Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Letters from inmates at Lynaugh regarding Marfa Public Radio show

This post is not about local policy or politics, but relates to a function of my role as Justice of the Peace and also of my role as a DJ on Marfa Public Radio for the Tuesday night "Night Train Express" R&B/Southern Soul show I have been hosting for eight years.

The show runs three hours on Marfa Public Radio and also on repeaters including West Texas Public Radio in Odessa. The radio tower for Marfa Radio is located on a high peak in Jeff Davis County, near the McDonald Observatory. The height of the tower gives it a very long reach, as FM radio is what they refer to as "line of sight" which is sort of true if you were to discount the curvature of the earth. The Marfa signal reaches all the way to Fort Stockton, where a large TDCJ prison called the Lynaugh Unit is operated. This unit houses over 1000 prisoners, most of whom are serving time for serious offenses.

In my job as magistrate for northern Presidio County, I visit the Presidio County Jail nearly daily to read people their charges, rights and set their bond amounts. Of course I get to see all types of people in there for all types of offenses. Jail, even when it is like our jail here in Marfa (clean, good food, respectful staff) is a miserable place to be. Prison is worse, as it is long-term, and inherently more brutal.

About 2 years ago a prisoner named Paul had been listening to my show (10 PM to 1 AM every Tuesday) on his headphones (they are permitted at night for prisoners who have consistently good behavior) and began to relay requests through his fiancee Deb via the telephone (about $5/minute at most jails in TX). Deb began emailing me the songs each week and Paul started to collect additional requests from his friends. Within a few months I was receiving a lot of positive feedback through Deb and Paul.

Once Paul was finally released from Lynaugh earlier this year there was concern as to whether anyone from there was going to be able to get requests to me, as by this time, according to Deb, most of the prisoners in the entire facility were going to their cells by ten each Tuesday to listen to the Night Train. I decided to broadcast my P.O. Box over the air a few times, knowing that inmates are permitted to write letters. All letters are opened by jail staff and reviewed. The letters are either forwarded with a slip saying they have been reviewed, or are not forwarded at all. I have no idea how many letters may not have made it to me since they began showing up in my mailbox, but I tend to receive 3-5 letters a week, mostly from the same gentlemen.

I try to play as many of the requests as I can within a three hour show, and sometimes I can get through most of them. Other times I have trouble finding some of the tracks, and I also cannot play songs that have curse words in them, so some don't make the cut in that regard.

I wanted to share these letters with everyone, as I believe the letters to be an amazing representation of humanity and how the little things in life can really make a difference. Of course, I am very grateful that these men have enjoyed the radio show so much that they look forward to it every week as a highlight. I also am displaying these letters to demonstrate the loneliness of prison; a place nobody wants to be.

I have redacted the names of the inmates and anyone else mentioned who is not a performing artist. Although many of these guys really appreciate a shout-out over the airwaves, it's not necessary to memorialize their identities in this context.

Today I am posting most of the letters I received in March of 2016. I would like to note several very impressive qualities of this correspondence.
Note the exacting, artistic handwriting and care taken in crafting these letters. It's really great, I think...
Also, for anyone who knows much about classic R&B, soul and related genres, the caliber of the song requests is way up there. Most of these tunes are somewhat obscure with regard to the songs that are played over and over again on current commercial radio. These guys are digging deep into their own personal memory banks to pick some really great lost classics. Such is the beauty of Public Radio, specifically Marfa Public Radio, that I am able to play whatever I want on my show.

Here are nine letters from March. I hope you enjoy them. -DB
PLEASE CLICK ON THE SCANS TO READ THEM ALL WITHOUT MARGIN INTERRUPTION- I wanted them to be large enough to be readable but the Blogger site cuts them off slightly here- apologies...

Friday, May 13, 2016

Meeting with TXDOT, Secretary of State, Texas Pacifico, Ojinaga officials and more, regarding South Orient Railroad int'l bridge reconstruction, 5/12/206 Presidio, TX

This Wednesday I attended a meeting with representatives of Presidio County (County Judge Cinderela Guevara and myself), the City of Presidio (Mayor John Ferguson), the Presidio Municipal Development Corporation (Brad Newton), Odessa Mayor David Turner and several reps from Odessa, State Senator Jose Rodriguez, representatives from Texas Pacifico Railroad, reps from the IWBC, District Attorney Rod Ponton, CBP Port of Entry Director John Deputy, members of TXDOT executive staff, TXDOT Executive Director James Bass, Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Tryon Lewis, and Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos regarding the long-planned rebuild project of the burned out International Railroad Bridge between Presidio and Ojinaga, Mexico. 

