Struggles ahead for city with expected shortfall from sale of gas company

By Gilda Morales

The Van Horn City Council met in regular session last Tuesday and after extensive discussion, ended up tabling several agenda items. On the proposal by KFOX to provide marketing and advertising for the Town of Van Horn, City Attorney Steve Mitchell asked for more time to review the contract between the city and Sinclair Broadcasting (KFOX). Another sticking point came about with an increase in the contract with the option of including marketing efforts on Facebook instead of just limiting the City’s exposure during the weather broadcast. The increase of $1,000 to the contract would include Sinclair providing the creative content and training, totaling $3,500 per month to come out of the Convention Center budget which is required to use a large portion for advertising to get “heads in beds.”

City Council members agreed in principle to the advertising contract, pending review by City Attorney Steve Mitchell, with the decision to tentatively be made at the next meeting.

The next item on the agenda, the sale of the gas company, also ended up getting tabled until February 10th, for the purpose of working out the details on the contract between Mr. Mitchell and West Texas Gas attorneys. Since the sale has a deadline of April 1, 2021, Council voted to extend approving the proposal for contract to purchase until February 10th to give Mr. Mitchell more time to finalize the contract. The next agenda item to approve the ordinance to adopt a natural gas tariff was also tabled pending final approval of the contract of the sale of the gas company.

A review of a proposal to allow city council members to receive healthcare insurance from the City carriers, TML-IEBP, was also tabled after the price tag for the benefit was found to be almost $700 per individual. Council decided to table this item given that there are only three months left in the 2020 fiscal year and with many line items in the red, Council would revisit this item during the Council’s budget workshops.

Council finally voted unanimously on a request from Ephraim Morales of FXSA, to re-advertise bids for residential water meters for the CDBG Grant. Per Fran Malafronte, City Administrator, the previous bids came in extremely high, and Mr. Morales requested rebids for hopefully more reasonable costs on the meters.

Mayor Becky Brewster then provided Council with reports from Jodi Corrales, Finance Director, outlining how the sale of the gas company would impact the City’s budget, especially salaries. Mayor Brewster advised Council that without the revenues to offset the salaries of employees, the City would have to find a way to cover the shortfall and may have to consider layoffs to prevent a $256,000 budget deficit, or more if raises are considered.

Corrales’ report included employee salaries, tenure and certifications for Council to tentatively consider when budgeting for the shortfall from the sale of the gas company. According to the report, many of the current employees are on call or working without required certifications or driving machinery without proper licensing.

Mayor Brewster confirmed that there is still a policy in place requiring employees to maintain certain certifications or licenses and told Council that there are options to either recertifying or obtaining the classes needed for licensure. She said that zoom-like group classes or self-paced classes are available and recommended that Council mandate that employees take the required classes, test and obtain the required licenses. Mayor Brewster added that certifications and tenure may have to be considered if cuts have to be made in order to balance the budget.

In Council reports:

Administrator Malafronte told Council that she and her staff have been working on the required submissions for the City to get reimbursed $101,000 for the Covid-related grant.

Malafronte also reported that she had received an email from the Council of Governments on a plan to offer the Covid vaccine to more people by registering on a designated website, which would include vaccination locations in the entire area.

Mayor Brewster reported that as the EDC President, she had signed off on a 43-page environmental report as required for the grant application for the third pressure zone.

Councilman McDonald reported to Council that the upcoming annual Livestock Show would include Covid precautions such as social distancing and take-out only for the barbeque dinner. He said that there would be a limit on attendance for the sale with the details not yet available.