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Process of forming new air authority studied

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The city of Roswell will present a “separation” study to the City Council in June, says City Manager Joe Neeb, to consider legal, financial and operational issues involved in creating an independent air authority. (File Photo)

The formation of a regional air authority to govern and grow portions of the Roswell International Air Center is many months and many steps away from becoming a reality, should city of Roswell and Chaves County elected officials decide to move in that direction as expected.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the enabling legislation Monday after House Bill 229, the Regional Air Center Special Economic District Act, passed the Senate, 64 to 4, and the House, 37 to 3. The 2018 version of the bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Susana Martinez, although it also passed both chambers by wide margins.

Both legislative attempts were preceded by resolutions passed by the Roswell City Council and the Chaves County Board of Commissioners to support the effort to seek an act that would allow an independent authority made of appointed members to manage the former military base now owned and managed by the city of Roswell.

What lies ahead, according to city of Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh, is “a lot of hard work that needs to be done. It does not happen quickly.”

The city of Roswell began an analysis of the air center, its core functions and its finances in 2018, said Roswell City Manager Joe Neeb. That now will become a “separation” analysis to be presented to the Roswell City Council in June.

The council would have to vote to create the authority and probably many other aspects related to transferring duties and responsibilities and city assets to a new political subdivision. Public hearings most likely will precede major actions.

To name just a few of the issues to be determined, as Kintigh explained it, what happens to current airport employees, who are now city staff? Will they remain eligible for participation in the public retirement system or lose that if transferred to the authority? Who owns the water lines, and who is responsible for maintaining them?

“I see a lot of questions that have never been answered,” he said. “What’s the boundary of this authority. What are the assets of the authority? What is the staffing of the authority and what is its budget? This is an independent political subdivision, what does that truly mean? What is the relationship between these subdivision and the city of Roswell. These are all legal questions that need to be resolved. I have concerns about where the revenue source is going to come from to support the operations. I don’t mean capital outlay. I mean operations for staff.”

He added that the city currently provides a lot of financial and personnel support to airfield operations and wonders what happens regarding those expenditures going forward.

Neeb also said that the remaining issue about whether the city can be released from any future financial obligations for the former municipal airport land in northwest Roswell also needs to be resolved before an authority is in place. Work on that issue is underway.

In the meantime, Kintigh said, the City of Roswell Airport Commission will continue to meet monthly to discuss airport activities, finances and future plans. Kintigh chairs that group, which includes city and county residents representing government, business and aviation.

The independent regional air authority had been recommended by two economic feasibility studies as a way to grow jobs and businesses because it would provide for focused staff and a governing board intended to be free from election cycles or political trends. Proponents said investors are wary about making financial commitments when new elections could cause changes to plans and previously made decisions.

The members of the regional authority would be appointed by the city, Chaves County and other nearby governmental entities. The new entity also would have the legal authority to issue bonds to be repaid by rents, airport fees or other airfield-related revenues as a way of improving infrastructure or buildings. Similar authorities have been created in other states for the redevelopment of their decommissioned military bases.

Neeb said the city expects to begin formal discussions with Chaves County officials after the June study is presented to the City Council.

Chaves County Manager Stanton Riggs said the county is “excited” about beginning discussions.

“We look forward to working with the city and the committee and seeing what we can come up with,” he said.

Chaves County does not make ongoing financial contributions to the Roswell International Air Center, but it has a vested interest in economic development, jobs and the tax base, Riggs said. The county also was one of the governmental entities that provided a financial contribution for the minimum revenue guarantee that supported the Phoenix flight service by American Airlines when that first began.

He said he cannot answer at this point whether the county would provide financial support or invest in the air center upon the formation of an air authority.

“Everything is on the table,” he said. “We are looking forward to being a player in that and working with everybody.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.