Residents of Presidio and Brewster Counties may know a bit about the South Orient Railroad, which currently runs from San Angelo Junction south 385 miles to the Rio Grande river at Presidio. The line has been mostly unused for many years, and arson at the bridge linking the track to a Ferromex line running all the way through the Sierra Madres to Port Tompoboleo in 2008 put an end to any international traffic.

The line was built originally as part of the Santa Fe system and took nearly 90 years to build to completion (southwards from Kansas City through San Angelo and Fort Stockton to Presidio and northwards through the Sierra Madre mountain range through Chihuahua City to Ojinaga, Mexico)

The line functioned as a complete line from 1961 into the 90's but Santa Fe sold out in 1992 and since then the line has not been maintained beyond basic lease obligations. The section between Paisano Pass and Presidio has not been used at all following the staging of the train station scene in "There Will be Blood (2006- on the Mitchell Ranch) up until very recently when some basic maintenance was done in order to transport pipe for the Trans-Pecos Pipeline to the Tinaja region in the last two months. I witnessed some preliminary work being staged further down the line near Casa Piedra in last January, but to my knowledge no actual renovations have taken place beyond the pipeline staging area down Nopal Road south of HWY 67/90.

The Texas Dept of Transportation bought the line from the South Orient Railroad Company in 2001 for $9.5 million dollars and has leased the entire line to Texas Pacifico Railroad Company, based in San Angelo and owned by Grupo Mexico, which is the parent company of Mexican railway giant Ferromex. Texas Pacifico has a long term lease and its obligations include keeping the entirety of the line functional to the degree of usage needs. Once the bridge burned in 2008 and was deemed ruined, the future of the line south of Fort Stockton was in jeopardy. Ferromex owns the rail line south of the Rio Grande. That rail line is still fully operational south of Chihuahua City, and usable from Chihuahua City northwards to Ojinaga, but with very little traffic.

The controversial pipeline project has offered a reprieve to the line, and fairly extensive renovations have been made south of Fort Stockton to Alpine. The train is now running occasional loads of pipe to Tinaja, though track speed limits are very low. As recently as last summer I had an extensive conversation with a rep from Texas Pacifico where the point was made that even though the company is obligated to rebuild the Texas side of the rail bridge, freight volumes would not be sufficient going into or coming out of Mexico to justify its reconstruction, outside of lease obligations. Of course, the track conditions on both sides continue to deteriorate without any usage or maintenance, furthering the costs and logistical issues of reactivating the line.

Although I had been hearing from TXDOT and Texas Pacifico reps that the rail bridge was going to be rebuilt (and it's total height and height of approach on both sides of the river raised due to the raising of the IBWC levees on both sides well over previous track elevation), method of funding and any solid evidence of that was not presented. Yesterday's meeting brought solid enthusiasm, cooperation and real numbers and timelines to the table. TXDOT reps toured the site and expressed confidence in the potential to really bolster trade and industry throughout Texas and Mexico. Customs and Border Patrol director John Deputy went into detail about the Homeland Security requirements, and Texas Pacifico reps announced that they had been meeting with government and industry reps throughout the State of Chihuahua and all the way to Dallas and that the line, once operational, would be busier than originally anticipated. They also announced that after the bridge is completed in late 2017 that they would rebuild the trackage to whatever degree necessary to make it functional for whatever customers can commit to running on it. They also said that regarding funding from the parent company to make this happen, "the sky's the limit" over time. This means that if large industrial customers hauling very heavy freight begin using the line, the tracks could eventually be totally upgraded to a heavier gauge and coupled track could be replaced with more modern and safe welded track. Their attitude towards the required rebuilding of the bridge has totally changed and they seem genuinely bullish on the project. TTC Chairman Lewis was equally excited and he explained that funding for the bridge would come from Texas Pacifico (about $7 million) and funding for fixing the tracks from Tinaja to Presidio would hopefully come from Federal freight rail grants, which TXDOT has applied for and feels good about receiving.

Texas Pacifico then presented a powerpoint, which follows here, about their timeline and specs for the bridge, and projected opportunities for freight commodities. They also announced that the engineering for both sides of the bridge is almost 100% complete and that it will be open and functioning by late 2017.

Anyway, it was an excellent day, and I will post a few pictures when I am able to get them onto this computer from my phone.

We began at the Presidio Airport where the State officials flew in to meet us. From there we went on top of the levee to the site of the old railroad bridge, which will be the site of the new railroad bridge. The old structures, including the concrete bridge on the Mexico side, will be demolished.

