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Kintigh, Best discuss $35 million bond issue

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Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Mayor, Public Safety Committee chair address proposed public safety complex

Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

In addition to races for positions on the Roswell City Council and a municipal judgeship, the March 3 local elections will put before voters a $35 million general obligation bond issue to support obtaining land for, planning and constructing a new public safety complex. The City Council on Oct. 10 approved placing the item on the March 3 ballot for the local electorate to decide.

The new complex would bring Fire Department administration, the Police Department, a fire station, municipal court, emergency communications and other first-response functions under one roof. A specific location has yet to be determined, but East Second Street, east of the railroad tracks, has been mentioned as a desired vicinity.

The bonds to finance the project are expected to be paid off over 18 years. The obligation

Jeanine Corn Best, Ward 3 city councilor and Public Safety Committee chair, sat down for an interview with the RDR recently about the public safety complex and bond issue. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

would initially raise property taxes $118 a year — or $9.83 a month — for a person whose property has a full taxable value of $100,000. The monthly tax obligation would be reduced after the first two years, and would be reduced gradually in other subsequent years over the life of the debt, according to city officials.

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In an effort to provide readers with additional information, Daily Record editor John Dilmore and senior writer Lisa Dunlap last week interviewed Mayor Dennis Kintigh and Ward 3 City Councilor Jeanine Corn Best — who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee — about the public safety complex and bond issue.

The interview is being published in multiple parts. The following excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.

RDR: The $35 million is a big number and a lot of people have focused on that. What do people need to know beyond the number?

Kintigh: “That’s a reasonable question. There’s two things we have to look at. One of them is: What if we do nothing? … Staff came to us last summer, and this is what kind of galvanized it for me, is that we’re talking almost $18 million deferred maintenance. Almost $18 million.”

RDR: On the current police station?

Kintigh: “And others (other facilities). We’re talking the whole spectrum. Here’s the thing: Fire Station 2 is the oldest. Fire Station 2 has two bays that are almost obsolete. … They have two bays that are more modern, that were done 12 to 15 years ago. But once again, it’s a small, old, archaic station. It needs to be replaced. …

“Just taking care of other facilities. The most egregious, of course, is the police station. Fifty-seven-year-old former bank building, with renovation needs — and the challenge is if we do that, we still have a 57-year-old former bank building that’s not optimized for police purposes.

“One of the other things we don’t talk about is the fire administration. The fire chief has a senior staff, his division chiefs and his battalion chiefs, but not everybody’s under one roof. He’s got his fire marshal down at the old Fire Station 5, which is Gayle and Washington. … And if you talk to Chief (Devin) Graham, he’ll say every day he’s calling up (the fire marshal) and saying ‘Where are you, where can we get together?’ It’s not efficient.

“The obvious question is, if we did spend this money on these facilities (maintaining existing facilities), how much time does it buy us? Does it buy us five years? Does it buy us three years?”

Best: “These ladies (employees) have heaters underneath their desks to stay warm. The boys up top are sitting in 86 degrees in these evidence rooms going through evidence, or talking to these prisoners.

“To get their prisoners up there, they’re walking up and down a hall that’s completely open and the police officers are sitting at their desks. The police officers are going to their cars with a fence outside that everybody can see over, and take a pot-shot at them.

“We are so unsafe in today’s world of public safety, it’s crazy. It’s crazy. We’ve got to fix that.

“The heating, the air — when it rains they have to put sandbags out to keep the bay from flooding. It’s ridiculous.

“Again … we spend this money to fix this, we have an old building, we have to reconfigure it, which is knocking down walls or whatever the case may be, to bring it up to code. We don’t have appropriate IT in it. Just like our ladies sitting down at the county building (where dispatch is located) — there’s not appropriate IT there for the radio system that we need to put in to keep our boys safe. They’re not safe. We’re biding time.”

On the subject of anticipated improvements to operations resulting from a new public safety complex:

Kintigh: “One of the key things to me is that with this $35 million … we would take our public safety to a new level. Public safety … you guys (Daily Record) interviewed me … nine murders last year (in Roswell), that’s off the charts. Albuquerque, 82 — record number for them. It’s all over the state. How do we upgrade public safety? One of the keys is making sure your team has a facility that optimizes their activities. Efficient as possible.

