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City Council to consider $35 million bond question

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Funding would build a new public safety complex

The plan to ask local voters to approve $35 million in general obligation bonds to build a new public safety complex in Roswell is headed to the City Council next week.

The City Council held a workshop Tuesday afternoon to review staff information about the proposed project and the plan to finance it. That was followed immediately afterwards with a special Finance Committee meeting where all four members voted to advance a proposed ballot question for the City Council’s consideration at its Oct. 10 meeting.

If the City Council approves the action, voters would be asked during the March local elections whether they will approve bonds to be repaid by increased property taxes.

Financial information presented at the workshop by city staff and members of RBC Capital Markets, the city’s bond advisors, indicated that the initial annual tax rate would increase $3.53, from 55 cents to $4.08, starting in 2020. That increase amounts to $118 more a year for residents with property that has a full value of $100,000 or a net taxable value of $33,333. The bonds would expire about 2037, although the exact expiration will not be known until the bonds are sold. And the $4.08 tax rate could decrease a bit in future years after other bonds are repaid.

City Manager Joe Neeb and other city leaders said that a new facility would include a fire station, the fire department administration offices, the police station, public safety dispatch, an emergency operations command center, the municipal court and possibly other public safety units such as code enforcement.

The plan is to build it on seven to eight acres on East Second Street, east of the railroad tracks.

City staff said such a facility is needed because current fire and police facilities are aging and require at least $10 million in repairs and upgrades. The current police station as well as some fire department facilities don’t meet current and anticipated future needs, staff said, adding that a complex in which these units work in close proximity will provide improved communication and responses among first responders and public safety administrators.

Neeb also mentioned other benefits to a new complex, such as more accessibility to the public, more opportunities for community interaction and a quality structure for employees and the community.

“A modern facility is even more than just for that public use,” he said. “It also serves for the attraction and retention of staff. So we are hoping that the investment that goes into that facility will help hold onto the quality employees who are serving in that public safety field. A new safety complex will show our commitment to the safety of the community to those people who are looking to move their families or businesses here.”

Police Chief Phil Smith discussed some of the problems with the current police station on West Second Street, which needs about $7.77 million in maintenance and upgrades.

Smith said the building, built as a bank, is 57 years old. He said it has a World War II-era generator, problems with its electrical system, wall coverings and floors. He also said it cannot accommodate the 99 additional officers and staff that are expected to be needed when the city’s population grows to 75,000, as is projected to happen in coming years. The department now has 99 officers and staff.

“Finally the building is not a secure police structure,” Smith said. “It is a bank building. We have been very fortunate, but this is very important. You can look over the wall and see our officers coming and going.”

Police vehicles are also in outdoor parking lots, unprotected from weather or other potential hazards.

Deputy City Manager Mike Mathews, a former fire chief, described some of the needs for the Roswell Fire Department, the municipal court and the emergency operations command center.

He said two fire facilities need at least $2.18 million in maintenance, with a professional recommendation to replace them since they do not meet current needs or requirements. He also said that the city does not have a fire station east of the railroad tracks, which can cause some difficulties when trains are stopped on the tracks and fire trucks have to be routed around them.

The municipal court, built in the 1950s, needs $902,380 in maintenance and requires at least one additional courtroom, according to a professional assessment. It also has only 13 parking spaces in the court parking lot.

An emergency operations command center would help agencies respond to major crises by providing a place where people from different agencies could gather to monitor the situation and discuss needed actions and is often favorably looked up by grant funders, according to city staff.

“This complex would create a shared space for cost-efficiency and efficiency of operation,” said Karen Sanders, manager of the Roswell-Chaves County Emergency Management Office, “It would improve the way we provide resources to the community we are trying to keep safe, and it would serve as a hub for incident management.”

City Project Manager Kevin Dillon said that the estimate for the project was used by looking at a model, the Artesia Public Safety Complex, and then increasing that project’s costs for today’s market.

Some city councilors questioned about whether voters will be informed about the sunset date, but City Attorney Aaron Holloman and the bond advisors explained that while the financial projections were based on a 17-year maturity term, the exact time will depend on market conditions at the time of bond sales in 2020 and 2022.

Other councilors asked about the city’s remaining capacity to issue debt in case of urgent needs. They were told that the city still has about $7.96 million in debt capacity from gross receipts taxes and that water, sewer, the landfill and sanitation have their own enterprise funds for financing projects.

Some debate also occurred among Finance Committee members about whether they wanted to word the ballot question in a way that, should the public safety complex come in under $35 million, that the remaining money could used for other public safety buildings in the city.

The four members — Jacob Roebuck, Judy Stubbs, Caleb Grant and Steve Henderson — decided that they would forward a ballot question that only allows the money to be used on the complex.

According to the financial information provided at the workshop, the city has $22.36 million in outstanding debt obligations now, including $1.13 million in general obligation bonds from 2008 that are due to be paid off by the end of 2022. Its combined general obligation bond and gross receipts taxes per capita of $480 is lower than that of Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Rio Rancho, Las Cruces, Alamogordo and Farmington.

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