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Public forum addresses city’s pandemic response

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The topic of Thursday evening’s virtual public forum by the city of Roswell was citizen involvement, but those submitting questions were interested in topics including coronavirus, economic development and sidewalks.

City Manager Joe Neeb gave a 20-minute presentation on Citizen Advisory Boards, Commissions and Committees over the online meeting service GoToMeeting in the city’s second monthly forum.

At its highest count, the software showed 19 people attending either online or by listening on a phone. That included Neeb and City Councilor Jeanine Best.

During the slide presentation, Neeb discussed the city’s five standing committees and three service boards or committees, which include 64 members appointed from the citizenry. He highlighted the positions that are currently open to residents — three on the Commission on Aging and two on the newly formed Keep Roswell Beautiful Committee.

For the rest of the hour-long forum, he answered questions from the public, six of which had been submitted anonymously prior to the meeting through an online survey.

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Several of those questions addressed the city’s response during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

One question asked why Mayor Dennis Kintigh is not enforcing the state’s mask-wearing mandate.

Neeb said in Roswell’s form of mayor-council government, it is the City Council that makes the laws and directs the city manager’s actions.

“The mayor is an influential position. It is one that assists with that structure. I consider it the CEO position, but anything that the mayor decides to impart on the city, it still has to go through the City Council,” Neeb said.

Another question asked what medical experts the city is working with to develop and enforce safety practices.

“All of them,” Neeb responded.

He outlined how the city and community health care providers met in a workshop on March 19 on the pandemic.

“The city is still meeting on a weekly basis with the hospitals, area doctors and various other officials in order to stay attuned to what all of these actions are as we walk through this,” Neeb said.

“Our emergency manager, Karen Sanders, constantly on a day-to-day basis is nudging the system so that we can make sure that we are keeping our public as safe as possible,” he said.

Another question asked what the city is doing to help in the recovery of local businesses. The anonymous questioner said their business relies on overnight stays and said they could not stay afloat under the current health restrictions.

Neeb showed the meeting’s viewers the website of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corporation (EDC). The site has a page with resources for businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including federal and state programs and tips on how to apply for them.

“As far as the city goes, we can assist in delaying the payment of utility bills and other fee structures,” Neeb said.

The city will possibly play a larger role in aiding businesses as the pandemic continues, he said.

“One of the things that is our concern, or that we watch very closely, is that the federal funds, the state funds will eventually stop. At that point in time, I believe that’s where the city and Chaves County become even more important to help us go a little bit further and close those gaps until the economy can fully recover,” Neeb said.

He also mentioned the Roswell Opportunity for Advancement Revolving Loan program, administered by the EDC and seeded in May with $150,000 by the Roswell City Council. The money can be used for expenses such as upgrades to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act or to add fire suppression, Neeb said.

“This program will be operated through the EDC but it’s the City Council that initiated the program to provide some of our dollars that can be used for economic development back to the business community to help. We are interested in hearing other opportunities that we can do with that,” he said.

The city is looking beyond the current health orders as well, he said.

“Once we know that we can start reopening into the gaiting criteria or the phasing, we do have marketing and attractions plans for the region and nation ready to go,” Neeb said.

The city had prepared the marketing material before the pandemic but held off on spending the money as restrictions were put in place.

In a non-pandemic topic, another question asked what the city is doing to attract bigger businesses to Roswell and commented professionals don’t want to stay because there are no amenities and the Roswell Aquatic Center is not bringing people to town.

Neeb said the key to attracting large businesses is a well-trained workforce.

“That is one of the biggest challenges the EDC is working with now,” Neeb said. Roswell is well-positioned for business with access to a railroad, a large airport and a four-lane highway, he said.

Neeb pointed to the dairy industry as a good partnership for the region, with farming providing food for the dairy cattle and the dairies supplying Leprino Foods Co., which employs more than 600 people.

The Air Center has also attracted airplane maintenance and repair companies, he said, and with the center storing hundreds of planes during the pandemic, the airlines have sent mechanics to keep them maintained.

“You have to understand you have to have the skilled workforce and that’s what we’re working on to try to keep those businesses there,” he said.

As for amenities, Neeb said Roswell does have plenty to offer, but value-added services like the Recreation and Aquatic Center are meant more to benefit residents than attract people to town.

“In Roswell, we do not have many items outside of our brand of aliens that bring people into our community,” he said.

“If you have a desire to belong to anything, then there are amenities out there. We have all these different pieces that a community of our size would not normally have but they help provide for the quality of life,” he said. He mentioned the museums and symphony, as well as the Recreation and Aquatic Center as examples.

“Quality of life is very important in today’s society of big business and our Millennial workforce,” he said.

Today’s mobile workforce, especially the Millennial generation, looks for the types of amenities they want in a community and then finds a job, Neeb said.

Another question asked, “When is the city going to fix sidewalks that were broken before they absolved themselves of repairing them?”

Neeb said the question was based on misinformation and showed viewers city code regarding sidewalks enacted in 1984. The code specifies that maintenance, repairs or reconstruction of sidewalks is the responsibility of property owners abutting the sidewalks.

“I just want to make sure you understand the city is not trying to absolve itself of its responsibilities. Responsibility falls on the owner of the property right now,” he said.

The city manages curbs and ramps because those are considered part of the street system, he said. Sidewalks that serve as recreation paths are also under the city’s responsibility. If the city causes sidewalk damage, it will be responsible for the repair or replacement.

Neeb also discussed the city’s sidewalk replacement program, in which the city will assist low-income homeowners with the costs.

A video of the forum will be posted on the city manager’s page on the city’s website. A video of the June forum, “All Civic: How It All Works Together,” can be found there along with a schedule for upcoming forums.

The next virtual public forum will be an open forum for Wards 3, 4 and 5 at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 20.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.