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Bilberry to run again for county commission

Republican Jeff Bilberry is running to keep his seat on the Chaves County Board of Commissioners. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Ranching executive discusses priorities for a second term

Chaves County Commissioner and commercial ranching company executive Jeff Bilberry has decided to seek a second term.

The Republican who is vice chairman of the five-member commission joined the group as the District 3 commissioner in January 2017 after the November 2016 elections. He said that his future work on the Board of Commissioners if re-elected would include ensuring adequate federal payments for public lands in the county, making good decisions with taxpayers’ money and promoting economic growth in the area.

“There are a lot of things coming in the future with the oilfields and navigating the private property rights for the people in the county and helping this county grow economically and helping it develop to its fullest potential,” he said.

His first four years have been a learning experience, he said, and he described county government as “having a lot of moving parts” beyond roads, budgets and the Sheriff’s Office. The past two years, he said, he has become more involved in working on county issues.

One of his major endeavors has been talking with federal legislators to ensure that the county receives sufficient funding from federal agencies for public lands. Because the federal government does not pay property taxes to counties, federal policies mandate that they make other payments. But there have been times in the past that Congress did not provide enough funding to make full payments.

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“One of the biggest things for me is the funding through PILT (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) and SRS (Secure Rural Schools) and having to lobby for those things in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “They are very important to our county because there is so much BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and public land. You find out the further east you go, the less people understand about that, so it is important to be on top of that and keep our legislators and congressmen and representatives that do know about it, to help support them and help them to get it done.”

He said the next four years also will require commissioners to deal with the housing, infrastructure and policing issues expected to be involved with an expansion of oilfield workers into the county.

He also said that he works to keep taxes low and will continue to support the county’s agricultural base, which includes a strong, nationally recognized dairy and farming presence in the Pecos Valley, and a meat packing company he and other commissioners are proud of and want to help continue to grow.

Bilberry also anticipates that Chaves County could reopen its juvenile detention center as a regional unit. Although he and the other commissioners voted for its closure in December because of high operating costs compared to low occupancy, he said that he did so knowing that the building will remain as is and can be reopened quickly if needed.

“I did have some heartburn about that, trying to make sure we are making the right decision,” he said. “One thing I do know is that, in 60 days, if we decide to open it back up, we just have to get it accredited again.”

Bilberry, 58, serves as the vice president for Singleton Ranches, a group he has worked with for almost three decades. In this role, he oversees three ranches in California as well as ranches in Chaves, DeBaca, Guadalupe, Torrance and Santa Fe counties in New Mexico.

He and his wife, Cheree, have two adult children: Trent, a ranch manager in Chaves and DeBaca counties, and Tori Bilberry Morris, who is married to Sterling Morris, of Perrin, Texas.

His family’s roots in Chaves County reach back to before the turn of the century, when his ancestors started a ranch in Kenna that still belongs to the family. He said his heritage means a lot to him and informs his decision about public service.

“I am fourth generation. My kids are fifth,” he said. “My people came here when there was nothing and helped — as many others did in this county who have roots that go far back. But I feel a calling, a duty, to that, to carry on what my family did who preceded me, for their vision of this county and their country and this area. I think we have a responsibility to that.”

Prior to being elected to the Board of Commissioners, he was on the Elida Municipal Schools Board of Education for 16 years, from 1996 to 2012. He and his children attended school in Elida, and he was on the board until a couple of years after his children graduated.

His other leadership roles include serving on the Agricultural Committee of the New Mexico State Land Office, the Animal Health Committee of the New Mexico Livestock Board and the Board of Directors for the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association. He also worked with junior livestock boards when his children were young.

Bilberry’s seat is only one of three on the Board of Commissioners in play during the 2020 elections. The District 2 seat held by T. Calder Ezzell Jr., who was elected to his first term in 2016, also will be decided, as will the District 4 seat now held by Robert Corn. Corn is serving his second consecutive term and cannot run for a third term in 2020.

The primaries for the elections are June 2. General elections are slated for Nov. 3.

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.