Issues ranging from infrastructure, to police and city finances were discussed Tuesday by three candidates in the race for an open Ward 2 seat on the Roswell City Council.
For about 30 minutes Tuesday night, candidates Bonnie Bitzer, Ed Heldenbrand and Jason Perry took to the stage at the 2020 Municipal Election Candidate Forum. Hosted by the Leadership Roswell Alumni Association, the forum was likely the final chance for candidates in each of the five City Council seats and one municipal judge race to be heard ahead of the March 3 municipal elections.
After two decades representing his northern Roswell ward, councilor Steve Henderson late last year opted not to run for re-election. Perry, who previously represented Ward 4 on the council, is being faced with political newcomers Bitzer and Heldenbrand in the race to succeed Henderson.
A retired certified public accountant and auditor, Bitzer said she decided to enter the race several months ago, in part because she believes the city is not focused enough on the needs of the people.
“I don’t like the fact that the local government seems to be putting their bottom lines and profits ahead of services to people,” she said.
One example, she said, is the city’s discussions about possibly charging fees for the use of facilities such as the Roswell Adult and Recreation Center and Spring River Zoo, to cover the cost of maintaining them. Fees are already in place at the Roswell Recreation & Aquatic Center.
Bitzer said those facilities have traditionally been maintained by the city without fees and should remain that way.
“Cost recovery is a nice term that is used in businesses, but that is something we should not be doing with the city of Roswell,” she said.
Bitzer said her expertise as an accountant could benefit the council. A few months ago, she obtained a copy of an audit performed on the city and found what she deemed four obvious errors in the first 10 pages.
Heldenbrand, a certified financial officer with the Krumland Auto Group, also stressed his background in finance. A self-described fiscal conservative, Heldenbrand said he has made a career managing the wealth of others and will be a good steward of taxpayers’ money.
“When I hear of items in the budget that have gone over budget somewhere, well guess what? Another item had to suffer because of an overrun in the budget. Why did that item suffer and the citizens suffer?” he asked.
Heldenbrand has been a city resident for 32 years.
Perry, a pastor at the New Hope Baptist Church in Artesia and father of seven children, spoke about his journey to Roswell.
A native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Perry worked for several years in Mexico as a church planter and at a boys’ home. He and his family were offered many opportunities in locations across the United States, but Perry said after much prayer, he and his wife chose Roswell.
“We believe we made the right choice and we are grateful to be raising our children here,” he said.
A member and president of many organizations, Perry said his grandfather instilled within him the importance of service to the community.
“I am a firm conservative and try to serve my community in a conservative way,” Perry said.
Needs of Ward 2
Bitzer said the needs of the ward in which she resides are many but the biggest she hears about the most are the conditions of the city’s roads.
“The roads are awful,” she said.
Bitzer said years ago, a study was conducted that determined the city would have to spend $11 million annually to rehabilitate and maintain the city’s roads.
Money, Bitzer said, would be better spent on roads than the $35 million public safety complex that is being considered, though the money for each of those comes from different funds.
Heldenbrand said the condition of the city’s infrastructure is something he hears about a lot, along with the need for additional police officers.
He explained that recently he spoke with a young officer who is preparing to start raising a family. The officer said that though he enjoys his job, he worries that the long hours an officer must work will likely place more stress on him.
Though he conceded he does not have all the answers, Heldenbrand said the city needs to find ways to recruit and retain more officers.
“Let’s talk to people and find out what they believe and maybe find creative ways to attract officers to this community,” he said.
Perry said the topics voters in Ward 2 have brought up are gun rights and healthcare.
Individuals worry that laws being made in Santa Fe will infringe upon their Second Amendment rights, he said.
Passage of Senate Bill 5, which would allow a person to petition a court to have firearms and ammunition temporarily confiscated from someone that a district court determines poses a risk to themselves or other people.
Perry touted his past work on the City Council in making it possible for city employees with concealed-carry permits to arm themselves on the job.
On the issue of healthcare, Perry did not give specifics but contended there are actions he believes the city can take in that area.
Heldenbrand and Perry declined to state where they stood on a proposed general obligation bond to design and construct a new $35 million public safety complex, while Bitzer came out against it.
The decision on whether to support the bond issue is a determination each voter should make individually and based on the facts, Heldenbrand said. However, he said most people he has spoken to oppose the bond issue.
“They don’t feel there’s a plan put together as to where it goes, a plan as to what the true cost is, but then I tell them during that dialogue with them that you need to make that decision based on what you feel the facts are,” Heldenbrand said.
A father of a Roswell police officer, Perry said he wants officers and firefighters to have the resources they need to do their jobs and come home safe at night. Many people, though, feel they are not getting the important information they need to get behind the bond issue.
Bitzer said she opposes the bond issue because she thinks it does not make much financial sense.
She said the cost of rehabilitating the existing police station is about $7 million, the same amount it cost to build the Roswell Convention & Civic Center.
The estimated price tag of the public safety complex does not accurately reflect the true price tag, which she said would include repairing the buildings that would be sold if the complex is completed.
“So we are not talking $35 million, we are talking $35 million, and fixing the ones (buildings) they are keeping, which is about another $10 million,” Bitzer said.
However, Perry said if voters reject the bond issue, he hopes the city will work toward finding another solution.
“I hope by then we can get our community together, if that was to happen, and come together and do what we have to do to allow our men and women who are serving us, both in the police department and fire department, to be able to do the best job,” Perry said.
Tourism and economic growth
All three candidates agreed that tourism has been a plus for Roswell.
Perry said the efforts to promote tourism is good, but he wants to see the city enjoy the benefits of tourism while growing more in terms of employment.
He said the city is in collaboration with the county to bring good jobs to the area.
Tourism brings the city hotels, restaurants and money, but she said the city could better spend its money to enhance the quality of life in the city.
She said the city is willing to spend $600,000 on signs welcoming people to Roswell, but when organizers of the Walk For Life wanted $2,400 in expenses waived to hold their event, the city denied that request.
“Again, the priorities just don’t make sense to me,” Bitzer said.
Heldenbrand agreed that tourism is a plus, but that it is more than just bringing people to the community, but also making a lasting impression so they will stay and spend their money.
The city should look at working with outside groups to come in and create other activities and events that will make tourists want to stay longer.
Regarding economic development, Heldenbrand said one of the greatest assets the city has is the Roswell Air Center.
“So we need to take that asset and turn it into some economic development for us,” he said.
To keep up with coverage of this and other 2020 elections of local and regional interest, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/elections/.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.