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Mayor discusses present, future of air center

Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh recently visited the Daily Record office to discuss matters related to the Roswell International Air Center, among other topics. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh visited the Roswell Daily Record office on July 16 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 reporters Lisa Dunlap and Alex Ross asked Kintigh questions provided by RDR staff and the public.

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

Editor’s note: The questions during the segment of the interview published today deal with the future of the Roswell International Air Center.

The city last year formed its own Airport Advisory Commission to provide information and guidance to the city council on RIAC-related matters.

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City staff recently finalized a report (presented at an Airport Advisory Commission meeting) analyzing issues related to creation of an independent regional authority to manage the RIAC. A state law passed earlier this year clears the way for creation of that new political subdivision.

The city’s report identified a number of hurdles that must be cleared before a regional authority could take over management of the airport from the city.

One group that’s advocated for creation of the regional authority is the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corporation. In a June 23 Daily Record story about the city’s report, Bud Kunkel, chairman of that organization’s board of directors, said Kintigh has consistently opposed efforts to create a regional authority.

RDR: What was your take on reaction (by Kunkel) after the report was presented during the Airport Advisory Commission meeting (on June 30)?

Kintigh: The presentation by Mr. Fuentes (Juan Fuentes, city auditor) was, I felt, very scholarly, very analytical. He brought up issues I hadn’t thought of, and I thought it was worthy of a serious discussion. These are Mr. Fuentes’ efforts, not mine. I did not even pick Mr. Fuentes to do the analysis — but like I said, I’m very impressed.

We need to address the questions. That’s what we need to do.

RDR: On the report itself, you mentioned during the June 20 meeting you weren’t sure where to go next with this. Where should it go next?

Kintigh: Well, it was presented before that to City Council in closed session — under the exemption, closed session dealing with property disposal — because this would be the precursor to the transfer of city assets to another entity, and this is the conclusion of the city attorney. So, the council had to have heard it first, then we had a public meeting.

When I say I’m not sure where to go, the obvious thing is, if there is to be an authority, there has to be apparently an ordinance written and passed by the city, an ordinance passed by the county — but I’m not clear if there’s also an MOU (memorandum of understanding) or if the MOU replaces the need for separate ordinances — and then all the questions in there need to be systematically answered.

How do we do that? I mean, who answers it? And then ultimately, I think one of the huge issues that Mr. Fuentes touched on, that I haven’t even looked at is, what does the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) even think of this? How much work do we put into it? If the FAA will not look upon this positively because of cash-flow issues, do we continue down this road?

That’s what I mean. It seems like there’s a number of different things we could start at. Which one do we start at first?

RDR: Who decides that?

Kintigh: I would think, honestly, that the governing body — the council — needs to decide where it goes. Like I say, I don’t have a vote unless there’s a tie. But that would be, to me, the logical place to begin.

RDR: Establishing a regional air authority — the legislation passed kind of opens the door, but that was always going to be a long process.

Kintigh: Correct.

RDR: Just because the separation report verified that there are some questions, financially, that need to be answered doesn’t kill the prospect of an authority going forward. It’s still in the early stages, really. Is that accurate?

Kintigh: But before we keep going down this thing, we have to be able to answer those questions. The fundamental basic question is, where does the revenue come from to support the airport? And there are so many other questions, too — so we’ll see.

It’s really only been a few weeks. Let’s see if someone comes up with a plan.

RDR: Some might look at the report as throwing up an obstacle (to keep an air authority from being established) …

Kintigh: You have to answer the questions, and to say that asking questions is an obstacle is a way of ignoring reality. There’s nothing in there that doesn’t have to be answered.

They all have to be addressed, and to throw up your arms and say, “well, even asking the questions makes it unreasonable” … No, it doesn’t. We’ve got to be able to answer these things, and like I said, ultimately the FAA is going to ask these questions too. Either we have answers or we don’t.

RDR: The idea has been raised of an interim multi-agency task force that could also look at it, right?

Kintigh: The question becomes, how much more staff, time and energy do we pour into it? We’ve got work to do, and near-term work …

I feel like we need to focus on real issues at the airport. By that, I mean the water tower project. Those bids came in significantly higher than what was originally projected. I think it’s a million dollars. OK, where does that additional money come from? I don’t know the answer to that. That’s one of the immediate questions, because we’ve got to replace that water tower sooner rather than later. To me, that’s the kind of issues that we need to be focusing on, issues like the request for information … for T-hangars to be built out there. I think it’s a great concept. The other issue that we’ve talked about for five years, and we’re finally going to move forward on, is the large hangar. Those issues will require staff attention, and I’d like to focus on those.

That doesn’t mean that other people can’t come up with ideas, but Mr. Fuentes spent a lot of time on that project, and his time now is taken up as the administrative services director. …

And, what are the advantages?

RDR: Proponents of this idea believe there will be economic benefit down the road.

Kintigh: What additional economic activity?

RDR: Perhaps additional help with new commercial airline services, development of large hangars …

Kintigh: What would they do differently than what we are doing now with the commercial air service?

RDR: Peoples’ connections can help bring in new business. The more people you have at the table, then the bigger the circles can be, the broader their connections may be …

Kintigh: But none of that is prevented by the current arrangement. There’s nothing that prevents anyone form coming out and engaging staff, working with staff, working with the Advisory Commission. There’s nothing that prevents any of that. We have, my understanding, every building full. So, I don’t know what the additional magical economic benefit is.