From there a select group of people who had federal clearance were able to tour the US Customs and Immigration checkpoint. I did not attend as I did not get clearance, having found out about this meeting only a few days prior.

Lunch was provided at Los Comales across the river in Ojinaga. We first met in the Ojinaga Mayor's office in the City Hall in El Centro for a quick presentation, then went to eat as a group. Excellent beef short ribs, asadero quesadillas and caldo...

The Mayor then showed us through a quick drive through the new Mexico expanded port of entry inspection facility, a behemoth well under construction that will match up to the old U.S. bridge, which will be turned into currently not yet under construction.

After that we crossed back over into Presidio and went to the PAC for the presentation by Texas Pacifico. Once finished at 3 PM the State Officials went back to their plane and the day, lasting only five hours, seemed like it had been much longer after so much excitement and conversation.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Late post- Notes from Commissioners Court meeting April 12, 2016

Presidio County Commissioners Court Meeting 4/12/2016 9 AM, Marfa, Presidio County Courthouse

Commissioners from Presidio are running late...

Convene at 9:17 AM.

All present 

Public comments: 
Richard Petree, appraiser. Carlos Nieto wishes to have commissioners find a way to reduce burden on local taxpayers. Petree has a recommendation and a handout. Says that homestead exemptions can be set by taxing entities between 1% and 20% available. He has prepared presentation. Says that county can raise overall tax rate to offset an increased exemption. Shifts burden to wealthier taxpayers and business entities. Aranda asks if that is the only exemption available to the entities. Petree says that pretty much, yes. Schools can make certain exemptions. Cities and Counties have this particular option. Vasquez says he recognizes the Impact on the citizens, especially for elderly. Encourages Petree to help commissioners move forward with this. Requests guidance. Petree says he will provide numbers to judge this afternoon. Aranda asks how much time they have for this year's taxes. Petree says that within the next month would reflect this year's notices. After that notices would not be affected but actual bill would be in the fall. Judge Guevara thanks Petree and Nieto. Encourages commissioners to consider this. 1,110 homesteads in Presidio County. Seven hundred plus are elderly or disabled. 
Agree to set special meeting next Friday. Judge says she will call it. 
Carlos Nieto thanks judge, encourages court to act. Affects City of Marfa residents more than anyone else.
End of public comments.

Item 5- announcements from Judge and commissioners . 
Judge met with Tex Historical commission. Want to restore the Sacred Heart Church in Ruidosa. Want to ask Catholic Church to deed property to county or take on restoration on their own. Church is falling down, open air. Judge wants to meet with diocese face to face. Wants to know commissioners thoughts to see if they might be interested. Texas Historical Commission could request grants if property was deeded to county. White and Vasquez support looking into pursuing it. 
Shows pictures of church when it was still in decent shape. 
Could help economy down there, White mentions. Vasquez would like to see it in the county's hands. 
Rural transportation improvement meeting coming up in Marfa at City Hall 4-6 PM Tuesday. Multiple Counties. 
Judge met with border patrol. Worked up an ops order to use Stonegarden grants in 2017. Has been turned in. Still answering audit issues from time before. They would like to see five different things that judge is still working on. Among them, mileage logs, vehicle policy. White says that TXDOT has a usable policy if she needs to refer to one. Judge was hoping that we were clear, but we are close. Most items have been remedied. Funds will be available 2017-19
Judge working with Larry Lunsford. Still talking about golf course. They are now interested in building homes. Lunsford met with Superintendent Peters regarding affordable housing. 
Investors are interested. Fits in with economic development plan commissioners approved in 2012. 
Veterans service officer is going to Presidio every other week. Has requested a laptop. Would like a line item transfer for that, on agenda today.
PIPA meeting March 22nd. No actions taken. Good meeting. Meeting in Mexico May 10th. In Mexico City. White may attend. Judge is attending. PIPA still working on bylaws. Judge asks PIPA president Commissioner Hernandez why bylaws are tricky. Hernandez says that they have to comply with State requirements. Consulting with Jesse Hereford  to get them done. White says there is a list of attorneys certified to do this work. Hereford is in contact with them. Should not be a problem. 
Rolling Thunder Chapter 2 is coming to Marfa setting up a virtual wall on courthouse lawn honoring soldiers from Texas who have died in Desert Storm up until present.
Judge says that commissioners will be gone 25-29 for training, so meeting will be next week instead of end of month.
No other announcements.

Item 6- discussion as presented from Bureau of Vital Statistics

Item 7- Presidio County Bank Accounts-
Closing unnecessary. White makes motion to close, says they have already discussed this enough.

