Home News COVID-19 Situation Staff shortages limit some city services

Staff shortages limit some city services

The Roswell Museum and Art Center, shown in this July file photo, is set to open Friday. Its galleries and the gift shop will be open 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. The planetarium will be open by appointment only. (Juno Ogle Photo)

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All city facilities and services will be available to the public in some capacity as of Friday, although a smaller city staff will mean limited availability in some cases.

“There will be different days and times just due to holidays and then availability of staffing at this point. We will encourage the citizens to call the different departments and to also check online on our website for types of operations and also the safety protocols that will be utilized,” Public Affairs Director Juanita Jennings said.

The Roswell Museum and Art Center opens at 1 p.m. Friday. On Wednesday, the Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center and Roswell Adult Center opened, and the Roswell Public Library opened Thursday.

While the Spring River Zoo is not open to the general public yet, it will take appointments for private tours beginning Friday.

The Roswell City Council on Monday voted to direct City Manager Joe Neeb to “open all city facilities and return all city services to normal operations.” Services such as the library, Recreation and Aquatic Center, and Adult Center were closed Nov. 16 when the state tightened restrictions on in-person services under what it called a two-week “reset.”

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That reset expired this week and the state shifted to a “Red to Green” system that eased restrictions under a three-tiered assessment of the risk of viral spread. Red indicates very high risk, yellow a high risk and green a medium risk. Chaves County, like 31 other counties, is in the red.

The city’s openings are due to both the change in the public health order and the directive to the city manager, according to a statement from the city emailed to the Roswell Daily Record by Todd Wildermuth, public information officer.

“It is worth noting the state’s current public health order does not appear to specifically address every type of facility and activity the City of Roswell is dealing with. That being noted, the Recreation and Aquatic Center, along with the Adult Center, were lined up to reopen with the expiration of the state’s ‘reset’ period. The library and museum are being reopened in line with the City Council directive. Safety protocols are in place at all facilities,” the statement read.

Most city facilities are operating under the public health order, such as requiring masks and social distancing, and limiting the number of people allowed inside at one time.

Marisa Maez, communications director for the New Mexico Department of Health, said facilities owned by local governments are not necessarily limited by occupancy restrictions outlined for businesses, but are still expected to comply with some restrictions.

“These places are still subject to the mass gathering restriction, meaning members of the public cannot gather in these locations in groups larger than five people at the Red Level,” she said in an email to the Roswell Daily Record.

“The Department of Health is here to protect and serve New Mexicans and hopes the city of Roswell will do everything it can to keep New Mexicans in its constituency safe from this lethal virus, as Roswell is one of the nation’s most significant viral hotspots at present,” she said.

Jennings said restrictions to city operations are due at least in part to a smaller staff citywide.

In preparing its fiscal year 2021 budget in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the city sought to cut $31 million in expenses. About $5 million of that came from reducing the city’s workforce by 81 full-time equivalent positions through a voluntary separation program, removing vacant positions from the budget and laying off part-time seasonal staff.

“We don’t have the manpower that we had pre-COVID,” Jennings said. “I believe this will be the new norm, if you will.”

Among the operation restrictions, the public library will be open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The 10 to 11 a.m. hour will be reserved for senior citizens, and from 2 to 3 p.m. the library will undergo cleaning. Computer usage will be limited to one hour per day for patrons.

The Library on the Go service will still be available, and Jennings said that has been popular. The service lets patrons call the library for books and other materials to check out and pick up at a service window.

“We have seen a higher volume of usage, which we’re very delighted to have that opportunity for the citizens,” Jennings said.

At the Roswell Museum and Art Center, the galleries and gift shop will be open Tuesday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m., although the planetarium will be open by appointment only.

A date for opening the zoo to the public has not yet been set, Jennings said, as improvements including the new mountain lion exhibit are not yet complete.

“We were very hopeful to have all the work completed by mid-December. We want to make sure when the public comes back, they are really wowed by all of the work that has been done. They’re very, very close, so I anticipate it will be in the near future,” Jennings said.

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/.