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Legislators look at funding requests

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Chaves County’s second of five funding requests is for $150,000 to finish the walking and exercise trail to the south of the Chaves County Administrative Center. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Local government, schools and water group describe capital needs

Chaves County governmental entities have requested about $17 million in capital outlay requests as state legislators begin the months’ long process of determining which projects will receive funding for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Six legislators representing at least a portion of Chaves County heard Friday from city, town, school and water association representatives about the projects they would like money for in the year ahead.

The Southeast New Mexico Economic Development District/Council of Governments coordinates capital outlay funding requests for governmental entities in the southeast portion of the state. An online and phone conference Friday was the first in a series of remote meetings to be held in various counties over the next weeks as legislators ask for details about planned projects and stated needs.

The legislators participating Friday were District 33 Sen. William Burt, District 42 Sen. Gay Kernan, District 54 Rep. Jim Townsend, District 58 Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, District 66 Rep. Phelps Anderson and District 50 Rep. Greg Nibert.

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Anderson said in a later phone conversation that the legislative delegation has no idea how much money might be available for capital projects this year and probably won’t have a clear idea until sometime in February after the state budget is formulated. The legislative session is scheduled to start Jan. 19.

“No matter what amount might be available, we are certain the requests will far exceed the money available for these local projects,” he said.

He added that legislators tend to prefer projects that can be completed with one funding award.

“The Chaves County delegation shares in the idea that we should try to fully fund a project, as partial funding often leads to failure,” he said.

He also defended the funding process. While debate frequently occurs over whether the process allows legislators to reward their districts rather than ensure the funding of the most worthwhile projects in the state, Anderson said the process ensures that smaller communities have a chance to be heard by their local representatives.

Chaves County

The county made five requests for $7.22 million. But Interim County Manager Bill Williams said that its fifth priority — $5 million for infrastructure and site improvements at the Roswell Air Center to prepare the airfield for future commercial development — is considered more a signal at this point that the county and city of Roswell are prepared to move forward when funding becomes available. The county received $5 million for the Air Center from the 2020 legislative session and is using part of it for the infrastructure and site work for a new wide-body hangar expected to be occupied by Ascent Aviation Services by 2022.

“We recognize that this is not a $5 million year. We also recognize that the airport is someone else’s asset,” Williams said. “We are working together with the city of Roswell and making some inroads.”

The other four requests, in order of priority, are $500,000 to renovate a part of the Chaves County Administrative Center to house the emergency dispatch operations; $150,000 to finish work on the walking and exercise trail to the south of the administrative center; $700,000 to replace the windows in the historic Chaves County Courthouse; and $870,000 to replace a bridge on West Brasher Road, a project funded by the Legislature last year but vetoed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The county has said the project is considered a needed safety improvement.

City of Roswell

Administrative Services Director Juan Fuentes presented the city’s five top projects, which total about $4.3 million.

In order of priority, they are $400,000 to renovate a former National Guard armory for the use of the Roswell Police Department and its Technical Services Unit; $1 million to replace a bridge on North Garden Avenue near the Roswell Livestock Auction; $1.41 million to purchase variable frequency drivers for water pumps to reduce the wear and tear on water lines; $200,000 to develop and equip a park at 2301 S. Virginia Ave., the site of the former Chisum Elementary School; and $1.3 million for improvements to West McGaffey Street.

Town of Dexter

Mayor Mitch Daubert asked for $1.09 million for two projects. The top priority is $340,000 for generators for water wells and lift stations. The second request is for $750,000 for road improvements around Lake Van, including the creation of walking and biking trails.

Town of Hagerman

Mayor Tony Garcia presented five funding requests totaling $1.61 million. The first priority is a water pipeline construction project for $1 million. The second and third priorities are $85,000 for a tractor and $95,000 for a backhoe. The fourth request is $200,000 for improvements to Aberdeen Road. The fifth request is an additional $230,000 to renovate a room in the Town Hall to serve as council chambers and court facilities. Garcia said the town already received funding for the project more than seven years ago, but that the money had not been enough to finish the project. The room is being used for storage, he said.

Town of Lake Arthur

Mayor Ysidro Salazar talked about four requests for about $1.53 million. The top request is for $700,000 to repair lagoons and build a sewer system. The second priority is $700,000 to repair water lines in the town. The third request is $50,000 for a sports utility vehicles for employee use. The fourth request is $75,000 to purchase and equip an animal control vehicle. Another request for money to purchase water rights was skipped because the town has not yet identified or secured commitments from any potential sellers.

Fambrough Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association

An engineer representing the association presented the group’s $400,000 request to replace a water line along Palomino Road. The representative of Souder Miller & Associates said the aging water line is disintegrating and has frequent ruptures. The entire project is expected to cost more than $2.2 million.

Lake Arthur Municipal Schools

Superintendent Elisa Begueria and Principal Kathleen Gallaway had four requests totaling $465,000. The top priority is $100,000 for perimeter fencing and two entry gates. The second priority is $200,000 for various building and grounds projects, including roof repairs, a cooling system for a multipurpose room, and a protective canopy to connect a classroom building to the cafeteria. The third request is $90,000 for a microbus for student transportation. They also requested $75,000 for a camera security system to monitor the school buildings and grounds.

Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell

President Shawn Powell discussed five requests totaling $355,500. The top priority is $135,000 to install a fiber optics network to provide internet connectivity for seven buildings. Second priority is $125,000 for a simulation manikin used by health sciences and emergency medical technician (EMT) students. The next three requests are for equipment for academic programs, including $50,000 for the automotive technology program, $25,000 for the welding program and $20,500 for laboratory equipment for science programs.

A sixth item had been submitted in writing. That is a $15,000 request for a CNC press brake for the automotive program.

Steps ahead

All state legislators representing the area are Republicans, and Anderson said the party will be transparent and post the projects that they have supported once they make their decisions. A project must have at least one legislator supporting it to be eligible for a capital outlay award.

Anderson added that he has appreciated that Gov. Lujan Grisham has supported Chaves County projects in the past and said he finds the ranking of the priority of projects by local entities invaluable.

“It says this is driven by local input up,” he said, “and not by Santa Fe down.”

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

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.