Item 8- Dome visitation hours. Judge advocates opening the dome, cites hundreds of tourists visiting. 
White says it is still a security issue, says we should rely on courthouse security officer to make this decision. Constable Steve Marquez says that people come all day every week. Aranda wants to know if Steve is OK with this. Steve says that since city helped out with workers it worked out, but otherwise there are too many visitors. 
White says we are not a tourist center, we are here to take care of County business. 
Vasquez says that he feels that keeping hours is a better idea, add more hours. 
Judge says that is what she wants.
Hernandez asks how it was before. Judge says it was always open. White disagrees. Says Hunt opened it. Hernandez says that it used to be open 8-5 weekdays. Hernandez wants to know how many visitors. Steve says lots of families, up to 20 people per time frame. Lots of big groups coming through. Safety is concern. 
White says that it is also high ground, could be used as A gun turret. Aranda says that at one time there wee too many kids fooling around up there. Judge says during  summer it will be unbearably hot. Judge suggests talking with city about getting more workers. Sam Cobos says it is best to have a escort, steps are dangerous. If city continues to provide escorts, then it would be good. Hernandez reminds court that the city is not responsible for the courthouse. Vasquez prefers that if city provides a person, it would be preferential. Hernandez says he does not feel comfortable with someone from city, only feels comfortable with Steve Marquez. 
Aranda would like to adjust stairways with Historical Commission. 
Hernandez asks Steve Marquez if there is a good time for him on a daily basis. Steve says that he is open to suggestions as long as he is not in court. 
Judge makes motion to extend dome hours to at least two hours per day, based on his availability. Patty Roach asks that hours be consistent and at least let her know how to let people know. Crystal Funke mentions that she would suggest that dome stay open and Steve can make regular patrols. Hernandez still thinks people should be supervised. Motion and second on table. 
Aranda wants to be sure that a regular schedule is followed. Hernandez wants to know if extra hours can be arranged through Steve if he is available. Judge says that that is happening now. Many people are important to us and it is hard to say no. 
Unanimous on the motion. Motion was to extend dome hours and are coordinated with courthouse security. 

Item 9- payment in lieu of taxes for housing authority. Waive them for Marfa Housing Authority. Aranda makes motion to approve. Seconded by White. Unanimous.

Item 10- fixed rate 13 month contract with WTU at 4.445 cents per kilowatt.
Judge has question. Cheryl Calvert explains that these five meters have come up for contract. Advisor suggested that a 13 month contract would be best and all the meters  will come up for contract at the same time in 13 months. Unanimous.

Item 11- MISD and County tax collection agreement. $8,260 per quarter +/-
Raised 20% this time by Tax Assessor. Costs have risen. She has talked to school district. Hernandez moves to approve. Unanimous.

Item 12- Marfa airport landing fees
Chase says that the trend is an increase in jet traffic and a decrease in personal small plane traffic. 
Trend is also that airports are charging landing fees, currently we have waived them if they buy fuel. He intended the item to be for both airports. But airports are different. Marfa is a destination airport. He recommends that landing fee be extended to all jets of any size, two categories. Less than 27,000 pounds $150, more than 27,000 pounds, $350 unless fuel purchases made of those same amount of gallons. ($350 vs 350 gallons)
Also asks permission to waive fees in certain situations. Mentions that employees have to be trained, notice has to be published in federal register. These will take time. Says this will encourage fuel sales. Propeller planes would not have fees. 
Vasquez looks to move. Judge wonders about Chase being able to waive fees. 
Judge makes motion that includes allowing Chase to waive fees. Seconded by Hernandez. Vasquez brings up if plane already has a lot of fuel, does it still pay. Chase says that he does not want to force the fee, would use exemption. 

Item 13- Marfa airport television service. Has been paid for by Ron Lewis, now should be provided for waiting pilots, but needs to be paid for by airport, Chase says.
No cable out there. Direct TV is $72/mo with $200 installation charge. With 2 yr contract installation fee is waived and it is half the price. 
White says Chase should check with Big Canyon about Dish. 
Vasquez has no problem with 2 yr contract if it saves money. 
Chase asks if court is OK with contract. Aranda makes motion to have Chase decide on contract and provider. Unanimous.

Item 14- Executive Session for airport personnel matters. Convene at 11:15 AM

Item 15- reconvene into open session at 12:36 PM
Airport personnel matters: 
Judge makes motion to allow an employee to receive $20 of a $50 cell phone fee, that fuel sales at Marfa airport be incentivized to promote sales. (Did not catch exact details) unanimous

Item 16- Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. Conrad Arriola presents on behalf of Frontier Casa. 
Proclaim April Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. Frontier Casa works with the children. They serve 8 counties. Always need volunteers. Several cases have originated in Presidio County. Hernandez asks who the rep is if there is a case in Marfa or Presidio. Arriola says that if a child gets into the system, the District Judge will appoint a Casa volunteer to be their voice. John Fowlkes agrees a that it is a great service. Advocates for awareness of the program and the importance of their role in children's lives. 
Judge makes motion to approve. Unanimous.

