Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
In a split vote Monday night, the Roswell City Council passed a resolution calling “all businesses in Roswell as crucial to the well being of citizens.” While its supporters said it was a show of the city backing small business owners, one council member questioned the wisdom of opening the city too soon during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The resolution is, however, only a call to the state to consider changing the health order, Mayor Dennis Kintigh said.
“This is a request to the state of New Mexico to change the way we’re doing things,” he said after the meeting.
“The power to enforce public health orders lies exclusively with the state and its various arms,” he said. “We are trying to get the state’s attention.”
The council voted 6-4 in favor of a resolution submitted by Councilor Jacob Roebuck to substitute for the original proposed resolution drafted by Kintigh. Voting in favor were Councilors Barry Foster, Margaret Kennard, Jeanine Best, Savino Sanchez, Roebuck and Jason Perry.
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Roebuck’s original resolution would have deemed all businesses within the city to be “essential to the wellbeing” of Roswell citizens and advise them to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.
A motion by Perry, adopted by a 5-4 vote, changed some of the language of Roebuck’s resolution. Perry proposed the change because, he said, the city does not have the authority to change a mandate from the state. Councilors Stubbs, Kennard, Best, Sanchez and Perry voted in favor of the amendment, while Roebuck, Oropeza, Moore and Foster voted against.
“We can strengthen a statute,” he said. “We do not have the authority per our state constitution and the laws of this state to weaken any statute or mandate.”
Rather than using the words “deem” and “essential,” Perry’s motion changed the resolution to say the city council “believes all businesses within the city to be crucial to be wellbeing” of citizens.
Kintigh’s resolution would have asked Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to begin discussions with the city to implement policies that would allow businesses to reopen.
In introducing his resolution, Roebuck said the city is dealing with “two evils” — the health issue of the coronavirus and the economy.
The economy is about more than just money, he said.
“Money and dollars represent people’s hard work and represents people’s commitment to a business or to an idea and, ultimately, the way that we care for our families, the way our community grows, the way we invest in each other,” he said.
“Our citizens need our elected officials to stand up for them, to be their voice in this time,” he said.
The effects of business closures on the economy could last years or decades, he said.
The community has been patient and considerate of the health order closing businesses deemed non-essential, Roebuck said, but more information about the coronavirus and its spread should allow business in Roswell and southeast New Mexico to reopen.
Kintigh presented data he has been compiling over the last five weeks that he said supports that Roswell and the region have not been affected by the coronavirus like the northwest part of the state.
Kintigh said his data shows Chaves County has only about 0.8% of the state’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 and its doubling rate — the amount of time it takes for the number of cases to double — is in excess of 12 days.
“We have a strong, legitimate case to make for changing the department of health regulations for this part of New Mexico,” he said. “It’s not based upon passion, it’s not based on anything other than scientific data.
“The numbers are here. We do not have the situation that McKinley County has, Sandoval County, San Juan County, Bernalillo County,” he said, referring to the counties with the highest number of confirmed cases.
“We do not have this and we never have from day one,” he said.
Councilor Juan Oropesa, who voted against the measure, questioned the need for the resolution at all.
With Congress approving an additional $600 a week for unemployment insurance, many people in the community have a higher income than they had at their jobs and small business owners have also received protections and can receive unemployment, he said.
He emphasized the need to protect the people most vulnerable to the disease, namely the elderly, minorities and those in lower-income groups, all of whom he said often have underlying health issues that make them even more high risk for COVID-19.
“Yes, we are low as far as cases are concerned. Maybe we are doing the right thing because the numbers are showing it,” he said.
“I think we’re playing with people’s lives. I think if we can save one life here it’s well worth it,” he said.
Prior to the introduction of the resolution, the council heard from City Manager Joe Neeb, who gave some stark numbers regarding the effects of the pandemic on the city’s gross receipt taxes.
“We’re building a budget based on a reduction of 23% GRT for the budget year of 2021. That’s a conservative number,” he said.
The first GRT report effected by the pandemic will come in June, a month before the new budget begins. Neeb said he expects the first four months of the year will show a 50% reduction in GRT, then a gradual recovery through the rest of the year.
Neeb said he expects a $10.3 million reduction in the budget for personnel and operations. That will result in a 20% budget reduction for all departments except public safety, which will be cut by 5%, he said.
Those cuts will likely come from fewer hours of operation for city departments and fee increases, he said. Open positions have been frozen and removed from the budgets already.
“We are considering retirements, furloughs and the potential layoffs. That’s lower on the list, but in order to make that budget work we may have to get into that level,” he said.
The city will also examine what projects can be put off until the following fiscal year.
As far as the current fiscal year budget, Neeb said the city will be on budget even with a 50% reduction in GRT over the next two months with the service reductions and closures that have already taken place.
To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.
City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or firstname.lastname@example.org.