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City to hold four December public hearings

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City Attorney Aaron Holloman talks Thursday night about a proposed sidewalk ordinance during the Roswell City Council meeting in the Roswell Convention & Civic Center. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Matters concern sidewalks, ward precincts, wastewater loan, tiny homes

The Roswell City Council has approved public hearings in December for four different matters, with a proposed ordinance about sidewalk improvements generating the most debate.

During its Thursday night meeting, the group voted 8-0, with Councilors Savino Sanchez and Angela Moore absent, to approve three items for the public hearing at the next meeting, now scheduled for Dec. 12. The public hearing for a proposed ordinance involving city sidewalks passed only after Mayor Dennis Kintigh broke a 4-4 tie of the council.

The sidewalk ordinance would replace the current section of the city code that states only that sidewalks are the responsibility of the property owner.

Saying the city wants to improve the appearance and accessibility of the city, City Manager Joe Neeb and City Attorney Aaron Holloman worked with city councilors to develop a new ordinance that would create ways for the city to cite property owners for dangerous sidewalks, which they said would help to mitigate liability for the city. As part of that, they also intend to create a draft of a written policy by the December public hearing and a funding plan at some point to provide financial assistance to property owners for sidewalk repairs. The funding would also be used to prioritize sidewalk improvements throughout the city. The policy also would allow variances and build in appeal processes.

But Councilors Juan Oropesa, Caleb Grant, Steve Henderson and Jacob Roebuck voted against the public hearing after expressing concerns with several aspects of the ordinance as presented.

A few councilors — as well as an engineer who provided a public comment — objected to the wording, which said every property in Roswell “shall” have a sidewalk. Holloman said qualifications that would exempt older properties or those not suited for sidewalks would be part of the policy being developed, but both Grant and Roebuck said they wanted more than “broad concepts” about the policy and the funding plan before approving a public hearing.

Oropesa called some parts of the policy “extreme” and felt that it could burden low-income homeowners, especially because the possibility exists that homeowners could have liens placed on their homes. Henderson said the city would be “opening a can of worms” not only because of its financial impacts but because it would require the hiring of “a city manager in charge of sidewalks” to manage the sidewalk improvements and all the requests for financial assistance that he thought would be generated.

Councilors Jeanine Best, George Peterson, Barry Foster and Judy Stubbs voted for the public hearing, with Kintigh joining them to break the tie. City resident Cathy Knight, who has gathered signatures of people in favor of a city plan for sidewalk improvements, also spoke in favor of the ordinance during the meeting.

The other items approved for public hearings involve the following issues:

• The city is seeking authorization for a $5.5 million Clean Water Revolving Loan, with 1.2% interest and a 20-year term that would have annual payments of $309,500, plus fees. City Engineer Louis Najar said the loan would be used to design and build two pumps at the city’s wastewater treatment plant that will squeeze water out of the sludge, which is a by-product of gray water treatment. He also said the city will not have to raise sewer or water rates to make the payments.

• The Planning and Zoning Department is asking for changes to the city’s zoning ordinances, which will allow for tiny homes in residential mobile home parks and for residential districts specifically designed for tiny homes, defined as structures on foundations that are less than 400 square feet.

• The city plans to divide some of its existing precincts, as required by a new election law passed by the New Mexico Legislature in 2019 and required to be implemented by January 2020. The new law requires splitting precincts that had more than 750 voters during the previous two elections or a population of more than 2,500 during the most recent decennial Census count, or 2010, in this case. If passed, the ordinance would add two precincts in Ward 2, one in Ward 3 and two in Ward 5.

Councilors also approved the consent agenda, in which items previously approved by City Council committees are passed without discussion. The consent agenda included four resolutions, 10 leases at the Roswell Air Center and seven contracts that either could be awarded outright or after negotiations.

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