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Council waives Walk for Hope fees

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Sara Barraza speaks her battle with cancer over the last 11 years and how the Chaves County Cancer Fund assisted her and her family three times by offering financial assistance. Wanda Porter and CJ Huebner stand in line to speak next. Barraza said her chemotherapy treatments cost $150 per week and she has to travel out of state for some of her treatments every two months. On top of these costs, Barraza said the “bills don’t stop” after cancer diagnosis and it can be “unbearable” to have her family struggling financially when fighting cancer. Barraza said she and her husband are college-educated and employed with insurance — and it is not enough to cover these costs. Barraza said she and her family have called the CCCF for help during difficult times and she petitioned the council to support the waiver and to support those diagnosed with cancer to know are they are “not fighting alone.” (Alison Penn Photo)

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After lengthy discussion and two amendments, the Roswell City Council voted to approve a fee waiver for the Walk For Hope fundraising event for the Chaves County Cancer Fund (CCCF) to be held on May 10 for the event’s 10th anniversary.

Wanda Porter, CCCF treasurer, and other supporters repeated that the money raised goes back to residents with cancer diagnoses in Roswell and Chaves County and all involved in the CCCF are unpaid volunteers, while other walks and events are national and go toward salaries and other expenses. Porter said the CCCF has raised $563,733.83 in the last nine years and Sherri Roe Miller, CCCF director, clarified the nonprofit CCCF receives invoices to pay the bills directly rather than transferring money to those utilizing financial assistance.

On Thursday night, the final vote was 9 to 1 to waive $3,682 for the Walk for Hope fundraising event at Cielo Grande, a city-owned facility; Councilor Jeanine Corn Best cast the dissenting vote. Councilor Best said her opinion comparing the city to a business would not be liked and asked if the CCCF asked the county for funds since it benefits both the city and county. CCCF representatives Wanda Porter, Sherri Roe Miller and Julie Morrow said the CCCF did not reach out to the Chaves County Commission — but does have extensive sponsorships regarding security, sanitation and other in-kind services from other community businesses and organizations.

Councilor Juan Oropesa countered Councilor Best’s comment saying the city is not a business the taxpayers are the source of the city’s funds. Some audience members cheered and clapped in response to Oropesa’s comment — but Mayor Dennis Kintigh shut down the public display. In her comments after Thursday’s meeting, Brittnye Lamb, CCCF president of the board of directors, said the CCCF is “very appreciative” of the city’s assistance and appreciated the dialogue from the council. Lamb also apologized for the lack of decorum and stressed the CCCF tries to keep costs as low as possible.

Juanita Jennings, public affairs director, introduced the CCCF’s request for a fee waiver for the full council on Thursday night. It was decided at the city’s finance committee on Oct. 4 to waive $2,461.25 in special services, Cielo Grande facility rental, restrooms, large stage, bleachers, sound system and a tent. For labor costs, the committee maintained that the estimated of $770.48 needs to be paid for city employees in the fire department, special electronics and parks and recreation departments. After discussion in the meeting, Jennings and the CCCF representatives agreed the use of a generator needed to be included and this determined the final amount at $3,681.65.

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At the finance meeting, the city councilors voiced concerns about using city finances and employees and the costs associated with overtime and opening the Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center around the same time. At last week’s council meeting, many of the councilors said the special events policy and the fee schedule was put in place to allow the city to assist local events, but remain fiscally responsible at the same time. Also at the council meeting, Councilor Roebuck said after the finance committee meeting he fundraised $700 to help cover the labor costs for the city. Porter said she appreciated this assistance, but said these funds would go back to the city and not put off on the table or pay bills for individuals and families struggling with cancer.

Councilor Oropesa made a motion to amend to waive all of the city fees associated with the Walk for Hope and the motion passed 6 to 4. For this amendment, Councilors Judy Stubbs, Angela Moore, Barry Foster, Oropesa, George Peterson and Savino Sanchez voted in approval and Councilors Steve Henderson, Jacob Roebuck, Best and Caleb Grant voted in opposition.

Following this motion, Councilor Stubbs made another motion to include $3,682 as a maximum amount for the city to waive, which also passed 6 to 4. For this motion, Councilors Stubbs, Henderson, Roebuck, Best, Peterson and Grant voted in favor, while Councilors Moore, Foster, Oropesa and Sanchez voted in opposition.

“It’s a Walk for Hope, for those that have lost hope, that this gives them hope to be able to go on and to live their lives as best as they can,” Sanchez said. “For me, I believe that this should be a signature event because of what it accomplishes in this city for those that are hurting and have no hope.”

When councilors were discussing whether or not to add a dollar amount to Oropesa’s motion, City Manager Joe Neeb said the city performs an accounting after such events to determine the actual costs of the event. If the event costs more or less than that amount, Neeb said the city would not collect or return additional funds to the event. Neeb also said the city’s role in working with entertainment events has statutory information to work with, but he said community events don’t have the same guidance.

“In 2017, for these special events and all this effort that we are doing for all of these community things, we spent $490,000,” Neeb said. “So when you look at just the Walk for Hope being $4,000 by itself, it’s not a lot of funding, but we try to figure out exactly how we’re managing half a million dollars. And I think that’s something that everybody should be aware of.”

For the special events, policy Neeb said the city is handling allocating funds for events “better than before” but not quite where they want to be. Mayor Kintigh said the meeting was “candidly a little bit painful” and the city is striving to handle fee waivers better. Kintigh said the meeting offered a learning experience to consider different approaches and encouraged councilors to suggest approaches to Neeb and city staff.

Councilor Roebuck said the council needs to reexamine the special events policy and the fee schedule; he also said other options may be presented during next month’s finance committee meeting. Councilor Sanchez said the signature events, where city supports Hike It & Spike It, Rise Over Roswell and Cinco De Mayo, UFO Festival and the Eastern New Mexico State Fair, because of the impact to the city’s gross receipts and quality of life — need to be revisited to not always focus solely on the financial impact to the city.

Neeb said after the events, the city will perform an accounting to determine the actual costs of the event and if the event costs more or less than the amount, the city would not collect or return additional funds. Neeb also said the city’s role in working with entertainment events has statutory information to work with, but he said community events don’t have the same guidance.

Contention occurred between some of the councilors and also between councilors and speakers. Councilor Foster asked the council to take a step back and remember the intention was to get a handle on how the city spent its money.

Seven locals signed up to speak at the lectern and their three-minute speeches were personal accounts on how cancer has affected them or loved ones along with the steep costs associated with living with a cancer diagnosis. Sara Barraza shared her battle with cancer over the last 11 years and how the CCCF assisted her and her family three times by offering financial assistance. Barraza said her chemotherapy treatments cost $150 per week and she has to travel out of state for some of her treatments. Julie Morrow said she lost eight family members to cancer and that the growing Walk for Hope event is the largest fundraiser for CCCF. Morrow said the event is “truly local” with its benefits and contributions to locals.

“Besides the fact that this is our biggest fundraiser and we’re working on obviously trying to raise more funds because it’s not enough anymore, Walk for Hope is also a time for healing, celebrating survivors and remembering the loved ones that we’ve lost,” Roe Miller said.

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