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Mayor keeping an eye on Legislature’s actions

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Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh (Alison Penn Photo)

Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh visited the Roswell Daily Record office last week for a conversation with RDR staff, part of a series of interviews focused on issues impacting the city and its residents.

RDR reporters Alison Penn, Lisa Dunlap, sports editor JT Keith and editor John Dilmore asked Kintigh questions raised by RDR staff and the public.

The following are excerpts from the interview, edited for length and clarity:

RDR: The latest session of the Legislature is getting started. What are some of the things you’re keeping a particular eye on?

Kintigh: Minimum wage has me concerned, minimum wage increase. The reality is, the cost of business and wages are different across the state, and we have, in the city, a number of positions that are less than $15 an hour. Now, if there’s a jump to that, then what does that do to the rest of the pay scale? Because you can’t just ignore people that were making more than that. You’ve got to do something for them. And, what does that do to our overall budget?

The point is this: We can’t, as a city, raise the price of a cheeseburger. Where we’re at as far as revenue coming in from gross receipts, we don’t have any way of changing rates or anything like that. …

Where I’m coming from as a mayor is, if the state’s going to do this to us, the state also needs to help us fund it. I don’t know what that looks like, but I’m just saying to our legislators … you need to be able to provide us either a revenue stream from the state (or) fix some other stuff.

You know, I’m not locked into one solution. I’m just saying, this is a concern.

Editor’s Note: Lawmakers are also expected to consider legislation creating an independent airport authority that would oversee operations of the Roswell International Air Center. Similar legislation was passed last session, but then-Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed it. New Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has indicated she’ll support it.

Kintigh: Airport Authority is up there. I’ve had a number of discussions with legislators. I’m concerned in two main areas. One is a revenue stream, because I do not see the airport able to function without the support of the city; and the second one is, if this doesn’t work, what’s the exit strategy? Is there a way out? Those are the two things that I have articulated.

RDR: Is there any means for the state to pass a measure that helps municipalities get more money back from purchases made online?

Kintigh: I think yes, I believe there is. I believe there should be. That’s an in-the-weeds discussion, but I truly believe that that’s appropriate, that the shift from — how do I want to put this? … to the internet, from brick and mortar, is significant and is not going to shift back.

Some things will never go to the internet. For example, a restaurant or repairing your furnace where a guy has to come out and work on it. But, a lot of stuff has shifted.

Now, that’s not necessarily bad for our quality of life because the upside is that you can now get in Roswell, in two days, anything that somebody in Manhattan can get. I mean, you got it all. So, that’s good. How does that impact local merchants? Well, things have to evolve.

RDR: What kind of communication do you have with members of the local delegation? Is that an ongoing thing ?

Kintigh: … They’ve got my cell phone, I’ve got theirs. I’ve been up there, you know. I will go up there at some point. I didn’t last session — I was involved with something called … an election. That’s what it was.

But this time I will make some trips up there. In the end, let’s be real frank. The party I’m affiliated with is not a significant player right now. I mean … when I was there (Kintigh is a former two-term state representative), I think there were 25 Republicans in the House of Representatives. Now there’s 24. So, this is very similar to 2009, when we had a Democratic governor, Bill Richardson, small numbers in the House, small numbers in the Senate.

But, there’s also been a change in the political philosophy of the majority of the party. The Democrat Party has become increasingly progressive. At least, that’s my impression of it. And, how does that impact? It will be interesting to see.

RDR: Do you think the imbalance between the two parties … how does that impact our area, with our lawmakers on the Republican side, in the minority?

Kintigh: I think what’s difficult is that we are truly different from much of the rest of the state, you know. My comment I make is that we’re more like Amarillo, Lubbock and Midland than we are like Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and I’m not being facetious. In many ways, we are very much like that, so we are different … And too many of those folks, legislators, have not been south of Clines Corners …

This is an area that is producing tremendous wealth. Whether it continues to produce wealth is a concern, and by that I mean new regulations, new requirements, changes in the oil market.

If you’ve been here for any more than five years, you’ve seen the ebb and flow in the price of oil and the impact on the state. So, I am concerned that people will make decisions without fully understanding what this part of the state is like, and that they won’t understand the true flow of the finances. In other words, the money we’re talking about here — the quote “new money” of $1.1 billion — there is no assurance it will be there next year.

