Bitzer says more accountability, transparency needed
A retired accountant and active community volunteer who describes herself as a fiscal conservative is making an early announcement about her intentions to run for Roswell City Council next year.
Bonnie Bitzer will vie for a seat in Ward 2 in the northern part of the city.
The position is now held by Steve Henderson, who said he has not yet made a decision about whether to seek re-election for a sixth, four-year term.
Bitzer has adopted the phrase “people before profits” as one of the themes for the non-partisan race.
“I feel like, in the last several years, that the emphasis has been more on profit than it has been toward serving the citizens,” she said. “But the city is us. It is you and me. It is not the building. It is not the business. Governments are not designed to be businesses. They are not supposed to be profit-motivated. They are also not allowed to run in the red (by state law). They are not allowed to do that, and they are not.”
Bitzer said that she disagrees with some recent decisions regarding proposed or approved fees for city venues such as the Roswell Adult Center, the Spring River Zoo and the Roswell Museum and Art Center.
“Fees are taxes,” she said. “They don’t want to raise taxes because it sounds bad. So what are we going to do instead? We are going to charge fees. That’s tax.”
Bitzer added that money raised by fees should be earmarked to be returned in the next fiscal year’s budgets to the city units generating the funds rather than consigned to what she called the “big black hole” of the general budget.
“What kind of incentive is that for our city employees,” she asked, “to take their major job, which is either taking care of the animals or taking care of the museum or taking care of the golf course, adding to that the burden of fundraising, and then not see any additional ability to increase their budget and do what they think is best for the zoo or the golf course or the museum?”
Bitzer added that, if the water department is experiencing significantly increased revenues after installing new water meters, then water rates should be reduced. She also thinks that fees at the Roswell Convention and Civic Center should be reduced, especially because she feels that the new rates can make it difficult or impossible for nonprofits to hold their fundraising events there.
From a broader perspective, she said she wants city councilors to be more accountable and to have the information that would allow for that.
“I see lack of the financial knowledge and experience in the people that make the decisions,” Bitzer said.
She said that she would want for all city councilors to receive monthly updates of the entire city budget. (Some regularly updated city budget information is available online, and the city does issue quarterly reports to councilors now.) Bitzer also said she would pay close attention to the annual audits.
“I read the June (2018) audit,” she said. “I found out essentially really quickly that nobody read it. There were so many errors in the first 10 pages that, if anybody, even without a financial background, had looked at it, they would have seen those errors.”
She explained that, after talking to some people with the city, she feels the city’s financial situation is stable. But she added that the 2019 audit will be crucial, because it will show the new debt obligations from the Recreation and Aquatic Center.
The way in which the Recreation and Aquatic Center was funded also is an issue for her. The bonds will be repaid by increased gross receipts taxes, or sales taxes, rather than by property taxes. Using gross receipts taxes required approval of the City Council only, whereas property taxes would have required voters’ approval.
“I don’t know that that is fully open and accountable,” she said.
Bitzer also thinks that the city should restructure meetings so that items of concern to people are heard early in the meeting rather than late at night. And she would prefer that the City Council meeting room be reconfigured so that councilors sit close to people, not far away and high on a dais.
A native of Pennsylvania, Bitzer arrived in Roswell in 1991 for a job with the local accounting firm of Deason Peters Stockton. She had become a certified public accountant after about 12 years as a physical education teacher and field hockey coach, mostly at the college level.
“I have to brag a little. My teams were Big 8 champions two years in a row (at the University of Missouri at Columbia),” she said.
Bitzer originally had wanted to be an accountant but was told by counselors that, as a woman, she wasn’t smart enough to pursue that career. So she decided to become a teacher and earned a bachelor’s degree from Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania and a master’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado.
When an injury required her to leave coaching, she then took enough accounting courses at various schools, including the University of Texas at Arlington, to be eligible to take the CPA exam at age 44.
After about three years with Deason Peters, she started her own firm, retiring in 2016.
Her community involvement includes serving as secretary and treasurer of the Roswell Kiwanis Club and as a founding member of the New Mexico Youth ChalleNGe Foundation. She has been a longtime member and volunteer with St. Peter Catholic Church and was an advisor to Key Clubs, a student leadership group, at Roswell and Goddard high schools. She also is an archery competitor and a former volunteer in the New Mexico Senior Olympics.
Bitzer said she intends to spend the next five months attending as many city meetings as possible and talking with Roswell residents.
“I am giving myself enough time to learn, as well as giving myself enough time to get elected,” she said.
Filing date for candidates for municipal elections is Jan. 7. Election day is March 3, with early voting scheduled to occur Feb. 4 until Feb. 28.
Senior writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at email@example.com.