Break for lunch at 12:42 PM.

Reconvene at 1:52 PM

Item 17- Sale of Presidio County equipment and materials approved as surplus at meeting 3/23. 
Aranda says that list has been approved, now want to go ahead and sell. Take bids. Motions to approve. Seconded by White. Unanimous.

Item 18- payment to Jesse Hereford for international bridge project for $8,000 for Section 559 Application to General Services Administration. Discussion as to whether the PIPA group will pay for it. For now since bylaws for PIPA are not in place, county will pick up the tab. White motions to do so.  Katie Sanchez means tomknow where the money is budgeted. Out of PIPA page (16,500) within budget. Presidio County Commissioners Court Special Meeting March 23rd, 2016, 9:30 AM, Presidio County Annex Food Pantry Building, Presidio, TX

Present: Jim White, Loretto Vasquez, Eloy Aranda, Cinderela Guevara, Lorenzo Hernandez

Called to order at 9:43 AM

Public comments:

Judge and commissioners announcements:
Judge Guevara says that Larry Lunsford came to her after meeting to apologize for springing the purchase of the golf course on them. Says investors would like to meet directly with Judge. Says that they would build casitas on the property if land was sold to them. Housing shortage.
Aranda says that property would have to be auctioned, bids, etc. Get the County Attorney involved. If property is to be sold, the County needs to get a professional appraisal of the golf course. Golf course was built by hand by people in Marfa, we need to be really careful. Judge says that he is right, we need to be sure we protect the County first and look very carefully. There has been at least one other person interested in redoing the golf course. All this will have to be put out for bid, and we will have to be very careful. Commissioner Vasquez says he has gotten a lot of calls against sale of land. 
Jim White says that he has gotten complaints about children running around the Marfa airport, all along the runways et al, and commissioners court will need to deal with this. 
Hernandez says that we have heard about this before and done nothing, it is time for us to do something. White agrees, we really do not want to get anyone hurt. That is the main issue. Judge says that she can call them into her office and tell the kids themselves. Offers to take care of this with Chase today. Agreed between Chase and Judge that they will speak to the kids tomorrow and take care of this. 

Item 6- 2015 TCDBG proposals. Commissioners have had packets to rank and score. Tabled for a bit while Commissioner Vasquez completes his survey.

Issue with tape recorder. It turned off. Virgie resets it. 

Item 7- 
Maximum lodging and meal rates for Presidio County Employees (training sessions, etc)
Patty Roach explained that we are currently at $42, maximum is $46. After that it is taxable to the County. Katie Sanchez gives clarity on advances versus reimbursements. This is for advances. Reimbursements can be made on real receipts. Hernandez recommends reimbursements only, that would solve this issue. Katie agrees. Reimbursements do not include tips or alcohol. Katie says some people need advances, cannot rely on reimbursements. Aranda says advances are good. White says that receipts need to be required either way. Judge says that if you get an advance and you spend more, then you can be reimbursed the difference. France's Garcia agrees that it is. Katie says though that if you spend less, you do not have to reimburse the County. White says there is nothing wrong with paying taxes. Hernandez says that when he attends a conference, he would at least like to have the lodging paid in advance. Ketzia says that II is all up to the commissioners. She knows that we have given advances before and a few people need to reimburse the County for money that was not spent. Aranda talks about going up to $46. White says he prefers to encourage people to just rely on bringing receipts back. Judge asks if they really want to eliminate advances. Virgie says that some employees cannot afford to go somewhere without an advance. More discussion. 
Aranda talks about requiring receipts, if people do not spend the money would have to bring the receipts back and refund any excess. 
Wants to bring it up to $46, still allow advances, allow for extra reimbursement if employee goes over. Receipts required. Maximum meal per dime would be $46. 
Katie says that they need to clarify if it's for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Hernandez asks if they would have to bring back receipts if they go over or regardless. Wants to retire receipts regardless. Vasquez says he is against reimbursement if meals go over $46. Hernandez agrees. Does not apply for hotel fees, just meals. No receipts would be required. White agrees that reimbursement over $46 leaves room for abuse. Discussion about receipt requirements. 
Some questions about fairness. Agreed that reimbursement rate and advance rate will both be set at $46 maximum. Special trips to places like Washington DC could be considered on an as needed basis. Judge says that sometimes those important trips come up at the last minute and there would not be time to schedule. Katie says that they could go by the GSA recommendations and guidelines on that. Judge says that she really believes this should be studied more, and that maybe to day just raise it up $4 and come to revisit this. Hernandez says he agrees, but would rather not even raise it today. Instead come back and tackle it all at once. White says we could do trips on a more open ended deal based on where the trip would be. Chase says why not go with the GSA rates. White says we don't yet know those rates. More general discussion.
Aranda wants to study this more. White agrees. 
Judge says she doesn't see anything wrong with the $4 increase today. Vasquez agrees. Judge makes motion. Aranda seconded. Lunch is now $14 instead of ten. Approved.

