HAZMAT materials, all the way from certain chemicals to mesquite charcoal. Going to be an issue, Presidio needs it, going to be very important for bridge and future rail traffic. Training would be timely and appropriate. Can't say what it costs, but training is available in El Paso. Brokers complain about restrictions; cargo has to go to El Paso or elsewhere. White says he has investigated. Present configuration of bridge does not permit HAZMAT and upgrading to have a trough around bridge to catch spills, for one example, would cost a fortune. It's not just about the crew and equipment for HAZMAT response team, but also about infrastructure design. Nieto still says team could help County-wide anyway. 
Emergency Management Coordinator Gary Mitchske says he can talk about it; it's a long topic, training is expensive, extensive. County has a policy. Current policy is to clear the area, amke it safe, call in HAZMAT team from El Paso to deal with the clean up. Money goes to El Paso, but as part of RGCOG we have free access to the team, they are there for us. Finding people to train for this service would be very difficult, we have a volunteer fire force, time consuming and continued certification is very demanding. Would cost a lot of money and Gary has no desire to send anyone under him into a very dangerous situation such as a HAZMAT. 2 years ago the Federal Govt did a training for the Ojinaga MX Fire Dept for HAZMAT. Outfitted the Ojinaga fire dept with equipment, training, certifications as part of the mutual aid agreement between the Cities of Ojinaga and Presidio. Does not know if that HAZMAT team is still active or certified, but equipment and training were there for that trans-national purpose. RGCOG would know if that's still current since they were instrumental in coordinating that training.
Carlos Nieto says he disagrees with what Gary is saying from a Presidio standpoint. Says that if everything was standing still then everything would be fine. Assume looking ten years down, things are changing, Mexico is moving forward with trade expansion, expansion of port at Tompoboleo. Lots of change will be coming through Port. Advises adoption of HAZMAT training if not for all County, South County at least. Judge says she has a thought- confirmed with TXDOT that we have CBI funding available and could use that $16,500 for HAZMAT, and used CBI funding for Jake. White says that City and County partnership could provide for some as PIPA donation to cause. Aranda wants to know is County can be reimbursed for HAZMAT training. Hernandez asks Gary how many people would be needed for a good team. Minimum of two people per team. Gary wants to know where team would be focused, based out of. White wants more research. Gary says that Carlos Nieto has ignored that fact that efforts have been already made to address this. Also, he is ignoring that right now, every 20-30 minutes the City of Marfa has a potential HAZMAT situation as the train comes through the center of town carrying all kinds of dangerous materials. Standard ops are to clear area, make it safe, call in El Paso HAZMAT team. This is nothing new for Marfa, it's every day, not ten years or two years down the line.
Judge Beebe says that once again the Commissioners are trying to reallocate money the County does not even have. If Jake will be paid by CBI funds, then the line item should be zero. the County does not have the $16,500 for PIPA in the first place; the line item should be zero because that's what the County has. This budget should be a maintenance budget only. County should not be working on things that are outside the County's purview. You don't have the money. Mr. Nieto wants the money but there is no money. The money does not exist. Remove that line if you really think the CBI funding will pay for Jake; don't re-allocate money that does not exist.
Nieto says that it's not that he wants this funding, he's putting this before the Commissioners Court, hopefully responsible agents who are proactive that are seeing that business is not coming through that border point because we don't have a HAZMAT team in Presidio at the Port of Entry. This is County infrastructure related issue. Says there is reimbursement for this. Judge asks where reimbursement is. Nieto says he does not know, but who pays now when HAZMAT is called in. Gary says that call is free, we are covered. Hernandez says not having HAZMAT affects trade, we should be prepared. Judge says that we can revisit next year when bridge is completed. Right now we have no money and every time we meet the deficit keeps going up and up and up and up. White agrees. Every dollar we add has to come from somewhere else, and these are all good projects but we are limited. Aranda says if we can find reimbursements then we can do it, someone need to look into it. Augustin Ramirez (Marfa FD)  says he understands the Port of Entry and the concern, but that having a HAZMAT team could cost around $300,000 for training and specialty equipment. This is just to get a team together. Would like for everyone to get a HAZMAT book and read the placards on trains already coming through Marfa. You will see what comes through this town every 30 minutes. If you are going to outfit a HAZMAT team you need to also consider Marfa, not only for existing train, but everything that would be coming through the Port would also be coming directly through Marfa. Marfa is a highway crossroads with 3 highways meeting. We already deal with this all the time. Gary is doing everything he can. Hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a HAZMAT team for the area- is this a consideration? The El Paso team is there for us, ready. Hernandez wants to know what we are doing to find a solution. Augustin says we talk about these things all the time at the fire station. for us it's population control and keeping control of the immediate area. Calling El Paso and using the team. White says he thinks this is too big to be dealt with on a local basis. Nieto says it could be looked at Countywide, and to remember that Presidio is part of the County, is part of the U.S. End of discussion, Judge Guevara says to leave the PIPA funding at $16,500. Look at HAZMAT again next year potentially, different levels of HAZMAT readiness. Gary reiterates that HAZMAT awareness plan in Marfa is to preserve life, secure the site, evacuate if need be, wait for El Paso to help with HAZMAT clean up. Nieto says that Judge Guevara should pressure COG for funding; he doesn't want to have to rely on El Paso, look at a Tri-County option; pull money out of El Paso. Gary agrees that monies often stay in El Paso and it could be possible to get money and/or resources.
End of discussion

Child Welfare Board: $3500.00

Child Advocacy Center: $3500.00

Law Library: $10,000 required by State

County Vehicle Pool: $5,000.00 employees use vehicles for training. Need a better vehicle than the Taurus. Vetran's officer takes people to El Paso. Beebe advocates for a re-allocation of County vehicles, take an inventory, decide how many vehicles you need and for what purpose, surplus all the vehicles that are not the very best of what you have on hand and reduce County's insurance costs, maintenance costs, liability in general, expense of keeping track of assets. White says this is an ongoing project. Judge says a huge part of that is the asset inventory the County has implemented. Hernandez says that just because you don't hear about it doesn't mean it's not going on. Beebe says that's why I'm advocating for it and asking about it. Aranda says that's the next step; it's happening. Budget is first priority right now, but that's where we're going. Hernandez says the savings on insurance is a good point. Beebe says I'm not criticizing, just advocating. Judge says we're moving on..

Copier on 2nd floor lease : $1.500

Pauper's Funerals: 2015 budgeted: $5,000. Used $4.487.50 spent. Judge is working on a County Policy for indigent funerals. Leave at $5000 but policy will be forthcoming.

Break for lunch at 12:41.

End of Part 2....

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