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Mayor talks tourism, potential Holtec impact

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Mayor Dennis Kintigh

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh last week visited the office of the Roswell Daily Record to talk about about issues impacting the city and its residents.

Daily Record editor John Dilmore and reporters Alison Penn and Tim Howsare sat down with Kintigh for a conversation that included questions provided by RDR staff and others.

RDR: Last year’s UFO Festival drew huge crowds. It was the 70th anniversary edition of the festival. Is there any concern about there being an attendance drop-off this year without that added attraction?

Kintigh: I’ve not heard of any concern about that. I know there’s some individuals working to try and enhance the experience, so we’ll see where we’re at. But, I have not heard any concerns about that.

RDR: What do you think are some things that could be done to better leverage tourism as an economic driver for Roswell?

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Kintigh: We need to enhance the experience, but what I mean by that, you come to Roswell, you need to have a reason to stay an additional 18, 24, 36 hours. So, there needs to be more things that will hold people here.

I think one of our best potentials is the planetarium. We did a major renovation, I’m thinking a year ago, maybe a year and a half ago, and that needs to be a part of this. And then going back to the UFO Festival, that (the Planetarium) needs to be something that we get people to go to.

By that I mean, we need to have regular shows. You need to know when the shows are. It needs to be simple, and I’m just making this up, every hour, on the hour, from noon ‘til 6 p.m. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying that’s exactly what should be, but we need something similar, maybe every two hours or every even hour.

But the idea is that people will easily know when there’s something, and the idea is you get them in. The beauty is, it’s air conditioned, it’s cool, it’s a new experience …

Other things need to be done that will capture the imagination, and I think we have to be consistent with the space/aviation theme. And besides the UFO aspect, we have Goddard, so we have the whole space angle to be built upon.

So, how we do that? I’d like to have more discussion.

RDR: In your experience, how hard, or how easy, is it to get the necessary players on the same page when it comes to getting new tourism initiatives off the ground?

Kintigh: Well, all right. This is interesting. While ‘We all should be doing X, or we all should be doing Y’ is something you hear, that’s not going to happen. It can’t happen. We don’t have that kind of control, nor should we.

What you want to do is create an environment where individuals are encouraged to be creative. It’s almost like the art community. It is like the art community. You want to create an environment where people are encouraged to try initiatives. Not all will succeed, not all will work, but I think the general theme of space, UFO, is desirable, but let’s don’t ignore the fact that we have a vigorous agricultural community. This town exists because of agriculture. And, how does that tie in as well?

We have an art community that is almost covert. I say that because we don’t tend to think of it when we think of Roswell, we don’t think of art. We have an oil and gas industry here. So, how do we leverage those into some type of tourism aspect, you know? I don’t know.

I’d love to see, for example, the ability to have tours at Leprino. Now, I understand that’s not Leprino’s business. They’re in the business of making cheese, not doing tours, but it might not be a bad idea from a public relations aspect. … There’s tours of breweries, and not that they’re a brewery, but the idea is that … this would be an interesting experience.

So, I’d like to see more of an effort to engage visitors.

RDR: In a recent story covering a finance committee meeting, one of the councilors brought up … it seems as if expenses are rising faster than revenues …

Kintigh: Yeah. I disagree with that assessment. Our revenues and our expenses are hand-in-hand, in that we anticipate … we budget X number of dollars.

For example, let me give you the fiscal year 2018. We just finished FY18 where we budgeted so much per month, ideally, what we would collect to cover all of our expenses. Well, in fact, the revenue we have received from gross receipts is at this point, at the 11th of the 12 months, is about $1.9 million above what we have budgeted. …

For example, last fall we did a bond sale to pay for, I think it was, the convention center. So we sell the bonds … we’ve got all that money that came in. So now, we don’t have that money coming in, in FY19, so has our revenue gone down?

Well, not really. But it looks like that if you look on the books, and we’ve got this huge chunk of money, so is it all reserves? No, it’s not, and this is where you have to tread very carefully and cautiously.

One of the challenges about government is not all money is the same, which sounds really weird. But, we have enterprise funds, we have different revenue sources that can only be spent in certain ways.

