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City considers raising municipal judge pay

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City Manager Joe Neeb, speaking at a Thursday Finance Committee meeting, says the City Council needs to decide whether to increase the municipal judge salary before the March 3 city elections. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Legislative allocations heading for City Council vote

The city of Roswell is considering an increase in the salary paid to its municipal judge.

An ordinance that would raise the salary from its current $60,000 a year is expected to be introduced to the Roswell City Council by Mayor Dennis Kintigh for its first reading on Jan. 9.

A second reading and vote are planned for the February council meeting.

“We have an election coming up here in March,” said City Manager Joe Neeb, “and every four years is the only time that we can reset the municipal judge’s salary. You cannot increase it or decrease it outside the window of the election.”

During March 3 elections, voters will decide on who will hold the municipal judge position, as well as some City Council positions and city bond issues. Therefore, the salary increase will not necessarily benefit the current officeholder, Joseph Seskey.

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Seskey, an alternate municipal judge since March 2016, was appointed in August to fill a term that Lou Mallion had been elected in 2016 to fill. Mallion resigned effective May 2018 and a former Roswell police officer, Eric Brackeen, was appointed by the Roswell City Council.

After Brackeen resigned for personal reasons, Seskey was appointed for the remainder of the term, which expires in March.

Neeb told members of the Roswell City Council Finance Committee during their Thursday meeting that the city can adjust the salaries of municipal court staff at any time, but the judge salary, paid out of the city’s general fund, cannot be raised except once every four years.

Total compensation for the position also includes benefits and participation in the state retirement system, according to the Roswell City Code.

Neeb said the municipal judge salaries throughout the state are usually about 80% to 90% of magistrate judge and district court judge salaries. Currently, the city is thinking about using the magistrate judge salary as a base and increasing the municipal salary to about $70,000 a year.

The ordinance is not going through the usual City Council committee review and voting process because of the need to make a decision prior to the council’s March meeting.

“We don’t like putting things through in this manner, but this kind of caught us off guard,” Neeb said.

The Finance Committee, meeting for the first time since the resignation of former City Councilor Caleb Grant, who had chaired the group, also voted to forward to the entire City Council the matter concerning state legislative appropriations made through New Mexico Senate Bill 536, sometimes called House Bill 2 Jr.

Juan Fuentes, city administrative services director, described the allocation of $100,000 for new police vehicles as “straightforward” — having previously said the monies would pay for two fully equipped vehicles. But the allocation of $82,000 to “provide housing and food to men, women and children of Roswell” requires more coordination, he said.

At this time, the city plans to issue a call for applications from qualified nonprofits that would provide the services to those in need.

Kintigh said he received an email in late November or early December asking him to sign the agreements about the allocations, but he did not think that he could do so without the approval of the City Council.

“The $100,000 for the police vehicles is something that was in our overall ICIP (Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan),” said Kintigh. “The $82,000, as far as I know and determined, is nowhere on our list. It was a generous effort or demonstration by the Legislature to provide this to us, but the problem is, I am of the opinion there is no way that I have the authority to sign a commitment to take the responsibility to spend $82,000.”

He explained that the money, which will be rescinded if not either encumbered or expended by June 30, is only repaid to the city by the state on a reimbursement basis.

“There is some exposure here on the part of the city, which goes back to my original point, so we have to walk into this with our eyes wide open, realizing that if the state stumbles or something doesn’t quite get done on time, we could be left with an exposure,” Kintigh said. “That is a reality. I don’t think it is likely but we cannot pretend that it doesn’t exist.”

Fuentes said that ideally, the city will act only as a “pass-through” agent, with nonprofits spending the money and waiting for reimbursements. But, he said, the city also will consider working with nonprofits either to expend the money itself or reimburse the nonprofit prior to the state if nonprofits cannot afford to wait for state reimbursement.

“At least one of the organizations that I have always met with does have the financial resources,” said Fuentes.

The Finance Committee voted 3-0 to forward the issue to the Roswell City Council for consideration at its Jan. 9 meeting.

The committee also recommended to the council several other resolutions related to budget matters, including one that would create a new special revenue fund for intergovernmental grants and a resolution that would require City Council approval for transfer of city general funds of more than $250,000. The current limit that city staff can transfer within the general fund without City Council approval is $999,999.

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.