RDR: Why were you not more vocal about your concerns when they were suggesting this legislation?

Kintigh: I had conversations. I didn’t do them in public. … My questions were ignored.

RDR: So, when England Air Center is held up as an example?

Editor’s note: England Airpark in Alexandria, Louisiana is a former military air base converted to an industrial center, retail district and residential community after being decommissioned. Some have held it up as an example of the potential at the RIAC, which was formerly Walker Air Force Base.

Kintigh: What’s the difference between Roswell and England Air Center?

RDR: They’re in a larger urban area.

Kintigh: They have an active military base right nearby that has a significant economic impact for them. They converted their housing at the beginning into rental housing that was a revenue stream for them. They also have multiple entities supporting them. They got funding from the Feds at the beginning. Even in their transition, they got over $2 million. In 2016, they got an $18 million MAP grant. We have just become eligible for MAP (Military Airport Program). They have lots of different situations out there … they have their own fire department. They have enough revenue to pay for a fire department. They have contract services with the sheriff’s office for law enforcement.

One of the little realities about this legislation is, this is not creating a business — this is creating a political subdivision of the State of New Mexico. That’s the wording of the statute, and the authority would be the governing body of this area, OK? These are issues that Mr. Fuentes brought up. Open Meetings Act, compliance with DFA (Department of Finance and Administration), compliance with the state auditor, procurement code … All of those things that some people seem to think are difficult with the current environment don’t go away. You still have to do the procurement code the same way that the city does, and people don’t seem to recognize that.

RDR: So when you view it, you don’t see any benefit, really, long-term, for the airport in forming the authority?

Kintigh: I have yet to be provided any kind of concrete evidence of an advantage for this community, and I have serious concerns it will make it worse.

RDR: What do you see being a detriment long-term to Roswell?

Kintigh: That the airport doesn’t get the $800,000 or a million dollars, basically, that the city pours into it. If you look at what we spend, if you look at the report, there’s a tremendous amount of resources that come from the city that go into maintaining and operating that airport.

And it becomes a separate political subdivision. You will either terminate that, or now you’re saying the city has to carry that all by itself. Well, wait a minute — what’s the role of the county? Is the county, which would appoint one-fifth of the board, would the county put up one-fifth of the budget? I’ve heard nothing from any county commissioner saying they’d be willing to put $200,000 a year into that. …

I am asking hard questions, and some don’t seem to like that.

RDR: It does seem there’s been a lot of progress in recent months since the forming of the Airport Advisory Commission — some activity’s been taking place. Why did it take the city so long to get moving?

Kintigh: I will disagree with you here. I think what the difference is, is visibility of movement because the commission meetings … are open in public, and the discussions that you hear being made are not necessarily new or unique. I think there’s a true advantage to having them in that environment because we have more people on the table and we have more people in the room, and it’s helpful to have those. I’m comfortable with free-wheeling discussions, and we’re not as structured or formal as a city council meeting by any means, but I like that. …

RDR: Did it take the legislation or the talk of possible legislation to kind of light a fire under people’s feet?

Kintigh: I don’t think so. Here’s my point I will say to you, and I’ve thought long and serious about this. There was some concerns about the development of the airport, say, two years ago. I believe the issue is not the structure of the environment, but the staff that was available. Let me explain. Two years ago, or almost three years ago, the city manager (at that time) had tendered his resignation. He was leaving. We also lost the city attorney at the same time. (The former airport director) right around that same time, retired as the airport director, and Mr. (Scott) Stark was promoted to the … interim airport director, but his prior position, manager, deputy director, was vacant.

So, fast-forward two years to last year. Now we have on-board a city manager who is familiar with airport operations because the city took over an airport up there in South Dakota, where he had been … he’s familiar with dealing with the FAA and dealing with airport operations. Mr. Stark was confirmed as the airport director, so he’s no longer interim. Mr. (Mark) Bleth was hired as airport manager, and we have a solid legal team … But the point being that the structure is the same, but now we have a first-class team in place, and that, I think, is what makes a fundamental difference.

Does the airport advisory group serve a value? I do think it helps that, and it was actually a suggestion from the city manager. I think we should have probably done this sooner, but we’ve got the more critical thing … the solid team.

RDR: Two economic feasibility studies suggested an air authority. Did you have a chance to talk to those people and find out what their thinking was?

Kintigh: The 1998 study? Look exactly at the wording. It doesn’t recommend. It just says it should be considered.

Those are very different, and if one of the problems they said is contract negotiations — finding a way to do them more secure, confidentially … The reality is that airport authority would have the same standards as a municipality, period. That can’t change. So, I see very little inherent advantage to an authority — but like I’ve said before, it’s not up to me. It really isn’t, and you cannot say the mayor prohibits this, because all kidding aside, I don’t have a vote. The governing body decides whether to move forward with this.

RDR: But you’re an influential person. … Some people would say you could kill it if you wanted to.

Kintigh: I disagree with that. I don’t think I could. … I can raise questions to be answered, but if good answers come or if the actual decision-makers decide the questions are irrelevant, there’s no stopping the train.

I don’t mind us continuing the discussion and I don’t mind us having a debate. It doesn’t intimidate me. So, we’ll continue talking about it, I’m sure of that.

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