The classic (example) is what’s called the bed fee. Every night in every motel room, there’s a charge of $2.50. That can only be used in connection with the convention center. It cannot be used in any other area at all. We can’t use it to pay salaries for firefighters, we can’t use it to renovate city hall, we can’t do any of that. It can only be used on the convention center …

RDR: So, is the perception, more than anything else, due to spikes of revenue you have one year but that don’t necessarily repeat, because they’re tied to some sort of funding source or project.

Kintigh: Yes.

RDR: Are the miles of transite lines something citizens should be concerned about from a health standpoint?

Editor’s note: The Roswell City Council recently approved transferring funds to replace a transite (asbestos-cement) water line from North Atkinson Avenue and East Second Street to a location on Highway 380.

Kintigh: From what I understand, the only one that shows any kind of exceeding the standards is this line going to the east outside of town. How far out it has to go before it hits that, I don’t know. We’ve not gotten that information.

That was an interesting discussion, to say the least. We have approximately 74 miles, if I remember correctly, of transite in Roswell. …

This project needs to be done. There’s no dispute and none of us have said we should not do it. The frustration I have is postponing work inside the city limits to the residents of this city to fund this external project. I would very much like to be more aggressive in getting funding for this from other sources so that we do not delay dealing with the needs of the residents, because that’s who I’m accountable to.

RDR: The material itself is not necessarily a health hazard as far as the city knows?

Kintigh: Not from what I understand, but I am not an expert in this, so we need to learn a little bit more.

RDR: What do you think about citizen participation at the public forums? The last one had about seven people (members of the general public).

Kintigh: Yeah. It’s tough. You know, I applaud the city manager’s efforts to make the effort, but it’s the proverbial ‘lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink.’ Mr. Neeb is committed to doing these in every ward throughout the year, and I don’t have a magic solution for you. We’ll just have to wait and see.

RDR: We asked you last month about the proposed Holtec site, whether the city had a position.

Editor’s note: Holtec International has requested a license to store spent nuclear waste on an interim basis in Lea County, about halfway between Carlsbad and Hobbs.

Kintigh: The fire chief has written, had done some work on looking at this, and sent it to me and the city manager. The city manager’s out of town this week. I have been so wrapped up with the budget stuff and Judge Brackeen (Editor’s note: Eric Brackeen was recently appointed as the city of Roswell’s municipal court judge) plus I was gone, so candidly, I have not reviewed it at length. But, the city manager did look at it, said to me that there was some valid points in there we need to review, and so hopefully we’ll have an official city comment with a position on this.

But, I shouldn’t say a position. I think what we will say is, these things we think should be addressed. Now, whether this overall concept is good or not is not really for the city of Roswell to decide.

That’s a national and state debate.

RDR: Do you see any way that Roswell would directly benefit from that facility, financially or otherwise?

Kintigh: Well, that’s an interesting question. I mean, many years ago, the WIPP site, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, was established. To establish that plant, Department of Energy came up with funding to upgrade the highway system. Highway 285 to the north and all the way down to Carlsbad was a two-lane road. I remember those days. Driving to Artesia was a real stressful time. The WIPP project got us a four-lane highway, got us a relief route around the west side. So, those kind of infrastructure enhancements I would be interested in seeing. Now, in this situation, I understand it’s the rail system that would be the primary transportation mode. We’d like to see some upgrades to rail throughout our city.

The rail crossing at Country Club is horrid. … It is the worst in the city. Have you seen the site? We have 11 rail crossings in Roswell. This is the worst one, and it’s been bad for an extended period of time.

RDR: Is that on BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad)? …

Kintigh: … Yep. However, there’s an old saying that dealing with the railroad is like dealing with an Indian reservation. They’re almost like a sovereign nation of their own.

So, we can strive to get their attention, which we have. It doesn’t mean we always succeed. And, I’ve talked to our delegations in Washington. Our city engineers had communication with them. They’re aware of it. Now, I have been told that it’s moved up on their priority list, but it’s very bad. Switches. We need some switches upgraded, and I say ‘we’ – the rail system through here needs to have some switches upgraded. …

If we could get out of this upgrades to the rail system so that we would have a more effective, more efficient rail system, that would be a good thing. And perhaps some other stuff, too.

For more from the RDR’s recent discussion with Mayor Kintigh, see the Tuesday edition of the newspaper. Readers with questions they would like to see asked during future Q&A sessions can email them to editor@rdrnews.com.