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Airport authority resolution passes to council

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Mayor Kintigh voices his concerns about the financial impact of the airport authority to the Roswell International Air Center as City Manager Joe Neeb and Parker Patterson, deputy city attorney, sit at the table during the city of Roswell’s Legal Committee meeting on Thursday. (Alison Penn Photo)

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The city of Roswell’s Legal Committee voted to send the resolution to the full City Council to consider approving the ability to create an airport authority.

Councilor Savino Sanchez made the motion, Councilor George Peterson seconded, and those councilors along with councilors Judy Stubbs and Barry Foster approved the measure unanimously.

City Attorney Aaron Holloman and Tim Jennings, former senator and a member of the Roswell International Air Center Task Force (RIAC), explained the first attempt for the airport authority resolution was passed by the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. (EDC), Chaves County Commissioners and the City Council last year — but was vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez during last year’s legislative session. Jennings said only six dissenting votes were cast.

“I’d like to be very clear that any pursuit of legislation only provides the ability of the city of Roswell to look forward on their own,” John Mulcahy, president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. said. “This is not requiring anything from the city of Roswell — but without this legislation — neither the county nor Roswell can talk about moving forward toward the creation of an authority if that is the will of the council, but again, only through city ordinance can this actually be enacted.”

For the current draft of the legislation, Holloman said the county gave support last week and EDC had a meeting on Oct. 24; he said the city’s approval was the last piece in the puzzle. Bud Kunkel, chair of the board of the EDC, said he would appreciate the Legal Committee’s support and saw no reason why the city should not give its support. Jennings said since Walker Air Force Base closed in 1967, Roswell has had “51 years of not moving forward,” which spurred the discussion of the EDC to create more jobs for locals by means of an airport authority.

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“All this resolution you’ve got before you does is allow the city of Roswell along with Chaves and with the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corporation to go with this legislation up to the state in February this coming year,” Kunkel said. “That’s what it does. It doesn’t require that the city councilor reach a decision today.”

Mayor Dennis Kintigh shared what he called “very serious concerns” based on the city’s budget about “flawed legislation” at the Legal Committee meeting on Thursday. Kintigh began his speech with a disclaimer that he would not be able to share his concerns at next month’s council meeting.

“I do not have opposition to the concept of an airport authority, contrary to what you may have heard or have been alluded to,” Kintigh said. “My fundamental concern is that the legislation passed last year failed to provide a revenue stream to keep the airport afloat. By that I mean, currently city resources flow into the airport.”

Kintigh said the city has funds from the general fund resources at the airport and is concerned that the airport could end up in a more difficult financial situation after the airport authority is implemented. City Manager Joe Neeb also said the money “moves as transfers into the city and money that transfers back into the airport.” He also posed the question on how the county would contribute. Kintigh also raised concerns about the city’s fire department because he said, at the EDC meeting, that EDC said the city can keep providing fire services at no cost, which Kintigh said defeats the purpose of an independent air authority.

In response to Kintigh’s concerns, Jennings said addressing Kintigh’s fire department concern would be a “monumental” undertaking, but the EDC was prepared to work on it. Comparing the airport authority to the improvements of the Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center and the Civic and Convention Center, Jennings said it would be a community effort to provide funding.

He said he wanted the issues with the potential airport authority to be concluded “in the sunshine of intense analysis” now and not wait to address the issues. Kunkel said he respectfully disagreed with Kintigh saying the legislation was flawed. Kunkel said 30 people were present at the EDC meeting and Mayor Kintigh cast the only dissenting vote.

Neeb said the legislation that made it through last was “not perfect” and some adjustments would have been made if it had been passed. Neeb said Scott Stark, RIAC director; Monica Garcia, city’s finance director; and City Engineer Louis Najar are assisting the city in “untangling from the airport” and he said the Old Municipal Airport is still connected to the air center and all pieces need to be examined.

Neeb said one of the best attributes of the authority was its regional nature and Stubbs and Jennings clarified that the proposed resolution could affect any potential regional air center in the state, not just specific to Roswell. Neeb said everyone involved has had a whole year of learning and continuing the conversation around the proposed resolution. Neeb shared his own fear of passing legislation that is not complete to implement an authority once passed.

Jennings said the other partners “cried for 13 months for the financials” from the city and Kintigh waved the budget at Jennings saying the documents, with the revenues and expenses of the airport, were provided to him, Kunkel and Mulcahy for over a year. In response, Mulcahy said the provided documents were not a breakdown, but a copy of the city’s budget and were not actuals, which Kintigh argued against. Mulcahy also said the air center payroll went up 50 percent in the current budget cycle.

When the discussion was heated or off-topic, Councilor Stubbs reigned in the meeting to focus on the resolution itself. Stubbs said the proposed resolution would provide the ability to create an airport authority and encouraged those in attendance to keep their comments “germane to the idea.”

The councilors said they appreciated everyone’s efforts for working on this legislation. Foster asked if senators and representatives were ready to pass the resolution and Jennings said yes. Sanchez said the authority is “very important” to the city and agreed with Jennings that Roswell has been “stuck in the mud.” Peterson said the intent was positive for Roswell and said the mayor had valid concerns.

Mulcahy said a new version of the proposed resolution will be developed this week to work on with the city and Neeb said the city will be bringing in members of the task force for updates to the legal committee when the item is before the legislators in Santa Fe during the upcoming 60-day legislative session.

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