Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Notes from Presidio County Commissioners Court Budget Workshop, Mon Aug 16, 2016, 5PM, Marfa courthouse

Here are my notes from a contentious meeting. It was the first meeting of commissioners court regarding budget specifics. Coming into this next year with a possible 1.2 million dollar deficit, many people are fed up with large payments in the "Non-Departmental" category, including over 220,000 dollars to other governmental entities, most of which have their own statutory tax bases and tax rates.

Presidio County Commissioners Court Budget Meeting Monday, August 15th, Marfa, 5PM Presidio County Courthouse.

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

Convene meeting at 5:17 PM

Public comment: None

Item 5- announcements from judge and commissioners:
Judge says that Chase Snodgrass received an email from FAA about violations at airport. Some work will have to be done to get into compliance.
Wed judge will meet with TXDOT in El Paso about money for PIPA. Treasurer recommended that inventory to be taken in Presidio Wed and Marfa Thursday.
Judge went to Jeff Davis county commissioners court. They adopted the $22.50/mile rate for ambulance service to City of Presidio and Presidio County. Though it would be cheaper, but it is not. 
Jeff Davis will collect from government agencies and then will bill the individual clients, reimburse county if bill is collected.
City of Marfa will go to a billing system to Bill the county as well. Hernandez asks about how this is going to work. Will this set a precedent on how the city of Presidio will be handled. Judge says that she received an email from the mayor of Presidio and he says that Presidio will ask for $100,000 again for EMS this year. Judge reads email to commissioners. She is not happy about it. Next year Mayor says he Wants to ask for twenty-five percent of total budget. Says Jeff Davis will be charging them more than before (zero). Says he is ready to receive County ad valorem money from pipeline. Thinks in the future the contribution should be around $125,000. 
Judge says this is not a good solution. He did not mention that the City of Presidio is indebted to the county $131,000 for years of tax collection. County sent invoice, detailed numbers, no response whatsoever. Hernandez says the administrator knows about it. Says that informally Marco Baeza thought the money had been automatically taken out of tax collections. Judge says no, but that is a good solution going forward. What about debt previously incurred? Since 2011. Aranda asks why this what not collected. Judge says this was a written contract, easily read and followed if paid attention to. 
Says that auditor Patty Roach will make a presentation about the dire finances of Presidio County. Judge says an option is to suspend payment on EMS. Hernandez says that judge should send him a letter. Judge says she will, wants some guidance and wants to know if commissioners have any knowledge of this. Hernandez wants to know when the last time we got a report from Presidio Fire/EMS. Hernandez says that he knows they do not file reports, how can they ask for money of they don't file?

Aranda says we need to look at options. Says that City of Presidio is willing to wait on County's revenue from the pipeline, willing to work with us. We need to work with them. 
Says there is a non-profit organization that will come in and run the EMS, run by ex EMS director Skelton. Judge says the thing is that she thinks the best thing to do is to set aside some money and let every entity bill us per each ambulance run. Breaks down the math showing it will be cheaper for the county. Mentions that many of Presidio's runs are to Elephant Rock where advanced EMTs from Marfa meets them to take over. Or they get to the Marfa EMS station and are treated there. Hernandez says that the cost of just providing the service is greater than $22.50/mile. 
Jeff Davis County is charging that rate and it covers the infrastructure as well. 
Auditor brings up that if we agree to pay 25% they could increase their budget and we could be on the hook. Numbers of patients outside of Presidio City unknown by Presidio EMS. No numbers available. 
Patty wants to know about the fact that this year Presidio has not paid for dispatch contract, tax bill, more. What do we do about that? Hernandez says that he was mayor of Presidio until 2011 and does not remember any of this. Cindy Clark was City Administrator. 
Judge says that County may have to withhold payments of taxes in the future. What about our $131,000 owed to us. We need to stipulate truth in billing methods. Currently no info from Presidio EMS. Do they even bill their patients? No info.
Aranda says we need to find out how many runs they do, info on numbers. Need to get that and not jump the gun. 
Judge says this year is really really tight, we need to collect. Patty says she would prefer that as well, set up a system for the future. 
Aranda says he is surprised that they received a notice and nobody even called back about it. Verified to be true, nobody called. Frances Garcia says it used to be that when they were behind on dispatch, the Sheriff would cut them off and hey would pay. 

