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City finances, capital projects become campaign issues; Jurney questions recreation center, others express support of project

The cost and design of the recreation and aquatic center, due to be finished by the end of 2018, is an issue in the upcoming mayoral election. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The city’s financial position and the wisdom of taking on so many sizable capital projects at one time have become issues in the Roswell mayoral campaign.

Candidate Del Jurney has been telling potential supporters that the city’s current financial situation causes concern, an opinion disputed by Mayor Dennis Kintigh, who is running for re-election in the 2018 race.

“I have had a lot of people talk about, city staff who have served with me on committees when I was mayor, and one of their concerns was about our finances, where we are at as a community financially,” Jurney said.

Jurney once held the top city elected position from 2010 and 2014. He announced his re-election bid in July and has been meeting with supporters and potential backers, including at a Nov. 18 gathering at Stellar Coffee.

In addition to talking about accomplishments during his tenure, he said he wants to offer citizens a more fiscally sound approach to city government that he thinks is being evidenced right now under the leadership of Kintigh, who defeated Jurney in 2014.

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Two other candidates also have joined the race. They are city councilor and high school teacher Natasha Mackey and Marine veteran and Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell student Sergio S. Gonzalez. Candidates have until Jan. 9 to file, with early voting starting Feb. 14 and election day March 6.

Jurney’s view

“It is not an indictment on anybody. It is just a concern,” said Del Jurney during a Nov. 18 gathering about what he considers to be a financially risky city budget. “I would get back to fiscal responsibility of how we spend the money.” Jurney is one of four people who have announced their candidacy for mayor of Roswell. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Jurney, a nonprofit executive, Roswell native and Republican, said that his tenure as mayor brought financial stability during a severe recession. He said economic development efforts, which centered mainly on the Roswell International Air Center, led to hundreds of new jobs and contributed to a 1.5 point decrease in the unemployment rate from 7.4 percent in 2010 to 5.9 percent in 2013.

He added that he and others successfully worked to keep the International Law Enforcement Agency and the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program from leaving Roswell.

Although he called building projects a secondary concern after job creation during his administration, Jurney pointed to some new capital projects, including the Douglas L. McBride Veteran’s Cemetery at South Park Cemetery, the Altrusa Park and the expansion of West College Boulevard from Sycamore Avenue to the Roswell Relief Route.

Jurney said he is concerned about the number of large capital projects the city has committed to under Kintigh, and the fact that a major one, the $20 million recreation and aquatic center, has been financed with bonds to be repaid by three increases in gross receipts taxes, approved by the Roswell City Council. When all three taxes take effect in 2018, city taxes will go up 0.25 percent from 7.5 percent as of June 30 to 7.75 percent by 2018, although Jurney referred to it as a “three-sixteenth” increase.

“If you take the gross receipts tax that we are receiving now and you take that three-sixteenth increase and you make it proportionate to the overall gross receipts that we are about to receive, the calculations are that those three-sixteenths will bring into the city about $1.8 million a year,” he said. “For a $20 million project, debt service alone is $1.4 million, so all the maintenance, all the operations, needs to be taken out of about $400,000.”

Calling the recreation and aquatic center a “mistake,” Jurney said that his conversations with others lead him to think the costs actually will be anywhere from $23 million to $30 million, which will mean that the tax increases might not be sufficient for debt service, operations and maintenance.

He also said the project was poorly conceived. He said the design of the recreation center won’t meet the needs of children wanting to do classroom activities, who will have to be transported to the Recreation and Adult Center instead, and the planned lap pool won’t serve those who want to teach youth to swim.

Jurney talked about other concerns with the city budget as well. While gross receipts taxes, the main source of revenues for the general fund, have not increased, going from $28.76 million in 2015-16 to $28.5 million in 2016, according to online city information, the city budget has grown from $84.3 million in 2015-16 to $151.1 million for 2017-18. Salaries and benefits, he said, have skyrocketed. That category of expenses totaled $20.36 million in 2013-14 but were $25.78 million in 2017-18.

Jurney acknowledges that the budget growth is due in large part to the capital projects, which also include the $6.3 million convention center expansion and the $20 million installations of smart water meters. The convention center and the smart meters initially will be funded by bonds. But the convention center will be repaid by “bed tax” fees collected from commercial lodging establishments, while the smart meters are to be repaid by water and sewer fees. But Jurney said his worry is that the city has taken on too much debt and calls a $1.43 million increase in annual debt interest payments since 2013-14 concerning.

