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City eyes growth during public forum on finances

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The city wants to add a new geographic information system department next fiscal year, says Roswell City Manager Joe Neeb, providing one of the updates about the city’s budget and fiscal operations during a Thursday night public forum held at the Roswell Convention & Civic Center. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

The city of Roswell will begin planning for its 2020-21 fiscal budget next month, less than two months after its 2019-20 final budget was approved by the state.

The upcoming fiscal year could include a few new developments, including the launching of a $35 million public safety complex funded by general obligation bonds, if local voters approve that in a March election, and the creation of a new city department, a GIS, or geographic information systems, department that would map all the water and sewer lines in the city.

“What we want to do is to make sure that we have a GIS system that shows all our water lines and sewer lines,” said City Manager Joe Neeb. “Everything is underground.”

He said that such a system would have been very helpful when working on North Garden Avenue, which required turning off water valves in the northwestern sector of the city.

“That’s the idea, is that we have a GIS in place so that we can find these things and we don’t have to rely on the legacy employees who have been here forever and know where everything is,” he said.

Neeb, Administrative Services Director Juan Fuentes and Finance Director Monica Garcia led a discussion about the city’s budget and finances at a public forum Thursday at the Roswell Convention & Civic Center.

About a dozen people attended, as well as city staff and elected officials. The public asked 18 questions following the three staff presentations, many concerning the proposed public safety complex, but also covering gross receipts taxes, the health of retail activity and establishments in the area, and revenues and expenses for the convention center.

As a general overview, the presentations indicated that the city is in a stable financial situation, with more than the required amount in cash reserves and having about a $2 million annual growth in gross receipts taxes from 2017 to 2019. Gross receipts taxes provide 78% of the revenues for the general fund and also service the 20-year debt for the Recreation and Aquatic Center completed in 2019.

The city has a 2019-20 budget of $221 million, when considering all of its seven different types of funds, including debt; capital spending; the enterprise operations that are intended as self-supporting activities and include the airport, water, wastewater, sanitation and landfill; and special revenue funds for mass transit, roads, the cemetery and the recreation division. Special revenue units generate their own sources of funds that must be accounted for separately but still require general fund monies to operate.

Of the $221 million budget, $56 million is long-term debt and $47.29 million is general fund and special revenue fund expenses. General fund revenues are budgeted at $44.52 million and, in addition to the gross receipts taxes, include property taxes, which make up about 12% of income, and miscellaneous funds, including fees or charges, that make up about 10% of incoming money.

Neeb defended charging fees for some services or facilities, including recreational venues and the zoo. He said that user fees make sense when the service or facility is not for the benefit of all residents but intended for specialized populations. The more specialized the population served, the more income the service or facility should generate from its users, he said.

“Cost recovery gets a bad rap every once in a while,” Neeb said, “but if you took away that 10% miscellaneous out of the general fund, then you would see a 10% reduction in those services.”

In discussing the proposal to build a $35 million public safety complex on East Second Street, east of the railroad tracks, Neeb said that bond debt is not a bad thing, especially if issued when interest rates are low as they are now. The $35 million debt is estimated at this time to amount to a $10 a month, or $118 a year, tax increase for someone owning property valued at $100,000, with the tax lasting about 17 to 18 years.

“Bonding is not a bad thing,” he said. “Bonding really helps you move faster on a lot of these things that are very important.”

Several people asked after his presentation about what would happen to the buildings vacated if a new complex is built, which would include the existing police station on West Second Street, an older fire station and the municipal court. They questioned whether the deferred maintenance the city indicates is needed for those structures, estimated at about $10 million during a prior public meeting, wouldn’t still be needed.

Neeb said firm decisions about those buildings’ futures have not been made yet, and it could be that the buildings would be sold to private interests or repurposed by the city for uses that did not require the same extent of repairs or upgrades as needed for police, fire or emergency command operations.

One person asked specifics about the Roswell Convention & Civic Center revenues and expenses, which she later said would require a more in-depth study of the financial information. Another woman asked about what might be done to bring retailers into the Roswell Mall, with Neeb explaining that the mall is a private entity that the city does not have any control over.

A retail study the city commissioned along with the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. was briefly discussed because it showed some areas of opportunity where new or expanded businesses might capture dollars going to other nearby markets. Neeb explained that the city is interested in boosting retail, along with industrial and large commercial enterprises, as a means to grow the economy and the population.

Finance Director Garcia concluded the meeting saying that the department welcomes calls or visits by people interested in learning more about city finances, and she reminded people that budget information, including the forum’s presentation materials, are available upon request. City budgets and annual reports also are available in the Finance Department section of the city’s website, roswell-nm.gov.

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