Item 8- Surplus equipment: attached list. (I do not have the list, but Aranda supplied it)
Aranda says it is mostly old equipment in the way, taking up yard space. 
Ruben Carrasco presents. He and Chase went through equipment.
Made a list and where it all is
Half ton Chevy pickup, Marfa airport, very old. Trash in the back
Lots of parts, materials, been there for a long time.
Some of these things are on the RCI asset list.
Oil tank at golf course
Hernandez moves to approve the list.
White seconds. Unanimous

Item 6- TXCDBG
Admin and engineering services for Block Grant. Redford Water Supply
Scored applicants.
Katie Sanchez has tallied the points.
Will be posted on County website
Grantworks: Admin, beat out Grant Management
Engineering: Kleinman engineering beats out Frank Spencer and two others. 
Motions follow to adopt as recommended. 
Barbara Baskin has two questions. Who got this information together for the RFPs 
Also, why is the scoring the way it is, unclear as to whether it has been done before. Hernandez says that the engineer we chose as most qualified will be price negotiated with first. Baskin wants to be sure everything is covered, water has not been up to standards for quite a while. White recommends she reads the proposals. She says she has never seen that, wants to know if the contract award have anything to do with the specs of this project. Jerry Carvahal says that the grant proposal is designed around prior engineering findings (by Ramon Carrasco of Kleinman). Baskin protests a bit that the information from prior projects has never been disclosed. End of discussion.

Item 9- line item transfers
Operating supplies to uniforms for Sheriff's Dept. correction from last time, more uniform pants. Approved

Item 10-
Bills and expenses
White makes motion to accept. Seconded by Hernandez. 

Item 11- Adjourn
Adjourned at 10:41 AM

Notes on Presidio County Commissioners Court Meeting May 10th 2016, 9 AM

Presidio County Commissioners Court Meeting May 10th, 2016, 9 AM Marfa, Presidio County Courthouse.

Present: Judge Guevara, Jim White, Loretto Vasquez, and County Atty John Fowlkes.

Convene at 9:05

Lorenzo Hernandez joins the meeting following pledge at 9:07. Absent: Eloy Aranda

Item 4- public comments
Judge reminds commissioners that members may not respond to comments from citizens. County Attorney John Fowlkes agrees that this is the proper way to hold meetings. 
Comment from Larry Lunsford, rep from Golf group. 
Here to reassure that the golf group is still interested in golf course project. Plan is to submit a lease proposal and an outline of a three or four phase project to be presented at the next meeting. 
Discusses funding and how at the start of each phase funds will be put into escrow to be sure that projects are complete. 
They want county commissioners to be comfortable that funds are there.
Have run the numbers, will not be a big money making project, more of a labor of love. Need to add a small lodging community and potentially low income housing for local workers. Group wants to go forward, he is here to reassure. 

Carlos Nieto: thanks commissioners for homestead exemption action. Looking into cities taking next step to adopt. 

Judge reiterates that she wants to keep agendas tight. Asks employees and officials not to interrupt discussions between commissioners. Judge will call on people to comment at end of discussions. 

