Home News Local News Finance Committee debate arises over lodgers tax and fee waivers

Finance Committee debate arises over lodgers tax and fee waivers

Alison Penn Photo Councilor Jacob Roebuck makes a point regarding waiving fees for community events as Councilor Caleb Grant, chairman of the Finance Committee, and Finance Director Monica Garcia listen on Thursday morning.

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Roswell’s City Council went through a list to approve or deny events with lodgers tax and other fee waivers.

Councilors Caleb Grant, Jacob Roebuck, Judy Stubbs and Steve Handerson met with city staff and representatives to choose events that qualify for additional lodgers tax funding during the Finance Committee meeting on Thursday morning.

Finance Director Monica Garcia said gross receipts declined this month, down to 6.21 percent for the year but lodgers tax increased the month.

Alison Penn Photo
Larry Hobson, president of Eastern New Mexico State Fair, share his input on the fee structure for local events at the Finance Committee on Thursday morning.

There were eight lodgers tax funding requests on the agenda for local autumn events. Pecos Valley Quilt Show, Chile Cheese Festival, Rio Pecos Kennel Dog Show, Roswell Jazz Festival, Pecos Valley Pottery Guild Art Sale and Eastern New Mexico State Fair were all approved to send to full council on Thursday. Two requests for support for the Roswell Chaves County Economic Development Corporation and MainStreet Roswell were also recommended for approval.

For tracking out of town participants and the contribution to lodgers tax, Juanita Jennings, public affairs director, said the city provides a template form asking if participants or guests of events with questions about staying in hotels, eating in restaurants and the duration of their visit to justify funding from the city. Jennings also said any waiver of special event fees must go through the Finance Committee and on to full council as specified in the special event policy passed last year.

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Two events that were tabled were Tour de Ocho Millas, a cycling event, and the Roswell Christmas Railway because Roebuck manages the railway and is in negotiations to manage the other event.  Chairman Grant and councilors Stubbs and Henderson decided to find more information about giving Roebuck’s events funding now that he is an elected official. Both items were voted to be tabled until the next meeting for more information, which City Attorney Aaron Holloman said he would seek information and return it to the councilors.

Holloman said the city could enter into a contract with an employee or officer of the city after meeting criteria — but said this situation was unclear because the funds were from lodgers tax. Henderson said he believed this applied to the Christmas Railway also and referenced the Governmental Conduct Act. Holloman said the act only applies to contracts for $1,000 or more and lodgers tax is not included in the act. Henderson said he thought the situation did not pass the “smell test.”

“We are certainly not interested in doing away with the event,” Henderson said regarding the Christmas Railway and addressing Roebuck. “We just need — if you are going to remain in the event — we need some very clear clarification.”

The requests for waiver fees were pertaining to the annual 14th Annual Buddy Walk, benefitting the Down Syndrome Foundation of Southeastern New Mexico and Down Syndrome community, and Walk to End Alzheimer’s events led to lengthy discussion among the quorum. Both items each had a motion to approve and deny waiver for funds. Councilors Grant and Henderson voted to deny while Stubbs and Roebuck voted to approve, so nothing will go before council.

Jennings said the Buddy Walk was requesting $4,460 to be waived with some of the fees pertaining to police and fire personnel needs. Henderson asked if the police and fire presence was necessary. To Henderson, Jennings said it was not required, but requested by the event organizers. Roebuck said the walk was a heavily attended event, which is beneficial for community relations to have fire and police support from the city.

“In the past, we provided them,” Henderson said. “But we’ve recognized that the freebies that we give out are actually costing us a lot of money and that is the reason we adopted the policy to make these costs known and that way we can either agree or disagree. I would think they could still have a successful event without leaning on the city for these items so I speak against the — well I would make a motion to deny the request.”

Councilor Grant reminded the council that the reason the waivers were present on the agenda had to do with city departments granting funding instead of going through the decision process of the governing body. Grant added there is somewhat of a problem because of many members of the community wants “everything for cheap or free” and rely on the city instead of taking initiative to find other local volunteers.

Stubbs said there is a quality of life issue that the city needs to be concerned with regarding these events — which she added was just as important as other city actions are. Roebuck said the city does not have quality of life goals stated anywhere and realizes “the city has to run effectively and efficiently from a financial standpoint.”

He also said he saw two issues with the fee structure by events are being hindered for lack of a good system and suggested the city should have a method to decide whether or not, when, why and for whom fees could be waived.

“I think the fee structure needs to be looked at again and exactly where we stand,” Stubbs said. “This is not a city-related event per say but it is something that enhances the quality of life in the city of Roswell. I guess I need a little more convincing as to why we need to charge the fee for these things to begin with.

“I’m not sure what we stand for as a city if we charge these and continue to waive.”

Larry Hobson, president of the Eastern New Mexico State Fair, interjected and apologized if he acted out of line during the meeting. He said there will be a precedence whether the committee votes to approve or deny waivers, which the city will have to deal with for each instance.

“This issue here is extremely hard on the community to deny that request,” Hobson said. “My way of thinking is — is there a possibility of the Xcels, oil companies and those types, that you might approach to be on standby for special issues like this. I think to deny this — I understand, trust me — I understand the financial aspects of it. If somebody could step up and pay that $1,000 fee and basically takes everybody off having to deny because down syndrome — that’s such an emotional situation and everything.”

Henderson said he wants to continue to encourage nonprofits to explore other financing mechanisms to get their own support instead of petitioning the city without realizing the cost to the city. In regards to Hobson’s precedent comment, Henderson said there was agony in the city’s process of creating the policy and fee structure and if the city is not firm in enforcing the policy, that process would have been in vain. Jennings reminded the council that they voted for a similar cause last time and suggested they table the event until the next meeting.

“While I agree with the councilor that it is a quality of life, our budget and our finance department is tasked to meet the priorities and every dollar counts — every dollar,” Garcia said. “I agree with Councilor Henderson that if we did the policy, we did it for a reason then we kind of need to stick to it because staff is scrambling every time somebody comes and wants something.

“We have a priority. We have been tasked by our city manager for our priorities. That’s all I am trying to say.”

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.


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