Next topic: judge introduces Patty Roach to present the financial straits the County is in. 
Auditor Patty Roach makes presentation. Right now we are calculated M&O at 3,554.129 revenue
Expenditures with no raises, no new staff :4,631699.00
Shortfalls in other funds: $158,391.00
Total shortfall: 1,235,961.00 for FY 2017

Causes: M&O down $387,178.00 exemptions dropped value by 42,893,649.00
Value drop due to utility exemption per State: $37,001,599.00- resulted in decrease of revenue of $387,178.00
Increases in funds transfers: $50,316.00
Deficit budgeting in FY 2016: $354,031.00
Increases in M&O budgets: $444,435.00

Total $1,235,961.00

Possible actions:

Cut M&O spending by $494,751.00
Cut budgets an additional amount: $100,000.00
Raise Taxes: ten cents- $347,797.00
Spend reserves: $293,412.00
Each penny in tax increase results in $10 increase on $100,000 home. 

Hernandez would like to see the County increase revenue through leases, services, etc. Patty says many of those go into dedicated enterprise funds. Hernandez says that it helps regardless. 
Jail inmate fee to US Marshals was negotiated at $65/day in 2012. Jail transport was recently renegotiated.
Judge says these proposed cuts for county services are extremely hurtful to departments. 
Departmental numbers projected on screen... (When is receive a copy I will post)

Aranda wants to allow dept heads to suggest their own cuts. Doesn't want to just slash everyone without input.
He wants to spend money from reserves. Says there is $1.7 million in reserves, hope for the best next year. 
Judge says that in reserves we would need to set aside four months operating expenses, which is about one million. 
Patty Roach says that is basically all we have. Jail may have more. Need a cushion of minimum $500,000 just for jail reserves. A/C project is an example of why we need reserves without having to issue bonds. 
Aranda says that project will cost about $300,000. 
Vasquez says that there is no way to put off that project, we need to get it done since the jail makes money and we cannot take the chance of being closed down. 
Looking for an architect for jail HVAC. No applicants, position has been advertised in nearby major cities. Judge says that it is not worth the risk.
Calls Gracie Parras to speak about the heat problem in the winter. Gracie says that the inmates call their attorneys when they are cold since heat is virtually inoperable.
Vasquez reiterates that we cannot put this off. 

Judge calls for a break. It is her birthday and Virgie made a cake. Cake and ice cream. 
Break at 6:21 PM.

Return to meeting at 6:30.
Patty says that she would encourage commissioners to look at page 51 for a summary.
Some depts have had staffing requests, not in this budget.

Aranda asks if all the details are in the packet. Yes, says Patty.
Hernandez asks if we stuck with exactly last year's budget we would save $494,751.00, still leaving us with a 700,000 plus deficit.
Aranda brings up using more reserves and not raising taxes as much, plus rolling back to 2016 levels. 
Different numbers plugged into formula to see how it affects reserves.
Aranda advocates for only a three cent tax increase and to get dept heads to cut budgets.
Or if budgets cannot be cut, spend up to $637,000 in reserves. Wants to know how much jail fund has available after half million cushion is considered. Patty says about $700,000.
Katie Sanchez talks about cutting transfers to other entities first and then reducing departmental budgets. Says that for the last three years county employees and departments have had to cut, taxes have risen, and payments to outside entities have increased. 
Patty says we will actually be saving some money on insurance this year, not represented in budget. Reduce capital expenditures. Collect from City of Presidio. 
Hernandez and Aranda start to converge in three cent tax rate increase, spending over $500,000 in reserves, cutting back to 2016 budget levels, asking dept heads for more help, try to collect money from city of Presidio. 
Hernandez wants to know what the rollback rate is. Rollback for M&O is 76 cents, we were at 58 cents last year. 18 cents leeway. 
Lots of room. Harlan Hardy mentions that we would all get voted out if taxes were increased by that much. Taxes go up without an increase in services. 
Vasquez says Sheriff has asked for an additional deputy, correct? Patty says the numbers are more than just that, new deputy request is not even reflected in this budget. No new staff in this budget. Page nineteen has Sheriff's office requests. 
PIPA may not need to be budgeted for, says Judge. Savings of $12,000.00
Hernandez looks at road and bridge, golf course, north parks. Judge says that we have not yet signed the agreement with the golf people. Outside attorney looking at it. Unsure if it happens. County must protect that asset. Have to keep it until a solid agreement is reached. Road and bridge dept asking for increase of nearly $214,000.00

Hernandez recommends going with 2016 budget levels but allowing dept heads to reallocate their monies in their own manner.

