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Air authority negotiations approved by city; Council vote authorizes agreement with Legislature to create independent governing body

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Several firms at the Roswell International Air Center are involved in aircraft maintenance, painting, storage and related work. The vision is for a regional independent air authority to develop the airfield and its surrounding land and facilities to encourage a range of commercial and industrial operations and investments. (Submitted Photo)

The city of Roswell has cleared the way for a task force to seek legislation creating a separate governing authority for the Roswell International Air Center, envisioned as a way to boost economic development for the region.

Hitchcock

The city now owns and operates the 4,000-acre air center, which had been a military air base until its closure in 1967. But two economic feasibility studies have recommended the establishment of an independent governing and management authority, expected to be less concerned with local political concerns and more able to make strategic decisions regarding development of the airfield and its surrounding land and buildings.

“Our goal is to increase jobs and economic development at the Roswell International Air Center beyond what has been accomplished before,” Jon Hitchcock said to city councilors. “Businesses need certainty when they make investments in the community without fear that decisions will change as political climates change.”

One of nine members of a task force charged with implementing the recommendations of the most recent feasibility study, Hitchcock is the retired president of Pioneer Bank and was one of the key players in getting American Airlines service to Roswell.

At its Thursday night meeting, the City Council voted 9-0 to permit the task force to work with state legislators to create the authority.

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The council rejected by a 9-0 vote a proposed amendment to the resolution that would have absolved the authority for liability, as is often given to governing bodies. Several speakers, including Hitchcock and councilor Steve Henderson, said the move would be premature and would unnecessarily complicate negotiations with legislators.

Hitchcock said in a later interview that talks will occur with Gov. Susana Martinez in the hopes that she will include the issue on her call to legislators for the upcoming legislative session to start Jan. 16.

The Chaves County Board of Commissioners also is being asked to give its formal support of the concept at a Thursday meeting.

Although the county does not own the airport assets or operate the airfield, it does own land surrounding the air center, Hitchcock said, and its stamp of approval would be helpful in convincing legislators to support an authority.

“This is a win-win situation, and we certainly hope the county sees its way clear to participate in this effort,” he said.

An authority is not commonplace, but there are precedents in other states, most notably at the former England Air Force Base near Alexandria, Louisiana, where an independent authority has turned the area into a multi-use residential, commercial and industrial development that now supports more than 7,000 jobs and had $7.1 billion in revenues and investments from 1992 to 2007.

Regional independent governing authorities in New Mexico that work toward a common purpose with numerous cities, counties and agencies also exist.

“The Eastern New Mexico Water (Utility) Authority was created a number of years ago and provides kind of a guideline on how authorities can be looked upon,” Hitchcock said. “We are not looking to do something just for the air center but hope to do something other communities can take advantage of.”

Hitchcock said it is too early to describe exactly how the authority would be structured or who would serve on it. Whether city assets will be transferred to the authority or whether the authority would be able to impose new fees to finance revenue bonds for building and infrastructure improvements are also questions for the future, he said.

He added that public meetings will be held after an authority is established and as negotiations proceed so that area residents can remain informed and offer input.

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