Item 5: announcements from commissioners and Judge: 
Judge says she enjoyed commissioners school. 
Yesterday judge and financial team met with Big Bend Telephone. Explained how process would work and how it would be paid for. 
Would be budgeted for next year's fiscal term. Great technological advances offered. 
County needs an RFP. OMB office will prepare. Doak Painter will be here next week so financial team is busy preparing for that right now. 
Hernandez says that he has been asking about bills, he hopes that this new phone system will save us money. Judge says it will cost about the same, but the system will be much more advanced. Brewster County has been with them for about a year and Judge Cano says it is much better. Hernandez is concerned about the money. 
BBT coming back for June 14 agenda. 
Jim White asks about the mileage and phone logs being complied with. Some departments are not in compliance. Commissioners need to be vigilant. Sheriff has not signed his Conflict of Interest Policy. Commissioners have not enforced the rules. Judge wants to get together with Frances Garcia tomorrow to review. Judge says that commissioners need to decide on consequences when policies are not followed. 
Judge congratulates Jessie Lee Schneider for here award from Agriculture department. June 7th at port at 4 PM ceremony. 
This Thursday meeting with Tryon Lewis regarding Port of entry. 
Veterans town hall meeting May 23rd in both Marfa and Presidio. Regarding the ew clinic to be built next to Porters in Marfa. Porters is donating the land and paying for some of the construction. Thanks to the Porter family. 
Work on budget has begun. There is a timeline, forms to departments go out June 1st, need to be returned to Judge by June 14. Patty Roach has simplified the forms. She believes dept heads will be pleased. 
Commissioners announcements: none

Item 6- Air Ambulance presentation by Frances Garcia. She emailed all applications to dept heads.
Two proposals. Omni and LifeShield. Budgeted last year, just now received proposals. 
Judge says that she and Frances will get together and explain process to employees. 
Hernandez wants to know why this took so long. Carlos Nieto was the one who got into touch with the firms. This is a covered benefit for all County employees. 
Carlos Nieto says that PISD and City of Presidio employees are covered, great benefit for employees and their families. Hernandez still wants to now why this has taken so long. Frances says that they basically had to start from scratch on this process. Judge is glad it was budgeted, and she and Frances will work to get employees enrolled. Will cost the County approximately $9,000; budgeted for $15,000.
Judge says here computer is broken, no money is budgeted this year, but she hopes she can find some money somewhere. 

Item 7- Marfa golf course issues: 
Eddie Pallarez presents:
Informing county that There has been a a change in advisory board memberships. Elected Ernest Villareal Jr as new secretary to replace Doug Cook, who is retiring and moving. Wants to advocate for new golf group, part of new ideas include the housing and other opportunities at golf course. Please consider all proposals. 
Judge thanks Eddie. 

Item 8- executive session.

Reconvene into regular session at 10:45 AM

Item 9- airport personnel. Judge makes motion to rescind previous action of court in April to approve a call out fee of $20.00 paid to employees and approve chancing status of Rudy Estor from part time to full time status at 10/hr pending analysis from County Auditor. Approved.

Item 10- Disposition of privately owned dilapidated structures at airport. Chase Snodgrass presents.
Normally privately owned structures when people leave are sold to others and county creates a new lease with new owner. County owns all land. County has right to terminate leases. The "T" hangars at Marfa airport are in bad shape. Should be torn down as an unsafe building. Privately owned. Two hangars are empty and a guy from Alpine wants to buy one. Chase thinks that county should not lease land. County should purchase hangars at fair market value and tear them down, starts over. 
Appraisal district at $4,400 using RAMP grants county only pays half. There are seven hangars total in this structure. Two are being used on one side. Land leases have not been paid on at least two in years. 
Requesting county not to write new leases or renew any existing leases. 
Jim White says that T hangar is an invention to put more airplanes in a limited space. 
Chase says that taxi space is too narrow around hangar. 
Says right now there is 90/10 grant money to build new hangars. Would like to eventually build two with grant funds. Vasquez wants to know how much rent a hangar can command. Snodgrass says that in the past it has been around $100/month for a hangar that was not secured. Now that it is secured people are interested. Says in Alpine hangars rent for 200/300 dollars a month and there are none available. 
White makes motion to not write or renew any leases on the T hangars. 
Vasquez seconds. 

Item 11- administrative session
White asks if we did not receive these reports via email. Yes, except for OMB, auditor and treasurers reports, which were turned in today.

Internal auditor- Patty Roach- has no paper report. Says that Doak Painter will be here next week and they are getting ready for that.

Treasurers Report: commissioners take time to review. Receipts total $825,000 plus or minus. Crystal Funke goes to find Frances to answer questions. Patty Roach assists Heranandez with questions in the meantime. 
BCAP grant money that has been waited on for approximately three years came in. ($85,000)
Chase confirms that county is planning on raising rents for hangars fairly soon. 
Land leases tied to CPI.
Report accepted.

