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Mayor, legislators share ideas with business group

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For economic growth throughout the state, New Mexico legislators and residents should understand differences between rural and urban areas and be willing to compromise on issues, says New Mexico Sen. Bill Burt (R-Alamogordo) during a Tuesday lunch in Roswell with Albuquerque business leaders. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The Roswell mayor and some state legislators representing Chaves County told Albuquerque business visitors Tuesday that the southeast region of the state is functioning at this time as the economic generator of New Mexico and they would like to see the New Mexico Legislature and the business community support a more conservative state budget, criminal justice reform to reduce violent crime statewide, more funding for southeast New Mexico roads and greater understanding of the cultural differences between regions in the state.

The Albuquerque Chamber Roadrunners is a goodwill ambassador group of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and is taking periodic trips around the state to learn more about the business and economic issues of New Mexico cities. The group made a stop at The Liberty in Roswell for a luncheon meeting with local leaders before heading to Portales and Clovis later in the day.

The group has made two prior trips, one to Las Cruces and Deming and a second trip to Gallup and the Navajo Nation. 

“Our goal is pretty simple and straightforward,” said Terri Cole, president of the Albuquerque Chamber. “We are here to build stronger relationships throughout our state. We are here, and probably most importantly, we are here to learn more about your local issues, your local challenges, your local problems so that we are in a more informed position as we enter any number of arenas. The Legislature is, of course, one of them.”

Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh, Rep. Greg Nibert (R-Roswell), Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell (R-Roswell) and Sen. Bill Burt (R-Alamogordo) shared their thoughts about businesses and economic issues in Roswell and Chaves County.

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• State spending concerns. Several speakers mentioned their worry that state legislators and state administrators will want to spend all of the abundant revenue surplus available for the next fiscal year, rather than create healthy reserves for the future and keep taxes low. They said that while everyone knows that the oil boom responsible for the surplus will end at some point, legislators and state administration do not plan accordingly. Burt said he already has seen requests from some departments for budget increases of 17% to 400%, even though they were asked to keep increase requests to 10% or less.

• Economic importance of area to state. Spence Ezzell emphasized that southern New Mexico contributes a significant chunk to the state’s three largest industries: extraction (mining, oil and gas), agriculture and horse racing. At the same time, the area does not receive a proportionate amount of state funding, she said, giving the example that some of the region’s roads serving the oil industry area are in desperate need of funding for repairs and upgrades. She also mentioned the “spectacular” attractions and features within 100 miles of Roswell, including Bottomless Lakes State Park, the annual UFO Festival in Roswell, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Southwestern Aquatic Resources and Recovery Center in Dexter, Brantley Dam, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Carlsbad Caverns, Ruidoso Downs, White Sands and a Cloudcroft golf course that she called the highest one in the United States.

• Criminal justice reform. Kintigh and Nibert both talked about their belief that the state’s high violent crime rate must be reduced so that people feel safe living and doing business in New Mexico. Kintigh said the state’s violent crime rate is twice as high as the national average. According to 2018 data published by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, New Mexico’s violent crime rate was 856.6 per 100,000 people. The U.S. rate was 380.6 per 100,000 people. Nibert challenged people to examine what their legislators do regarding reform. “Reform for those of us in southeast New Mexico means harsher sentences for those who are doing violence to his fellow man. It means harsher sentences for those who cannot obey the rules,” he said. “But what I hear in the judiciary committee is that the folks that are elected from your community view reform differently than we view it here.”

• Regional differences. Kintigh expressed his view that Roswell and other southeastern New Mexico cities share more in common with the West Texas cities of Amarillo and Midland than Las Cruces or other southern communities. Burt said the differences between rural and urban areas must be heeded. He gave an example of coyote trapping or killing, which is opposed by most in urban areas while supported by many in the southeast seeking to protect livestock. “You have to understand that lifestyles are different, and we have to be understanding and accepting of all lifestyles in the state of New Mexico,” he said, “and that includes the people who ranch, work in oilfields, as well as in high rises in Albuquerque and in state government.”

• Roswell’s attributes. The area has the only rechargeable groundwater aquifer in the state. “What is a critical need in other parts of the state is not here,” said Kintigh. He said the city also has more high-rise buildings than any other New Mexico city except Albuquerque, but needs funding assistance to repurpose those downtown buildings. The Roswell Air Center is rebuilding as an aviation and aerospace center, but Kintigh said that people should understand the “catastrophic” and long-lasting economic impact that the closure of the Walker Air Force Base had on the city.

• Collaborative initiatives. Burt said many existing industries that reside in different regions in the state represent opportunities for significant economic growth and he wants state leaders to assist in developing and supporting those economic sectors. He listed those economic sectors as extraction, agriculture, the Department of Defense and military operations, and national laboratories.

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.