Corn calls bond ‘cause for concern,’ while Neeb says it makes good financial sense
A Chaves county elected official who lives in Roswell contended that a proposed $35 million public safety complex is a fiscally questionable endeavor that lacks proper planning, while the Roswell city manager said the project makes “good financial sense in the long run” and will help the city move forward.
City Manager Joe Neeb, while not speaking for or against the proposed complex because of his role as a city employee, presented information about the project on behalf of the city at Tuesday night’s 2020 Candidate Forum organized by the Leadership Roswell Alumni Association and held at the Roswell Convention & Civic Center.
Commissioner Robert Corn, one of the two county commissioners who live in the city limits, presented the argument against the project, which would be funded by general obligation bonds to be repaid by an increase in residential and commercial property taxes within the city limits.
The bond question is a citywide issue in the 2020 Municipal Election. Early and absentee voting is occurring now, and election day is March 3.
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Corn took the first turn in presenting facts and opinions, and he focused mainly on whether a $35 million general obligation bond makes sense for the city and taxpayers.
“I am here as a citizen, but, in my presentation, I think I will show you why a county commissioner needs to be worried about his stuff,” Corn said.
“This issue is not about the badge in my family,” he said. “This issue is about deferred maintenance. The city of Roswell uses that term a whole lot. That may be the best two words that they use out of the English language.”
Corn said the city needs to worry about streets, water lines and police station repairs. Improvements the city has made in recent years include four new fire stations and new bays at older stations. He said he had never heard before of the need for a fire station east of the train tracks. “But things change, I get it,” he said.
Corn pointed to the Chaves County Courthouse, built about 1918, that he said is still in good shape because the county doesn’t allow its facilities or properties to fall in disrepair.
“Deferred maintenance is not in our vocabulary in the county,” he said. “If it is, it is because we are figuring out a way to get the issue addressed, get the issue solved and move on.”
He referred to county and city audits posted on the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor website. Corn said that the 2019 county audit, which lists the debt for all governmental and taxing entities in the county, indicates that the 2018 ratio of general obligation debt to estimated actual valuation is 5.12%. The ratio of total direct and overlapped debt to total assessed value for the entire county is 15.36%.
“Then I started digging around and the city of Roswell shows to be 83.55%,” he said. “Little difference there, isn’t it?”
The reports also show that the city has spent $10,679,551 in debt service from 2015 to 2018. “So now you understand why I am a little concerned,” Corn said.
He also said that a 2018 city audit indicates that Roswell currently has a bonding capacity of only about $29 million. Although he conceded that a 2008 bond that is due to be paid off completely in 2022 will bring up the bonding capacity some, he doesn’t think that it will provide $35 million.
Corn also said that, contrary to what some proponents of the bond have said, his experience is that bond payments do not decrease over the years, that the bond contracts are similar to car loan agreements, where the payments stay the same until the entire loan is paid.
He concluded his remarks by stating, “No plan. No land. No money.” Those words referred to the decision by the city to seek the bond issue before it had architectural or engineering designs or a land deal for the facility.
Neeb, representing the city’s perspective because Mayor Dennis Kintigh had a scheduling conflict, said that the city did not want to spend $100,000 to $500,000 to develop preliminary designs without any assurance of funding. He explained that the Albuquerque Public School system spent $1.6 million for designs on a building that was never funded.
Neeb said that instead, the city was relying on facilities maintenance studies and reports completed by a professional firm in 2016 that shows what buildings need to be replaced and which can be repaired.
He added that Roswell looked at the city of Artesia public safety complex built in 2013 to come up with its $35 million estimate. He said that Roswell’s facility will be different in some ways and is planned now as 90,000 square feet and on 8 to 10 acres.
He explained consolidating functions will improve efficiencies and showed a slide that indicated the top five reasons that the chiefs of the city’s public safety units gave for wanting the complex. They included having a facility specifically designed to serve public safety needs, providing a good work environment to help with recruitment and retention of first reponders, readdressing current facility problems, and preparing for future growth in the city and in public safety units.
Turning to financial issues, he said that the city is financially strong, has audits without significant findings and has a “great” financial rating, which will allow the city to get good interest rates on bonds. He said the current revenue-to-debt ratio is 6.2%. If the bond is approved, the ratio would be 9.32%. He added that the industry standard for debt-to-income is 36%.
Neeb said that amounts taxpayers would have to pay over about 18 years — estimated at the beginning as a $118 a year increase for every $100,000 in full property value — could decrease as the years go on in several ways. The buildings vacated when the new complex is built could be sold to pay down the debt, and new homes and businesses coming into Roswell over the next 18 years would spread the debt out over a larger number of property owners.
He said the city would consider other options if the voters chose not to approve the bond, but also said the project makes good sense.
“There are no sides. There is one city, and we have to do this together,” Neeb said. “It is my job to ensure that citizens receive quality services for an affordable price. This project makes good financial sense in the long run. No matter which direction this bond decision goes, I believe in Roswell and I hope you do, too.”
To keep up with coverage of this and other 2020 elections of local and regional interest, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/elections/.
Editor’s Note: Additional coverage of the Municipal Elections Forum will appear in a future edition of the Daily Record.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at email@example.com.