Budget Season: City Manager Rudy Alvarez Finds $60,000 at County Meeting
City of Pearsall asks for forgiveness from upcoming interlocal agreement payment, City of Dilley asks for equal treatment.
The Frio County Commissioners court was packed with more people than usual. The commissioners were set to approve their new fiscal year budget. Citizens and department heads waited to make their cases for or against pending budget cuts.
Among those in attendance were several representatives from the City of Pearsall- Mayor Mary Moore, City Manager Charles Jackson, Police Chief Peter Salinas and a few city councilmen- had a special request: forgiveness for next fiscal year’s $176,000 payment to the county for the interlocal Emergency Medical Services agreement. The Frio county commissioners had been set to vote on their own budget that would result in layoffs across departments, as they had spent the past month managing a $200,000 shortfall.
Mayor Moore kicked off the discussion. “We’re not here trying to pad our budget or have a reserve. We’re just trying to keep additional employees. We’ve already laid off some. And that’s why we’re asking for help from the county. We, as the city citizens, pay county taxes as well as city taxes. So, for you to help us, you’re doing everyone in this room a favor because we’re all in this together.”
Jackson followed up, painting a picture of millions of dollars in falling revenues that can’t keep pace with city expenses. “The reality for this year,” he said, “when you look at real numbers and what we have to do, there’s no way to pay for everything.” The city had worked through several cuts in the budget workshops. “Even after those cuts, there’s still about $600,000 that has to be cut. To balance that, it’s 15 employees. So you’re talking about 20% of the city staff is going to have to be laid off to balance our budget.” Some of those cuts would potentially be the entirety of the animal control and code enforcement positions.
Forgiveness for next year’s interlocal agreement payment, which is the final year of the deal, would save Pearsall $176,000- nearly one-third of the cuts the council is struggling to make as the budget deadline approaches.
One could sense the inevitable, “what about Dilley?” response, as Dilley was committed to a $58,800 payment to the county for the same agreement. County Judge Arnulfo Luna asked if anyone from Dilley wished to speak. Rudy Alvarez was ready in the front row, and questioned the city/county structure of the deal altogether.
“I believe that it’s fundamentally unfair that the county provide ambulance service to one Frio county citizen but not another one that lives just 100 yards away inside city limits,” Alvarez said. “They’re both Frio county citizens, they both pay Frio County taxes and I think they should receive the same benefits. The county had always paid for ambulance service up until about 3 or 4 years ago. And I believe that’s where the expense should be paid. Again, it’s fundamentally fair that you provide the same benefit to all it’s citizens.”
Currently, the county contracts the EMS service, but the expense is supplemented by payments of $58,800 from the city of Dilley and $176,000 from the city of Pearsall. In Alvarez’s eyes, this amounts to double-taxation for a city resident: a portion of their Frio county tax payment goes toward the EMS service and a portion of their city tax payment goes toward the same EMS service. A Frio county resident outside city limits is not subject to the city tax.
Commissioner Pepe Flores, the lone commissioner from Dilley on a bench with three commissioners and a Judge from Pearsall explained the origin of the deal. “The reason that we asked the cities to help us was because we had a volunteer service and we could afford it,” Flores said. “Then we wanted 24 hour service, which we couldn’t afford, and that’s why we went to the cities to help us. … I’m sure that the commissioners and the Judge will decide what’s best for the whole county. For both cities, Dilley and Pearsall.”
If Commissioner Flores was saying that the county simply couldn’t afford EMS service if the cities couldn’t contribute, Alvarez shared another figure. “If I may, the county has 12 million dollars in reserve, whereas the cities don’t,” Alvarez said. “And $200,000 should not be a problem if you have 12 million dollars in the bank.”
Judge Luna stepped in. “Now, the county is in a position where it can help the cities of Pearsall and Dilley. And I think it’s our obligation. As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to vote for the city of Pearsall and Dilley. We do have some money that we can touch right now.” The commissioners unanimously voted to forgive the interlocal agreement payments. Neither the city of Pearsall nor the city of Dilley would have to contribute to the interlocal EMS agreement for the coming fiscal year. Still, there was another hitch. Dilley was not on the agenda, therefore the county could not grant them the reprieve. Here, County Attorney Joseph Sindon offered a solution.
“We can have a consensus of the court and inform the city manager that we intend to do the exact same thing for Dilley so that they can prepare their budget accordingly,” Sindon said. “And then next meeting, when we come back and have had the chance to properly post the notice as also pertaining to the city of Dilley, then we can take action on their part as well.”
The $58,800 is paid from the city’s general fund, and represents 12% of the projected general fund ad valorem revenue. Dilley’s vote to approve the proposed budget and tax rate will take place tonight (September 26) at 6pm.
–written by Jose Asuncion.
Jose received an MFA from University of Southern California in 2008, a BA from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2003, and currently lives in Dilley, TX, home of his grandparents.