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Officials make case for millions in state funding

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State legislators representing Chaves County listen Tuesday as representatives from entities within Chaves County present their requests for 2020 capital outlay funding. From left are Rep. James Townsend (R-Artesia), Sen. Cliff Pirtle (R-Roswell) and Rep. Candy Spence-Ezzell (R-Roswell). Also present were Rep. Greg Nibert (R-Roswell), Rep. Phelps Annderson (R-Roswell) and Sen. Stuart Ingle (R-Portales). (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

$5 million in Air Center infrastructure among requests

Representatives of municipalities, the county government and other entities within Chaves County made their cases before state legislators for more than $19.62 million in capital outlay funding for airport infrastructure, roads, bridges, building improvements, water lines and many other projects.

A panel of state representatives and senators who represent the area asked questions about the requests and also gave some advice to presenters, including telling Chaves County, business and city of Roswell managers to coordinate on some requests and to “present a united front” once the matters reach the New Mexico Legislature in January.

They also remarked to several municipal representatives to make sure that they have made progress on the projects that were funded by the state in prior years.

“There are only going to be a handful of projects that get funded,” said Rep. Greg Nibert (R-Roswell), a comment that was made in different ways by several legislators.

Other legislators attending were Rep. James Townsend (R-Artesia), Sen. Cliff Pirtle, (R-Roswell), Rep. Candy Spence-Ezzell (R-Roswell), Sen. Stuart Ingle (R-Portales) and Rep. Phelps Anderson (R-Roswell).

Hubert Quintana, a consultant with the Southeast New Mexico Economic Development District, which coordinates the legislative requests for 26 governmental entities in five counties in the region, had recommended that groups keep their requests between $500,000 to $750,000 and ask for no more than five projects. But some asked for as many as 12 and the requests were as high as $5 million.

“If you ask for $1 million to $16 million — which one group (in another county has) — you run the risk of the governor’s veto,” Quintana said.

He explained that even if area legislators decide to provide $1 million of a $16 million request, the governor’s staff could decide to veto the expenditure with the reasoning that $1 million would not be enough to make a go of the project.

The biggest single request came from the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., which is submitting its application through Chaves County.

Tim Jennings, a former state senator and a member of the economic group’s Air Center Task Force, presented a request of $5 million to extend gas and electric utilities, water lines and possibly fiber optics, as well as installing lighting and building roads and parking lots in two portions of the Roswell Air Center to create “shovel-ready” sites for future businesses. He said the project would help to attract businesses to diversify the economy and create jobs.

“What we are trying to do is to set up and build up the infrastructure so that we do not have to wait. The infrastructure is the biggest hindrance to getting anything done out there,” said Jennings. “Without the infrastructure, it would take three to five years to put (business deals) together.”

Legislators urged Jennings and the EDC to work with the city of Roswell, which owns the airport and most of the Roswell Air Center property. They also asked about the status of a proposed regional air authority to manage the Air Center, which legislation enacted last year made a possibility. The city is still examining the financial, organizational and legal issues involved.

The Roswell Air Center request was one of 12 funding applications for about $10.57 million made by Chaves County. Other requests included money for cooling chillers for the Chaves County Courthouse, $125,000 for cooling towers for the Chaves County Administrative Center, $350,000 to expand the Pecos Valley Regional Communications Center and $850,000 to widen or improve a bridge on West Brasher Road that crosses the Hondo River.

Ezzel was in strong support of the bridge, saying the current narrowness of the bridge at Brasher Road “will scare the fire out of you.”

The emergency communications center project also raised questions about whether the county had coordinated with the city of Roswell and its plans for a new public safety complex. Preliminary discussions about the public safety complex indicated that an area is intended to be used for dispatch, but county officials said they were unsure if that was meant only as a supplementary communications area to be used during emergencies.

Townsend said he does not want taxpayer money to be spent on creating duplicate or numerous dispatch centers in the area.

The town of Dexter submitted four requests for more than $1.03 million. That included $108,000 for two new police vehicles, $40,000 for a maintenance vehicle, $100,000 for a backhoe and $784,000 for water lines.

The town of Hagerman asked for $1.82 million for seven requests, including water lines and wastewater projects, improvements to a public works building and funding for a splash pad.

Lake Arthur asked for $585,000 for six projects. That included $125,000 to repair a lagoon, $75,000 for a city vehicle, $60,000 for add-ons to a grader, $250,000 to improve the cemetery, $75,000 for a new pickup for animal control and $150,000 to complete a water storage tank system that already has received $300,000 in federal funding.

Representatives encouraged Mayor Ysidro Salazar to investigate the possibility of legal action regarding the design of the lagoon, which was destroyed during storms, and also to consider alternatives to the water tank project that would not require additional funding at this time.

Fambrough Mutual Water Consumers Association in Hagerman, which has 175 customers, made four requests for $2.89 million, but legislators suggested that they scale back to ask for funding for only planning on a couple of projects. With those suggestions, they asked for $710,000 — $350,000 to plan for water line replacements, $150,000 to plan for a new well and booster station, $35,000 to purchase additional water rights and $175,000 to upgrade water meters.

The city of Roswell presented five requests that focused more on “quality of life” recreation-oriented projects than infrastructure projects.

Bill Morris, Community Development manager, said that some years, the city focuses exclusively on roads, bridges and other such projects but that this year, they wanted to bring projects that typically receive less attention to the fore.

The five requests included $1.5 million for an all-inclusive park for special needs residents; $750,000 to build two baseball fields intended to draw tournaments and sports tourism to the area; $750,000 for a bridge on North Garden Avenue near Second Street; $411,000 for tennis courts updates; and $750,000 to improve a portion of McGaffey Street south of Main Street.

Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell requested a total of $747,500 for funding for three instructional equipment requests and for two infrastructure requests. They included $165,000 for an ambulance simulator and Manikins for the emergency medical services program; $125,000 for equipment to be used by aviation maintenance programs; $60,000 for nursing program equipment and simulators; $241,500 for cooling towers and boilers; and $156,000 for electrical panels.

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