OMB report. Katie Sanchez. $542,000 approximate to be or has been paid out. Commissioners had approved bills of over $125,000. Went to Border Patrol meeting the other day. Grant funding issues re Operation Stonegarden. Possible to request advances in future, increased accountability. Presidio County had never requested the M&A of 5% for operating grants. Officials were surprised at this. Vasquez wants to know how Stonegarden stands. Katie says that they are waiting on approval, it is at the Washington level now. County will have to write Plan/proposal for how they plan to spend it. Says that they are nice, helpful and want to fund us. 
Judge says that county still has to pass a vehicle policy, send it to government. Money will come in for 2017. All previous Stonegarden grants are closed out. Had to give back all of 2014 grant of approx $300,000.
Feb or March of 2017 is next funding cycle. Three year grant. 
Judge wants to know about when checks in the report were written. Katie says that hers and Frances' reports run concurrently. 
$399,000 still needs to be approved towards total of $542,000 to be paid out.  

Commissioners reviewing other reports.

Judge wants to accept pets D through N

Hernandez wants to hear facilities manager report
Sam Cobos:
Full time courthouse employee quit for personal reasons. 
Says that the use of county facilities has greatly increased, especially courthouse lawn and AG barn. 
Hernandez asks who does the work when people quit. Cobos says that either he does it or Sal helps out.
Talk about Kyle Petty biker rally. 
Redford Center will be open daily this summer, will be used kind of as a visitors center. 
Work on Annex.
Courthouse needs work, turnover has been a problem. Using some contract labor to come in a do some work until we find a full time permanent worker. 
HVAC system at jail progress. Committee met. Set up schedule of items. Shooting for RFP by end of June/ early July. Patty Roach says that the committee is responsible for putting bid package together and planning for finance. Vasquez thanks them for their work. 
Beebe says that it is important that a commissioner be more or less in charge of this process since the decision will be of utmost importance to the financial and operations future of the County. It is not fair to place such a high level of responsibility on an employee that cane blamed if a mistake is made. Hernandez agrees. 
Report accepted.

Capital Projects: Ruben Carrasco.
Got some surplus materials from TXDOT for free for road improvements. Judge asks about Antelope Hills road. Carrasco says he is waiting on paving materials from TXDOT. Two roads in Presidio and Antelope Hills Rd. Road to landfill in Presidio is one of them. 
Previous commissioners court decided on which roads would be priority. 
Vasquez asks about airport storage issues. Carrasco says that they are trying to clone up area around the little building so they can demolish it. Moving vehicles will be easy. 
Hernandez asks about when and how road were chosen to be done. Carrasco says about two years ago. 
$418,000 of TXDOT grant funds and materials are free. Roads in Presidio were outside city but city annexed since grants were funded. Will coordinate with city. 

Tax Assessor:
 Norma Arroyo: 90% of tax roll has been collected YTD. $44,357.00 collected this month.

Jail Report: 
Gracie Parras. Count at jail is 99. Billed marshals and Jeff Davis a total of $146,000 approximately for month of April. 
Jail is full.
New maintenance worker is busy. On call 24 hours. Works 40 hours per week. 

JP 1 Report- collections numbers $24,000 approx, talking about performing extraditions, attending training for TER Birth certificates in June. Will be coming to commissioners court to ask for a funds transfer. 

Fire/EMS- fire in Ruidosa started in Mexico 2 days ago. Gary Mitschke presents. Presidio Fire Dept requested  a dozer from TXDOT, Gary and Judge had to order through emergency management. Everything worked out, but there are some issues for the future. 
Several fires this week due to dry lightning. Weather patterns are changing, Federal Emergency management people say that fall may present most risk. 
White wants to know how many fires the burn ban has prevented. Unknown, says Gary. 
Permits have been issued for fires, four or five issued, no fires went out of control. 
White pushes... Mitschke says that burn bans don't necessarily prevent fires but mitigate risk, through permits and awareness. 
Gary asks about SHSP grant status. Judge says that vehicle policy has to be approved to get into compliance. Suspension cannot be lifted until then. 

All other reports approved.

Line Item transfers:
$600 from training to fuel for County Judge. 
Discussion regarding transfers. 
6000 from professional services to labor for OMB.

White make motion to approve.

Bills and expenses:
Patty Roach says there is a $6.99 reimbursement for hamburger buns for jail to Pancho Campos not listed.
Katie wants to know if departments may have to be limited on reimbursements by commissioners court. Might be abuse happening. 
One dept has three reimbursements for approx $14,000. Airport fund. 
Patty says that county has no duty to reimburse employees. She thinks that there's not necessarily a reason to restrict reimbursements, but employees need to understand that they buy at their own risk.
CopSync bill is being billed to jail, but should be Sheriff's Office. Gracie brings that up. Needs to be moved. 

Approve previous minutes:

Discussion regarding closing bank accounts from Frances Garcia included in. Invites. April 12th meeting. No problems at this point.
Approved for April 12 and April 27th.

Adjourn at 12:13 PM