“Everybody’s having trouble recruiting. This is not my claim — this is the claim of Chief Graham and (Police Chief Phil) Smith — they believe it will help them with recruiting, it will be a facility that attracts young candidates. I see where they’re coming from — I don’t like to over-promise and under deliver.”

Best: “It’s really not an over-promise. You walk a recruit through the bank (existing police station). Come on. Really? These police officers aren’t safe. When they come in to rest, they’re not safe. There’s prisoners going up and down to these rooms. It’s not safe. We’ve put them in a bad situation. …”

On the subject of what would happen to existing facilities:

Best: “Those buildings that we vacate, that’s going to sell, and that’s going to go back on the tax rolls. …

“We’re not keeping all the buildings … I was reading on Facebook, somebody was saying, ‘Well you’re just adding to these buildings.’ We’re not.”

RDR: So each of the existing buildings would be sold off?

Kintigh: “Here’s the spectrum: The administrative portions of Fire Station 1, where the fire chief is right now, that’s going to remain … Fire Station 1 will remain there. We re-did the bays about six years ago. Built brand new truck bays. But where the administration (portion) … I foresee that being utilized for some other city services because it’s integrated with an existing city building.

“The challenge with it is, parking is totally inadequate, so I don’t see it being one where you have a lot of public interaction.

“Police station — sell that, get what we can. … tear it down, build a hotel.

“The staff’s going to evaluate each structure in between. Some we may keep, using the proceeds from the sales to bring them up to standards and repurpose them, and then get rid of some other stuff. There’s one, possibly two we’d keep … the police station, definitely get rid of.”

RDR: So the financial aspect is, you’re looking at spending millions of dollars on these places to keep them functional enough to keep using them, with no real promise of how far down the road that gets you; and then there’s a safety aspect with the PD specifically. It’s vulnerable. Have there been incidents inside the police station that resulted from it being inadequately structured?

Kintigh: “I don’t know of any personally.”

Best: “I believe that there has never been a building built in Roswell specifically for the Police Department. They have always overtaken some other building, such as the airport, the terminal — the old one … that we tore down.”

Kintigh: “When I got here … that was the police station. And it had been the police station since, like, the late ‘60s.”

Best: “Back in that day, I think it was OK. I don’t think we had the situations that we have now. I know it was a hard-working environment. But the situations that we have now are crazy. They are crazy, and they’re getting crazier.”

Kintigh: “The (station) before that was what’s now the Army-Navy store at Second and Garden — that was the police station before that. You’ve got to find some real old-timers to talk about that. …”

On the subject of other changes it’s hoped the proposed new facility could bring about:

Kintigh: “It will enhance the quality — and quality is always difficult to measure. I mean, we’re not going to suddenly have an additional 15 officers. But it’s important. What it does is, it brings together these different entities. One of the things I’m most excited about is the emergency operations center. Why is that big? Right now we’re, once again, fractured. We don’t have everyone making command decisions in one location. The emergency management coordinator, Karen Sanders’ office is in Fire Station 3 behind the Target. Dispatch is down there at the … county offices. We know where police and fire are.

“The ideal situation in my mind would be to have everything at one location.

“I know that moving dispatch to a new location has raised some eyebrows. I get that.”

RDR: Among other local governmental entities?

Kintigh: “Yes. My response to that is, the interesting tidbit is, that those are all employees of the city of Roswell. The equipment that they use is city equipment. When there’s a malfunction with the computers, it’s the city IT that goes there. They have to go from one location to get down there, so once again, we’re not optimizing the time of our people.

“In a crisis situation, the ideal situation, in my estimation, in my experience, is you have a communications hub, dispatch, across the hall you have your command post — it’s an emergency operations center that has the decision-makers: the city fire chief, the city police chief — key people like that in the room where they can get the information and issue the commands.

“This came up throughout the discussion I had with the fire chief. … It’s something we all know consciously, but we really haven’t articulated it for a while. We all know we’re 200 miles from anything bigger. We get that …

“But it also means that within that 200 miles, we are the biggest. If something bad happens here — a tornado rips through town — we will not get any help … at least for five or six hours. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean that Albuquerque doesn’t want to come. They will. There are good people there, same with Las Cruces. They will want to come. Artesia will want to come … Artesia is small, they will have to keep some of their resources back to cover their own community. They will give us what they can … but the load will be heavy.