Kintigh responds

Kingtigh, a former New Mexico state legislator, engineer and Federal Bureau of Investigations detective, called Jurney “misinformed.”

“Those projects are funded differently in the sense that there are different revenue streams for each of them. Our bond rating has not suffered,” Kintigh said. “The City Council overwhelmingly approved all of them. I don’t see that his concerns are valid.”

On the subject of the design and functions of the new recreation and aquatic center, Kintigh called Jurney’s characterizations wrong. Kintigh said the center has been designed by professionals who listened to community members about what they wanted and will provide areas for youth activities. He said that is in contrast to the Yucca Center, the former youth center, where the top two floors were not in use due to the fact that the elevators did not meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Kintigh added that the new lap pool can be used for youth swimming lessons and encouraged people to visit the city Facebook page to view a video giving a virtual tour and information about the recreation and aquatic center, now under construction.

He contended that costs for the facility are not expected to exceed $20 million.

“I find that extremely unlikely,” Kintigh said. “We have a very fine construction manager who oversees these kinds of projects now. That is not a position that existed prior to my administration. That controls costs better than before and that makes sure that we do not have the problems that we had in the past.”

Kintigh said the budget growth, minus the capital projects and grant projects, has been reasonable and that salary increases were needed to pay people appropriately. Gross receipts are running ahead of the fiscal year 2015, he added.

“Can people choose not to deal with capital problems like as has been the case in the past?” Kintigh asked. “Then facilities degrade, break and fail. We are not doing that. We are confronting the problems.”

Economic growth

Gonzalez and Mackey said they also will focus on economic development and job creation if elected.

Gonzalez said he wants to attract the type of businesses that used to be in Roswell such as Levi’s, the Transportation Manufacturing Corp. and some larger retailers.

He added, “Quality of life is very important to Roswell and its tourists,” Gonzalez said. “It’s what makes families and people want to move here, but we do need to be a consistent and creative leadership-collective community, refocusing on job growth and truly incorporating the alien theme because, if Roswell had a platform to launch us into the future, that’s it.

“As for the new recreation center, I didn’t agree with the price tag put on it, but it’s a symbol to the commitment for our kids to have a new facility. And as for naming it, keep it simple or let the kids do it.”

Gonzalez, who served in Iraq as a U.S. Marine, previously ran for Roswell City Council in 2015, losing by only five votes. He also ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for a seat on the Chaves County Board of Commissioners in 2016.

He has said that the desire to be mayor is not a personal attack on anyone but a belief that the city could benefit from new leadership with a new vision.

Mackey, a University High School math teacher, an entrepreneur and a religious leader and singer, has said that she wants to create a safer and more prosperous community.

“It is my desire to continue to create job opportunities and bring in new businesses,” Mackey said. “One of the challenges is that the quality of life has not been addressed adequately in Roswell, and those who are moving to our area want to know what things are available for their families. We want to be able to provide a total package for not only the employee that moves to Roswell but also for their families. What good is it to create new jobs if the individuals won’t stay because of the quality of life issues in Roswell?

“The previous City Councils and city managers were very conservative with spending. On the one hand, this was good and kept our city from overspending and incurring lots of debt, but, on the other hand, it also stifled growth in our city. As a member of the City Council, we have taken calculated risks to improve our city by taking on a reasonable amount of debt so that we can have facilities that are needed to make our community better.”

Mackey disagreed with Jurney’s criticisms of the new recreation and aquatic center and said it will actually help programs expand and has been designed as “a fully modular facility” that can be divided up into smaller areas when needed.

“This facility is to address the need of more space to properly serve the youth so that we can positively impact the youth of Roswell,” Mackey said. “By providing more space, it is less likely to have to turn away kids from the provided programs.”

Mackey said that the Adult Center can serve new purposes once the recreation center is built.

“As part of being fiscally conservative, we are going to focus on using some of the underutilized spaces that already exist in the city,” she said. “The Adult Center will be used specifically for small classroom-type programs for the youth. We are changing the way Roswell has wasted these given assets in the past and using them more effectively as they were intended. Not only is this going to be an amazing facility, but there is also room for growth and expansion of the facility in the future as our city continues to grow.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.