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City considers agreement with county on Air Center funds

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City elected officials are discussing a proposed agreement with Chaves County about how to spend $5 million in state funds allocated for the Roswell Air Center. (Daily Record File Photo)

Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh and some city councilors expressed concerns at a Thursday morning meeting about a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Chaves County over the use of a $5 million state appropriation for the Roswell Air Center.

Members of the Roswell Finance Committee — City Councilors Jason Perry, Jacob Roebuck and Margaret Kennard — voted after the discussion that the draft MOU should be reviewed by all city councilors at a Jan. 14 City Council meeting.

Kintigh had some specific concerns about the “vagueness” of the MOU, as well as priorities for spending the funds. Kennard and City Councilor Jeanine Corn Best expressed their upset over the 2020 state capital outlay award itself, saying they thought the county should have received city approval before asking for the funding because the airfield and its related properties are owned by the city.

The remarks by Roswell officials prompted Will Cavin, chair of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners, to urge cooperation due to a state deadline to obligate funds approaching.

“We have to work together,” Cavin said. “The county has not been delaying this. The county is not sitting on its hands. The county is waiting on the city of Roswell to come to us with a plan on how to get some of this money spent.”

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He said the county requested and received funding because it aims to assist the city in developing the Air Center as an economic engine and jobs creator for the region.

He also said he considers the matter urgent. At least 5% of the funds, or $250,000, must be encumbered by Feb. 25 or the state could ask for the money to be returned.

Kintigh said he thought that the state might be willing to negotiate on that deadline, while Cavin said he doesn’t want to take that risk and see some other governmental entity in the state end up with the funds.

The draft MOU has been discussed with county administrators, but not voted on by county commissioners. Kintigh called it vague and unclear and said it does not codify verbal agreements that $3 million of the funding will be used for a planned wide-body hangar project, while the other $2 million would be used for water and sewer lines for the south side of the airfield.

“We need to have a very clear, unambiguous, contractually binding agreement with the county,” Kintigh said. “I think that is only fair to this governing body. I think it is only fair to the staff, and I think it is only fair to the county commission and, most importantly, to this community. Everyone needs to know without any confusion, question, vagueness, what will be done.”

Cavin said his understanding was that county administrators first began discussing how to use this funding this summer with City Manager Joe Neeb and Kintigh. Initially it was decided that Armstrong Consultants — the planning, engineering and consulting firm used by the city for many Air Center projects — would come up with some ideas for how to use the money. When that didn’t happen, county and city officials met again in late fall and came up with the idea to use the money for infrastructure on the south side of the Air Center, as well as for site work for the new wide-body hangar. That hangar is supposed to be built and owned by Western LLC and occupied by Ascent Aviation Services.

During the Finance Committee meeting, Kintigh asked Cavin whether the county would agree to help the city with a different project, an $8 million hangar expansion project at Building 84, now occupied by CAVU Aerospace. The city thinks it might get a $2 million federal grant for the project but would be required to obtain additional funding.

Asked about his response to Kintigh during a later interview, Cavin said he doesn’t know much about the Hangar 84 expansion project and whether it would mean jobs for the area. He also said he is not in a position to commit the entire County Commission to a decision about how to use its funds, although the county already has made a commitment to the wide-body hangar project.

“My support is my support,” Cavin said, “but the county’s usage of funds is an entirely different story.”

Earlier in the meeting, Kintigh had said the entire issue of the MOU had a simple solution: change the fiscal agent for the $5 million capital outlay award from Chaves County to the city of Roswell.

Cavin said that discussion has been held before and is not something the county intends to do.

Kennard and Best both said that they consider the county’s action in getting the funding without the prior approval of city officials “disrespectful.”

Best said the county apparently doesn’t understand how the city feels on the issue because it has made another $5 million capital outlay request for Air Center improvements to be considered during the upcoming 2021 legislative session.

“The city might have to pay thousands and thousands of dollars to finish whatever $5 million starts,” Best said, adding that she worries that the city might be “left out to dry.”

Roebuck and Perry said they understood that people have concerns about the draft MOU and funding priorities, but they thought it was important to continue to work with the county on utilizing the $5 million funding.

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