Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh visited the Roswell Daily Record office recently for a conversation with RDR staff, part of a series of interviews focused on issues impacting the city and its residents.
RDR editor John Dilmore and City/RISD reporter Alison Penn asked Kintigh questions provided by RDR staff and the public.
The interview is being published in multiple parts due to the number of subjects covered. The following are excerpts from the interview, edited for length and clarity:
RDR: Since the legislative session ended, there has been a lot of talk about the so-called urban-rural divide in New Mexico. What are your thoughts on that in general and how do you see it affecting — assuming it continues in that way — an area like southeast New Mexico?
Kintigh: I’m not so sure it’s rural-urban. Progressive elites swept this state with a hardcore progressive agenda, and they were determined to push through everything they can. I am dismayed by that attitude. Not truthfully shocked, because even when I was there in the Legislature, there was some serious hardcore progressives, but now they have gone way over the top. … There is no respect for the culture of southeast New Mexico in Santa Fe anymore. No respect.
This is a culture of, shall we say, the American West, which I personally value. We have solid people who work real jobs in the areas of agriculture, oil and gas, aviation, and the disdain for these kinds of fields is borderline insulting. This is where the money’s coming from. This is what keeps this state afloat, especially oil and gas.
Their idea of economic development is to pour millions of dollars into Hollywood, that if we don’t keep bribing will pick up and disappear tomorrow.
So, no. I’m sorry. There needs to be a wake-up in Santa Fe, and I’m not sure it’s going to happen.
RDR: If it doesn’t happen, what are the things that concern you most in terms of, say, policy changes that would affect oil and gas, or agriculture?
Kintigh: I think what we run the risk is, that those people in those industries pack up and move, especially oil and gas. There’s enough activity in West Texas, and I’ve already heard rumblings from individuals I know in the industry, that “We’re going to be quiet for a while.”
RDR: You mean in terms of activity.
Kintigh: Yeah, activity-wise. One individual was sharing with me, who’s in the industry, that they went to a conference — these are all over the nation — there were places where folks can present, buy and sell, leases. You acquire a lease, you either develop it yourself or you sell it.
A state land lease in New Mexico that they felt was worth $300,000 a year ago — zero bids at this recent conference. Zero.
If oil and gas slows down — it doesn’t have to shut off — slows down in this state, the ramifications are catastrophic beyond the understanding of the folks in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
RDR: What about agriculture? Have you heard concerns from people around here in the ag industries?
Kintigh: I fear for agriculture because of some of the things that could be coming. I don’t think, at least I have not seen, any of the extreme measures, but we will see. This could get even crazier next session.
Editor’s note: Earlier this year, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law the Regional Air Center Special Economic District Act, which paves the way for formation of a regional air authority to govern the Roswell International Air Center. Many factors related to transferring control of the facility to a newly created political subdivision are currently being studied by local officials.
RDR: Any updates on the Air Authority?
Kintigh: The city auditor is working on an analysis, extensive analysis, on that.
Now, the whole airport entity and how the airport and the city have become so engaged — what would need to happen to separate the airport from the city? That’s a lot more complicated than people realize.
In 1967 when the airport, when Walker (Air Force Base) closed and became part of the city, Walker had its own sewage treatment facility. It had its own water system. The sewage treatment’s been gone since 1974. It all goes through the city wastewater treatment plant, and since 1978 or ‘79, the water systems have been fully integrated. I mean, where do you draw the line?
And then the other issue that I have raised repeatedly is: How is the airport going to survive without support from the city? Where’s the revenue going to come from? And no one has ever said, “Well, it’s going to come from here.” …
So, where do you draw the lines? How do you make the payments? … How do you support staff? The airport doesn’t have a legal department. The airport doesn’t have an HR department. The airport doesn’t have an engineering department.
RDR: There are a lot of things to work out. In a big picture sense — you’re the most visible person in Roswell to some extent. Do you worry that you become a person who, when you do interviews like this, you seem to be somebody who’s looking for a way for it not to work?
Kintigh: I’m looking for answers to questions that I’ve never gotten. If my questions are invalid, tell me why they are invalid. If there are answers to my questions, tell me the answers.
My biggest flaw, if you will, is my background. I was an engineer, and then I was a criminal investigator. I am very comfortable with asking questions. And sometimes my questions make people uncomfortable.
OK. I don’t mean to make them uncomfortable when I ask questions. When I’m told, “You shouldn’t ask that question,” or “That question doesn’t need to be asked,” that sets off alarm bells.
RDR: Where do the answers have to come from?
Kintigh: City staff. The professional city staff because — and here’s the ultimate point: It doesn’t matter what I think, the questions that I ask or whatever. This will be resolved by the city council. I don’t have a vote unless there’s a tie.
RDR: What if there is a tie?
Kintigh: Then we’ll see what we’ve learned, and see if my questions have been answered.
RDR: So, it’s a matter of working through a process determining the airport’s ability to stand outside the city to some extent, and the people who can answer those questions are the city staffers because basically they’ve got to determine, department by department, what their integration with the airport currently is, and how to get around that in the future if that’s not there.
Kintigh: Yes. And then what we haven’t talked about is who has final veto over this: The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). The FAA will have to approve it. The FAA — from my understanding, one of their key requirements is financial viability of the airport.
We have scheduled air service here. We have certain things we have to be able to do. The FAA is going to demand it.
So, in a lot of ways, it’s going to be independent of what I think. It’s going to be independent of what even the council thinks. It’s going to be: What does the FAA say? And, we’ll see.
Going back to the financial, I encouraged our legislators to build into the bill a revenue mechanism. My idea, and this was just mine, would be we go to the voters for a mill levy, and the mill levy would be for airport operations.
The voters pass it? Bam, we’re off and running, and I said then, “You guarantee a revenue stream? My concerns go away.” We still have to define where’s the boundaries and little things like that and water stuff, but the big issue for me is the revenue stream, and if there had been one guaranteed or a mechanism for one, my issues would be gone.
RDR: Absent that, what is the possibility of a revenue stream? Whether it’s adequate or not, what is the revenue stream for the airport?
Kintigh: I think what would have to happen is the city would have to subsidize it … and under the statute you’d have four appointed members of the authority from the city and one from the county …
Once again, speaking only for myself, I would expect the county if they’re going to put a person on the authority, to pony up the equivalent of 20 percent of whatever the total amount is.
RDR: Shouldn’t the city and county expect to contribute financially?
Kintigh: I would argue the city already does indirectly through the water fund, indirectly through service in lieu of cash.
The fire department. What about that? The fire department provides fire service. We have to provide it out there. The airport in Louisiana, which many people hold up as an example (England Air Park in Alexandria, Louisiana, formerly England Air Force Base) … has its own fire department contract. How’s that work out here? I don’t know. …
And some people have said, “Well, the city just keeps providing the fire service.” OK, that’s one approach. Why should we provide fire service for … You know, that means the citizens of the city have to provide the service to an entity for which they do not have authority or control. We do a lot with our fire department in this area, by the way. … Sometimes we go a long ways.
So, these are the kinds of questions I feel have not been seriously explored until now, and I’m very impressed with the quality of work we have seen in the past from the city auditor. And, we’ll see. Maybe my concerns are invalid, or maybe they’re not.
RDR: What kind of time frame are we looking at?
RDR: By June … he, the auditor, will have a report?
Kintigh: Yes. I have no doubt about that.