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Budget concerns tint Finance Committee decisions

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A group of Roswell city councilors made some initial decisions Thursday to spend some city funds and create special budget funds, typically routine business that this year is fraught with issues as the city is considering budget cuts for next year of $31 million and unpaid furloughs of up to 80 hours for all staff.

The four members of the Finance Committee voted unanimously on two items that, if approved by the full City Council on June 11, will allow the city to issue Requests for Proposals for professional services for two different projects.

They also agreed to put forward for full council consideration for the creation of three new special revenue funds for the Roswell Museum and Art Center, the Nancy Lopez Golf Course at Spring River and the Spring River Zoo.

Presented as a way to help those operations retain the revenues they generate as the city works to making them more financially self-sufficient, some people said the city was “devaluing” these units, a contention city staff and some councilors denied.

 

Initial approval for RFPs

The first RFP approved by the group is to hire consultants to develop and help the city implement a wayfinding plan. That would create cohesive and upgraded signage and directional markers for the city.

That project has long been a city priority, according to city councilors and staff, and some work toward that has occurred with five entryway signs to the city already erected and Main Street directional signs due to be installed in about six months.

A committee document indicated that the consulting contract would be about $60,000, but Director of Public Affairs Juanita Jennings said actually that there is no certain dollar amount to provide at this time. She also said the implementation of the plan probably would take up to three fiscal years.

Councilor Juan Oropesa said he thinks the project is important, but said it seems more like a luxury than a necessity.

“We may have the money available,” he said. “But is it to the point where this is more important than the other things, when we are talking about layoffs and we are talking about furloughs and we are talking about those kinds of things?”

Councilors Jason Perry and Jacob Roebuck said they thought better signage to direct people to city attractions could help generate revenues.

“I think this is a mechanism to help build a greater Roswell,” he said, explaining that it would help visitors to the city understand its offerings and attractions, and increase the likelihood that they would spend the night at hotels and eat at restaurants.

Jennings also explained that wayfinding projects can be funded by lodgers’ taxes, which cannot be used for a lot of other city projects or services.

The second RFP seeks an engineering and design firm to create the concept and design of a new outdoor marketplace and event venue near the downtown area.

This services will be paid mostly by a $100,000 Great Blocks grant received by MainStreet Roswell from the New Mexico Economic Development District and its New Mexico Main Street division, with the city providing $20,000 in matching funds. The Roswell City Council previously had approved the grant submission and acceptance.

The envisioned Market Walk would occupy a three-block area from about Walnut Street to Third Street.

 

Public reacts to “self-sufficiency” idea

The discussion about the special revenue funds took up a big chunk of the time and came on the heels of a Wednesday budget workshop, with the city due to pass a fiscal year 2021 budget within the month.

At the workshop, City Manager Joe Neeb discussed many topics, including his proposal to make the museum, zoo and golf course less dependent on city funding. By the beginning of fiscal year 2022, or starting July 2021, they would be expected to earn 70% of their operating funds.

The committee was only asked to consider creating the three special revenue funds so that the city can better track its revenues and expenses and so that the money each unit generates stays with it. Neeb said that, otherwise, revenues they make go to the general fund, where 66% of the funds are used for police and fire.

The committee agreed to forward on that idea to the entire City Council, but not until a lot of discussion about whether making the units separate was intended to help them thrive or to diminish them.

Neeb and Councilors Perry, Roebuck and Margaret Kennard said the city values these assets and wants them to flourish. Neeb also said the community will be willing to pay for and support those services that they value.

Perry also said that, even if the museum and zoo have to start charging admission to make money, there would be free days for the community and that local schools would have free access at times, as well.

Oropesa said he was “not sold” at all on the concept of requiring these units to be self-sufficient, saying that he thinks that municipalities should provide such “quality of life” services for its taxpayers.

Councilor Barry Foster, although not a member of the committee, informed the group that he intends to propose a stepped approach over a couple of years before the zoo and museum are required to earn 70% of their budgets. The golf course is already at 63%, he said, so he thought that operation could achieve that objective, but the other operations earn less than 20% of their operating costs.

Three members of the public — including Laurie Rufe, the former director of the Roswell Museum and Art Center and 24-year city employee; and Nancy Fleming, the director of the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art — expressed the importance of these “quality of life” services to the city and especially youth.

The museum professionals also said they were concerned that the intent is to “sideline” or devalue the importance of the museum to the community.

Rufe took issue with the budget designation of the museum as a Tier 4 entity, defined, in part, as “specialized services” that have “no direct benefit for the community as a whole.”

“To me, that is a disconnect,” Rufe said. “It is a disservice to the museum and it devalues it.”

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