“We’ve got to be in a position to optimize what we have, because it’s going to be — if it happens — a challenge.”

RDR: How would other local first response agencies be impacted (if the proposed new public safety complex is built)?

Kintigh: “Dispatch dispatches for everybody, whether it’s Lake Arthur or Roswell PD. In my scenario … we would retain the facility down at the county administration offices as a backup, because right now we have no backup in Chaves County. Until about three years ago, it was the State Police out there on West Second. But … they moved all their dispatch in southern New Mexico to Las Cruces. So there’s none anywhere in this county.

“And, I’m told, (it will) impact our ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating.”

Editor’s note: ISO ratings measure a community’s effectiveness in fighting fires. Improving fire-fighting operations and effectiveness can improve a community’s rating, and with it, insurance rates.

Best: “The ISO rating … that will help us if we go to the east side of the tracks.

“Right now, the trains are getting longer and longer … so, if we move this over … we’ve got a fire station over there. Right now we do not.

“People don’t think that we think … they think that we’re just jumping out there and wanting to raise taxes. They don’t get, ‘No — we’re not.’

“They say, ‘Well, do it like the Recreation Center and use the GRT (gross receipts tax).’ The GRT is taken up with the Recreation Center. And they say, ‘Well, you’re not taking care of it like you didn’t do the Yucca or the Cahoon.’ Not us — previous administrations …

“We’re being proactive as a group. We’re not sitting back and saying, ‘Roswell’s not going to grow.’ We know it’s going to grow. The people don’t understand the Recreation Center is GRT because everybody uses it — county, everybody. The Civic Center, already done — lodgers’ tax.”

Kintigh: “And bed fee. Actually primarily bed fee.”

On the subject of long-term financial impacts:

Best: “They say we want everybody to pay. … We’ve got to do a bond. When we do the bond, that money that (was) going to do maintenance on those buildings will go to roads.”

Kintigh: “Or salaries.”

Best: “It loosens that money up every year because that’s an every-year fix. Because these buildings are so bad.”

Kintigh: “That’s a key point. If we do not do this, we will be faced with the issue of pulling from the general fund the revenue to do the maintenance … the same general fund services the cost of repairing and replacing roads. I’ve seen some talk about, well, we need to give our folks a better salary. That’s also … competing.”

Best: “It unties our hands a little bit.”

Kintigh: “With the GO (general obligation) bond, we would have the revenue stream to build a facility. It will take us … three years from approval to ribbon cutting. Maybe a little less. …

“And what you start to see is you do not have those maintenance costs anymore, so that frees up your ability to provide other services.”

RDR: Were options other than a combined facility discussed? For instance, just a new police station, since that’s the biggest immediate need?

Kintigh: “We talked about that off and on over the years. The beauty of this is the centralization of all your first responders and all your public safety and enhanced effectiveness. This is not a new concept or unique to Roswell. It’s nationwide, the concept of bringing these key first responders, public safety people under one roof. … Let’s talk a little bit about the money. I know that’s what’s bothering a lot of people. …

“It goes down after the first two years — it goes down another two years after that. This level of bond is based upon an assumption of a 4.5% interest rate. When Las Cruces went out for their $35 million bond, I believe it was September, they got it at 2.49%. That will reduce the level and the burden.

“I believe we could do that well or close to that well, but I cannot make that commitment, so I will not go out and say to people it will be less than $10 — I can confidently say $10 for every $100,000 in value. I am optimistic it can be less, but I am not making that commitment. But I will also say that after two years, it drops, and continues to drop.

“The $10 a month goes down to about $8.65 per month, and then after two years it goes down to $7.87 — and after five years it drops again. …

“There’s all kinds of equivalencies, you know, like Netflix is $9, $13 or $16 a month, Amazon Prime is …”

Best: “It’s a 30-pack of Coors …”

Kintigh: “It ends in 18 years. It’s done in 18 years. …

“Here’s what I will say about this group of councilors, staff and myself: We are not comfortable kicking the can down the road anymore. We could try squeezing out a few more years, but the challenge is, where does it get us? Things aren’t going to get any better. Right now, interest rates are very low. The ability to borrow money … it’s the optimal time to provide the city with a facility that meets their needs.

Editor’s note: Additional portions of this interview will be published in a future edition of the Daily Record.

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