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County to get $82K from class-action settlement

Tim Coughlin, Boys and Girls Clubs’ chief executive officer, tells the Chaves County Board of Commissioners Thursday that youth membership in Chaves County has grown from 23 to 87 during the past two years. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Chaves County will get a one-time $82,000 payment from the federal government as settlement from a class-action lawsuit it joined in July 2018.

County Manager Stanton Riggs explained during the Thursday meeting of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners that the lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Interior regarding the federal government’s underfunding of Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) has been settled and funds disbursed.

“We received notification yesterday that we will be receiving, after attorney fees and everything, we will be receiving $82,000,” said Riggs. “We didn’t really budget that because we weren’t sure we would ever be receiving that, so that is a nice addition.”

But Riggs added that the money probably will be applied to current expenditures, such as overtime hours paid to Road Department crews for work during flooding in early October.

Two lawsuits had been filed by Kane County, Utah, alleging that the U.S. Department of Interior improperly paid only a fraction of the monies owed to counties for several years because Congress had not appropriated the full amount for the PILT program, which is money the federal government pays to local governmental entities for federal land within the local entities’ borders. One lawsuit covered 2015 and 2016, and the other covered 2017.

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The lawsuits filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington D.C. asserted that federal law required full funding of PILT payments, regardless of what Congress appropriated. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in November 2018, but the federal government appealed in early 2019. It dropped the appeals in May 2019.

Chaves County had been underpaid by $123,934 during the three-year period, according to documents from the law firm of Smith, Currie and Hancock LLP in Washington D.C.

Forty-nine U.S. states and two territories were eligible to participate in the legal proceedings as PILT recipients, although not all decided to join. In New Mexico, 30 counties became parties to the action. The total amount awarded in the two cases was $17.22 million.

During the meeting, the Board of Commissioners also heard some presentations and voted on some items.

• The board accepted a $13,637 grant from the state of New Mexico Tourism Department on behalf of the Keep Chaves County Beautiful program. The state Clean and Beautiful Grant Program provides funds until June 2020 for cleanups and beautification efforts, litter prevention projects and educational and promotional efforts.

• Commissioners approved awarding a $193,802 contract to Waide Construction Inc. of Roswell to add a metal building to Station #3 of the Berrendo Volunteer Fire Department. The addition is for storage of vehicles, equipment, tools and other items. Upgrades to the current station facility to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards also are planned. Waide Construction submitted the lowest of three bids, with the next closest bid coming in at $235,000.

• Commissioners voted to approve a special use permit for a property in the 6400 block of Alabama Road to allow a property owner to place a second manufactured home on the acreage to be used by an elderly relative needing living assistance.

• Tim Coughlin, chief executive officer with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chaves and Lincoln counties, provided an update to commissioners about the organization and its service to the local area. The Lincoln organization and the Chaves County organizations merged in October 2017, Coughlin said, and the group has been working to rebuild relationships, programs and operations since. He said membership in Chaves County has increased from 23 youth to 87, and that the organization served more than 350 free meals in the county at a Thanksgiving dinner. The Roswell location also started Wake Up! Wednesdays to provide care for students before school since the Roswell Independent School District implemented later start times for that day. About 19 students are enrolled.

•Michael Espiritu, the new president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., introduced himself to the board and expressed his appreciation for the group’s support of economic development efforts.

• A county proclamation was made for Character Counts! Week. The week begins Sunday and involves programs in the schools, recognition of students and first responders, and the start of Red Ribbon Week, which provides drug abuse and violence prevention efforts in schools.

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

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.