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EDC heads into new fiscal year with bigger budget

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Michael Espiritu, president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp.

After the approval of its contract with the city of Roswell, the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. will go into the next fiscal year with more local government funding than allocated for the current year.

The Roswell City Council voted 7-2 Thursday night to accept the new contract with the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. that will give the organization $96,000 for its operating funds for fiscal year 2020-21. The city also has agreed to provide up to $25,000 more for special programming or projects during the year, upon approval of the city manager.

In addition, the City Council previously agreed that the EDC will administer a new Roswell Opportunity for Advancement Revolving (ROAR) loan program, which will use $150,000 in city funds to help businesses.

“At a time like now, with the coronavirus, economic development is even more important than ever as we extend our service to companies here and also market and sell our city to other companies,” said Michael Espiritu, president of the Economic Development Corp.

He said that the three main priorities of the group will be to help existing companies, recruit new businesses and develop the workforce.

The city funding is a decrease from the current fiscal year that ends June 30. It allocated $120,000 to the group for 2019-20. But the county’s upcoming funding is considerably higher. Chaves County provided $50,000 to the RCCEDC spread out over the course of the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The Economic Development Corp. also receives membership fees to support its operations. Espiritu said it is projecting about $70,000 from its 125 members for the coming year.

Espiritu, who joined the group in September 2019, said that, while the government funding increase this year compared to last is welcomed, county and city funding had been significantly higher about four to five years ago.

“This will really get us back in the area where we can make some good progress toward our aims,” he said, “but it certainly doesn’t represent spending that is over the top compared to previous years.”

Espiritu has been praised since his arrival for his projects and efforts, as well as having more frequent communication with county and city officials. But he did face questioning from the City Council.

Asked how he proposed to make the city and county “magically” work together on a $5 million Roswell Air Center project that has received pending state capital outlay funding, Espiritu acknowledged the need for the county and city to work better together, while also saying that funding was intended to help create jobs.

“I certainly concur that stronger communications between the city and the county need to happen,” he said. “Since I have been here to Roswell, that’s an area that I have found probably a little challenging. The EDC’s role in all of this is for all of us to work together to make good things happen for the people who live in the southeastern part of New Mexico, which is here. I fully understand that we might not always agree on the road to get to the destination, but I also believe strongly that all of us and everyone of you believes in doing what is right for the citizens of Roswell and Chaves County.”

According to information presented to the City Council, 80% of the city funding to the EDC is expected to be used for purposes that benefit business retention and recruitment efforts, while 20% could be used for technical assistance and services.

Councilors Margaret Kennard and Jeanine Corn Best voted against the contract after peppering Espiritu with many questions about the EDC operation, past activities and budget.

Both said they supported the EDC and its efforts, but thought the amount being allocated by the city was too high, given the city’s need for significant budget cuts.

“During this time of financial cuts to the city budget, every consideration must be made and each expenditure must be examined,” Kennard said in explaining her vote. “Our beloved zoo, museum and, of course, golf course are not exempt. After all the cuts in the budget and in each department, and in an effort not to have to layoff employees, the city is furloughing each employee for a total of 10 days. So I understand and appreciate what the EDC does. My issue is with the amount. Because of the amount, I cannot support the contract as written.”

Best said, “I think $96,000 is too much. I think $76 (thousand) would have been more comfortable in my era.”

Support for the EDC and the contract was voiced by Councilor Judy Stubbs. She said that she and other councilors, city staff and the EDC worked for several months to create the new contract and to ensure the EDC works with the three other business development organizations in the city, the Roswell Chamber of Commerce, the Roswell Hispano Chamber of Commerce and MainStreet Roswell.

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