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Airport commission expected to meet soon; Kintigh questions financial feasibility of an ‘independent’ air center

Roswell Airport Director Scott Stark, left, and Jim Burress talk during the July 12 City Council meeting. Burress, director of the city of Roswell's Parks and Recreation Department, was one of the people voted in as a new member of the Airport Advisory Commission. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The first meeting of the city’s Airport Advisory Commission is expected to occur sometime around Aug. 2, according to Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh, who is calling his five new members qualified and capable after a few City Council members questioned some appointments.

Kintigh said that he anticipates that the commission will spend quite a few meetings informing itself on the functions of the airport, its financial condition and it tenants.

The airport became city property in 1967 following the closure of the Walker Air Force Base, and in the past few years, city and county business and government leaders have pushed to create mechanisms or systems that will allow it to become self-sustaining and a vital part of job and economic growth in the area.

“First thing is going to be educational,” Kintigh said. “We are going to put some stuff on the table about what is the airport, what does it look like, what’s going on out there, what’s happening. And the beauty of this to me, this is an open meeting. With the Open Meetings Act, there will be recordings …. I don’t see any real serious issues-slash-decision-making for a while. This is going to be a learning curve, discussion sessions for a while, probably for quite a few sessions. ”

He said that the commission members will have to make the decisions about future agendas, but anticipates that they will want to talk to the major tenants.

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At least one tenant has expressed concern that the current environment, in which some leases can be terminated at the will of the city with only 90 days’ notice and in which rent rates can increase dramatically from one term to the next, does not provide the stability a business needs to invest for the long term.

Kintigh said the financial stability of the airport is a question yet to be answered, and would weigh into whether he would favor an independent regional authority in the future to replace the commission, as some have proposed.

“I have some questions about the authority that have never been answered,” he said, explaining that he has asked the questions of Air Center Task Force members, the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. and legislators. “I don’t know if the commission goes away or not. There is a two-year term on this, and of course, the council itself can abolish this thing (the commission) at any point with a simple two-thirds majority vote.”

He said one of his major concerns is about finances.

“Would the authority be able to financially survive on its own?” he asked.

He explained that a $2.5 million loan from the New Mexico Finance Authority for roof repairs to the Dean Baldwin Painting hanger could not be granted based only on airport lease rents, but instead required that city Gross Receipts Taxes also be pledged.

“So if a state entity is not convinced that the airport on its own can finance a $2.5 million loan, that is what we used to call a clue,” he said. “The last thing I want is for that airport to be worse off. It is too important. It is too critical. It is an unusual, very special opportunity, possibly unique for the state of New Mexico, not just Roswell, to expand and diversify our economy.”

John Mulcahy, president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., agrees that, as of now, the exact financial situation of the airport is unknown.

Board members of RCCEDC selected the members for an Air Center Task Force formed in July 2017 to work for enabling legislation to establish an independent regional authority to manage, govern and market the airport. That initiative passed both chambers of the New Mexico Legislature with little opposition but was unexpectedly vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez.

Mulcahy said that the task force will continue to function even with the city commission in place and will soon discuss its plans regarding bills for the 2019 legislative session. Mulcahy said his hope is that the city commission will help resolve some of the issues that would need to be worked out to clear the way for an independent authority.

Kintigh’s five nominees for the commission were approved by the City Council during its July 12 meeting, but not without dissension among a few councilors who questioned not only the lack of any women and minority candidates but the fact that two nominees — Kintigh and city Parks and Recreation Director Jim Burress — are not independent of the city.

As a result of their concerns about the nominees and the nominating process, one councilor, Savino Sanchez, abstained from voting for all candidates, while another councilor, George Peterson, voted against each person. The votes for Burress and Kintigh passed with a one-vote margin.

Kintigh answered the criticisms about nominees by saying that the commission is not the governing authority and will only be gathering information and advising.

“The decision-making and the power lies in the hands of City Council. I challenge you to find a more diverse City Council anywhere in New Mexico,” he said. “So isn’t there where you need to have different perspectives — where the power exists?”

He also pointed out that councilors can attend any commission meetings they choose; that, he as mayor, has been elected to represent the entire city; and that councilors were notified after they voted to form the commission in June to suggest nominees.

“I should have been more explicit, but I would have hoped that people understood, if you have suggestions, bring them to me,” he said. “There are key questions about how do you avoid conflict of interest. There were some names of people that I will not share that would have been very good candidates, but I became concerned that they wouldn’t fit because of that conflict issue. So, stepping back, that is one of the most difficult issues of this, the challenge of finding individuals who can provide some serious insight but who do not have any vested interest.”

About Burress, Kintigh said that he first cleared his nomination with the city manager.

He added, “I know Mr. Burress raised some eyebrows. I would argue that he has the strongest credentials of anyone on that commission: three decades in corporate professional aviation and years of running one of our most important tenants (Dean Baldwin).”

Kintigh also has aviation experience, with an aerospace engineering degree and as a former Air Force officer and aerospace industry member. He also is a pilot.

Other members are O.E. “Bud” Kunkel, chair of the board of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. and a member of the Air Center Task Force; Riley Armstrong, a realtor who has previous experience in construction and farming and ranching; and Robert Dane Marley, a former Department of Defense command officer who now works with his family’s ranching, farming and oilfield services interests.

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.