Aranda says this is merely proposed, we use this to cut. 
Katie Sanchez agrees that rolling back to 2016 and letting dept heads decide what they need is a good way to do it.

Proposal on the table is to roll back to 2016 levels, cut an additional $100,000, collect whatever we can from Presidio, raise taxes (determine what rate) spend $536,870 in reserves.
Savings on insurance: $10,000.00, 

Judge says we should get the $30,000 from Presidio on past dept, what they owe for this year ($25,000) and withhold some EMS payments. 
Hernandez wants to cut parks. Says he can for sure in South parks. 
Cut emergency services CBase funding. 
Presidio Food Pantry does not function, have no volunteers. Hernandez says it is a mess, the county fixed the building, they did not hold up their end of the bargain. 

 Beebe speaks about separation of budgets. City budgets, county budgets are different. Cities are requests money from broke county and county commissioners have to raise their own tax rate. Cities do not have to be accountable for county rates, making commissioners take the heat for additional funds for cities. Commissioners need to defend their own budget and not do the dirty work for outside agencies by raising taxes just to transfer money out to agencies that don't want to raise their own tax rates. Aranda agrees. Beebe uses example of having to buy copy paper out of my own pocket since his dept is out of money, underfunded. Says that City of Presidio is already planning on getting more of a subsidy from the County's future ad valorem tax receipts from the pipeline. Stating it publicly in advance to County. County and city funds are not the same funds. County's duty is to defend its own budget. Presidio should raise their own tax rates instead of having commissioners do it and take the blame, then give money away even though we are beyond broke.

Judge mentions that City of Presidio gave their employees a 3% raise last year, this county has not seen a raise in a number of years, city is asking for more money.

