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City committee delays event funding requests

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A group of Roswell city councilors has decided to delay taking any action on providing funding support to upcoming local events.

Nine different groups recently asked for funding from the city’s Lodgers’ Tax Fund, which supports marketing and promotion for events that will bring tourists and overnight visitors to the city.

But the four members of the Roswell City Council Finance Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to table consideration of the requests, given the uncertainty about both the coronavirus situation and the city’s finances.

The event organizers asked for funding totaling $35,546 for events starting in early July into the winter months.The requests ranged from $500 to $9,400. They included some of the city’s largest annual tourist draws, including the UFO Festival and Eastern New Mexico State Fair.

“I just think we are at this place where we just need to make a decision and we’ve got to be conservative in our thinking right now,” said Chair Jason Perry. “So I do think it is wise to consider tabling until further notice.”

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One person associated with an event made a comment during the meeting. Perry Toles, an organizer of the 37th Annual Bottomless Lakes Triathlon, explained to the committee that the event will proceed in some manner, no matter what the state public health orders might be. He objected to a recommendation of the Occupancy Tax Board that no funding be provided for this year’s event, now scheduled for July 11.

“We don’t know what the governor is going to do and we are awaiting,” Toles said. “But let me tell you a couple of things. I think we have done a great job of putting heads in beds. I think last year was the most people who spent the night in Roswell” for the 36 years of the event.

He said the race could be run with just a few people at a time and scheduled to occur over many different weekends, if public health orders continue to limit gatherings to five or fewer people. He also said the organizers are prepared for the regular one-day triathlon if state orders change to allow that.

The councilors’ decision followed presentations about preliminary budget concerns on coronavirus impacts and a debate among some members about whether current state orders and decisions by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham are sound or are unfair and causing too much hardship to business owners and the city.

Right now, the city is projecting that it will need to reduce its fiscal year 2021 budget by $32.86 million, a 25.3% reduction from what had been approved. City staff said that they have reduced the budgeted number of city employee positions by 50 and could need to lay off 10 to 15 employees beyond that, depending on how long “stay-at-home” orders remain in effect.

The Lodgers’ Tax Fund has a cash balance of $1.17 million and is expected to receive at least $886,000 in fiscal year 2021, which starts in July, according to a staff presentation. But the special events line of the fund was budgeted for only $61,888 for the current fiscal year and $50,000 for fiscal year 2021.

Some councilors contended that the 20% reductions for tourism-related revenues is probably too little and that bed fees and lodgers’ tax will decline more than other revenue sources.

Perry also shared with the committee a chart developed by the New Mexico Municipal League that rates activities on a range from low risk to high risk depending on the number of people involved and the level of contact.

A low-risk event would have few people with six feet or more separating each person. The highest risk events would have a lot of people in close contact with each other.

Perry said that given Lujan Grisham’s announced phased reopening plans, mass gatherings, festivals and fairs of more than 100 people would be prohibited even into July.

Councilor Jacob Roebuck, who created the Christmas Railway event, said he wanted to encourage other event organizers, calling them “heroes” of the community.

He said he thought it was wise to table financial requests “indefinitely” and also said that the city might rethink the way it provides assistance to events, providing billboards, for example, as opposed to money.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.