So by adding programs, and we can have a different debate on whether these programs are appropriate or not — my point is that if you build in programs that are recurring from year to year to year without having an assurance that there will be the money, year to year to year, you run the chance of having some serious meltdown in later sessions and that’s going to get ugly.

A lot of individuals I spoke to who are more familiar with the ebb and flow of oil and gas are of the opinion that this money should be treated as one-time money and used for infrastructure projects. So, going back to your initial point, I think the state suffers because those individuals don’t understand how we (this part of the state) are producing the wealth.

RDR: What’s the most important and immediately needed infrastructure project in this part of the state?

Kintigh: I would have to say roads. And I would say the road systems south of Carlsbad. You talk to anybody in the oil patch who goes down there, and they’re talking about (Highway) 285, south of Carlsbad … They’re beat up so bad it’s down to the caliche. …

This is what needs to have the attention. We’ve got our own infrastructure issues, aging water lines. We would love to have help replacing those. So that’s, from a mayor’s perspective that’s (the greatest need). But looking at the region, as you asked, the roads.

Editor’s note: The city on Jan. 7 posted notices at the Town Plaza Apartments on West McGaffey Street that the apartments would be condemned Jan. 17 if the owners did not reach agreement with the city to address various problems that had been brought to light.

RDR: Has the city heard from Town Plaza?

Kintigh: Apparently, there has been a call from Town Plaza to code enforcement. I don’t know who spoke to the owner. I was told this today (Jan. 15) at lunch, by the city manager. I know no details of that conversation, but at least there was a conversation.

RDR: Are there other properties in town that perhaps aren’t that dilapidated, but where there are concerns approaching that level?

Kintigh: I would say there are some properties, and I’m not going to be able to name them, but this is a serious problem and that, once again, goes to aging facilities. If you do not maintain stuff — a house, apartments, duplexes, whatever — over time they fall apart, and the biggest victims in this are those poor people who are stuck living there.

The city manager and I drove through that apartment complex, with water flowing. I mean, it hadn’t rained for a week or more, and there’s water. Where does that come from? Then there’s the sewer issues, just the disrepair of the roof and all of that. It’s not acceptable.

RDR: What are your thoughts on Devon Energy planning to locate employees here? (It was recently announced that the Fortune 500 oil and gas producer would open an office here in 2019.)

Kintigh: Some of them, not all of them. … It’s funny because one of the other local companies here … they’ve actually done the reverse. They moved their operations to Artesia, and now Devon (is) looking at coming up here.

I think what you’re seeing is one of the challenges that organizations have to deal with … how do you balance consolidating operations in the field and your office operations with an area in which quality of life issues and affordability of housing and space are acceptable?

It’s interesting. We have two companies, different sizes but in the same industry, going in opposite directions. I think that it shows you the struggle that the oil and gas industry is going through right now to try and figure out — what’s the best? We offer certain advantages over Artesia and Carlsbad, more affordable housing, more options on housing. I would argue we have more amenities than those communities, but we’re further from the heart of the oil patch. So, you make up for that by driving further for your operational people.

There have been oil and gas people in this town for 70 years. There are companies … that are still here, significant players, and it’s just going to be a function of individual organizations’ assessment of what’s more important. I’m thrilled to death to have Devon Energy in Roswell. …

RDR: How has the federal government shutdown affected Roswell?

Kintigh: Well, we’ve actually put out an announcement … The city manager and I have spoken on this, actually Monday (Jan. 14) … we will be waiving water bill payments for furloughed federal employees. It’s not a huge amount, but it’s something that we can do. It’s within our scope of services. When I say waive, what that means is, we will postpone payment and we will work out a payment plan in the future whenever this is resolved. There are a number of people that live in Roswell that work at the law enforcement training center in Artesia. There are people that work for the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) office here. We have folks working at the federal courthouse. We have federal employees all over the place.

Now, my understanding is our TSA (Transportation Security Administration) folks here are contract TSA, and my understanding is the contract TSA folks have not experienced any delays in their paychecks because they have a contractor that is going to be paid by the federal government, or will eventually be paid by the federal government. The (airport) control tower, I don’t know where those guys fall in all this. …

There’s not a whole lot of options we have.

This interview will be continued in a later edition of the Daily Record.