More talk about spending reserves. Patty says she is opposed overall, but it can be done. 
Hernandez says he is feeling a little better about the reserves. Reserves have been steady. 
Added $100,000 to jail reserves this year, says Patty. Jail balance approx 1.7 million. Next year will be reduced because of HVAC project expense. 
Judge asks is we are going to set aside $136,000 for EMS subsidies? Patty says we do not have good data at this point. Judge says that dispatch can provide good data if cities do not. Hernandez says that he cannot believe that Presidio EMS does not provide data. Marfa EMS does. Confirmed by Judge. 
Hernandez asks again about ambulance policy possibilities. Gets a phone call and leaves the room as Judge answers question for the rest of the commissioners. 
Says City of Presidio should not come to County to demand payment since they cannot pay. She does not believe that is a good way to write a budget if they are completely dependent on getting money from the County. Patty says that without numbers to back up a 25% payment for Presidio EMS unless 25% of the runs are made outside of the County. 
Hernanadez re-enters room and says that providing the service is what they are paying for. That is the cost whether the ambulance moves or not. Harlan Hardy asks how the City of Marfa does it. Increased Taxes and raising water bills is the reply.
Judge says that she requested the City of Presidio 2016 budget for nearly a year and just got it two weeks ago. Proposes not to make any payments to any entity that does not timely file a budget. She complained to Atty General and nothing happened even though AG sent a letter. Can't believe city would virtually ignore a letter from the AG. 
Hernandez says that is a good point, but when the County does something like that it punishes all the people, not just in City Hall. 
Beebe says that there has to be accountability, otherwise there are no repercussions for bad behavior. Hernandez agrees but says that people not responsible are punished. Beebe says that is the only way to get results, what we have been doing his not worked. Elected officials in each entity need to be held accountable.
Judge beings out the Municipal Code and quotes statutes about publishing budgets and filing. Virgie Pallarez says they have never filed to this day.
Hernandez says that the County needs to send the City a letter, jokes to have Beebe write it. 
More discussion. Patty wants to know whether the commissioners can decide whether to set aside money and receive bills from the EMS entities. Hernandez agrees that is the only fair way to do it. Aranda says we must have numbers. Numbers on costs, numbers on number of runs. Get the information, digest it, then make a decision. Hernandez says we should already have that info. Yes, we should, says Aranda. 
Hernandez wants to know why we pay for the Border Patrol gate runs. Judge says that there are two kinds of runs. 
People get sick coming back and call ambulance. Prisoners get sick, need ambulance. Also when people get sick in Mexico and need transport back. John deputy of CBP said that ninety nine percent of these cases a legal residents of the US and come back through and immediately call EMS.
Hernandez asks why the expense falls on the County. Judge gives a car accident in Midland as an example. Also says that Presidio had no information on billing, collections. Are they actually billing? She suspects they may not be actually billing. 
Aranda says that the port used to be in city limits and the old city manager used to get made at Kerry Skelton, former EMS director why ambulance would pick up people at the border. Answer was humanitarian respect for life. Now port area has been annexed. Judge says this is a detail we have to work out. Hernandez wants to know about the port. 
Beebe mentions that PIPA may be responsible for port EMS. Some discussion. 
Vasquez wants to know about billing. Hernandez says he does not know about monitoring, collections. Need to find out if proposed way will be cheaper or more expensive. Judge wants to get accurate information from dispatch. Aranda says we can wait on this, get more info.
Hernandez says he had a conversation with Skelton about forming a non profit, wants to set one up, could do it with $50,000 county contribution. Judge asks is Skelton was penalized for medicine abuse.  To finish the story. Presidio used to have a non-profit. Aranda says Skelton is working on this right now. Has resources in El Paso, raising money through the non-profit. 
Sam Cobos mentions that City of Marfa used to contribute $20,000 towards golf course. Beebe mentions that he believes that the city of Marfa will not contribute because there is now a private party supposedly holding a lease. Judge says that lease has not yet been signed, attorneys still working on it, nothing at all yet. We can't budget for anything reliably re golf course right now because partnership does not exist.

Judge says that City if Marfa says that the City of Marfa is only willing to donate money to the airport once the county gets their leases straight. But not until then. City is buying three new Suburbans to provide rental car services to Marfa airport. 

Conversation about City of Presidio spending money on police dept rather than contracting with county. Could save them over $150,000 and provide county with an additional South County deputy. Beebe says it worked better for the City of Marfa, saved money, better situation all around. Advocates for hiring a full time deputy in Presidio rather than having the reserve situation that currently exists which he believes Chief Deputy Nunez uses as a way to consolidate power and influence along with his dual role as Chief Deputy and PISD police chief. County trucks in the hands of PISD part timers, no accountability, just gifts. Beebe mentions this actually may or may not be true, but it is his opinion, that the city of Marfa did it, and it has been much better for the City to use the Sheriff's Office, despite any problems the Sheriff's office may have. 

Hernandez asks if any dept heads have suggestions. Virgie says that the County needs to provide for itself first before helping other entities. Katie Sanchez agrees. Hernandez says that he agrees but by helping other entities it helps the citizens. 
Katie and Virgie both say that everyone at the County has had to cut but not other entities. Discussion. Points made that employees and dept heads have had their taxes go up, office budgets go up, no pay raises in years and outside entities never have to cut, why is this? Asking county employees to do more with less and still give outside entities the same, no cuts to them.
Hernandez agrees that everyone, including all other entities must cut. More discussion. Patty agrees to look into non-departmental. 
People make case against county having to raise tax, giving money away, raising our own tax rates, cutting our own budgets, providing fewer services.
Katie as that outside entities get about $220,000. 10% cut would save $22,000. 
Hernandez is interested. City of Presidio and Presidio EMS alone is $136,000.
Agrees cuts are needed. 
Tough times. Progress being made, everyone agrees. 

Patty is on the computer explaining numbers to Aranda. Hernandez getting more info from Virgie. Loretto and Judge are having conversation about the numbers.

End of budget discussion.

Item 7- no action

Item 8 -no action

Item 9- no action
Item 10- adjourned at 8:03 PM

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