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City approves Air Center funding agreement

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MOU with county allows use of $5 million

An agreement between the city and the county about encumbering a portion of $5 million in funding for the Roswell Air Center was approved Thursday by the Roswell City Council, although Mayor Dennis Kintigh continued to voice frustration and disappointment concerning the situation.

After almost two hours of discussion, the City Council voted 8-2 for the Memorandum of Understanding that outlines some general guidelines for the county and the city to work together to use the funding for the Air Center. Kintigh did not vote because, in Roswell, the mayor does not vote unless to break a tie.

The funding was allocated in February 2020 by the state of New Mexico to the county, which is named the fiscal agent. The Air Center is city-owned property.

The county has until Feb. 25th to obligate 5%, or $250,000, of the funding or the state could take the allocation back.

City Manager Job Neeb said the MOU focuses on how to spend $250,000 rather than the entire $5 million.

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According to prior discussions at several city meetings about how the entire allocation will be used, $3 million is intended for site work for a new wide-body hangar to be built and owned by Western LLC and occupied by Ascent Aviation Services LLC, which has said it plans to hire 300 to 360 employees within five years of opening its business here. Current thought now is to use the other $2 million to upgrade water and sewer lines on the south side of the airfield, according to City Manager Joe Neeb.

Much of the consternation that city councilors and Kintigh have expressed has to do with why the county asked for money for the Air Center without first reaching an agreement with the city.

“My biggest issue is that they did not contact us whatsoever,” said Jeanine Corn Best, who along with Margaret Kennard voted against the MOU. “They just went willy-nilly out on their own and put up our property to the governor and said, here you go.”

Councilor Judy Stubbs said she was a witness at a Nov. 2, 2019, meeting at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell among Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. members, including former Democratic state Sen. Tim Jennings, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her staff where Air Center funding in general was discussed. She also said that a city staff member, whom she did not identify, had been asked to attend but did not.

Some city councilors made comments indicating that the county funding request was unknown to them until the state decided to fund the award. Yet, similar to the city funding request process, the county’s annual funding priorities presented to the state are discussed prior to each legislative session during a series of public meetings, with a publicly available Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan developed as part of the process.

Best, Kennard and Angela Moore expressed worries that the city could be left having to come up with additional funding to complete projects or could end up building “abandoned water lines.” Neeb said he did think that upgrading water lines was a valid project.

Kintigh said he was “incredibly disappointed” in the MOU and called the situation a “mess.”

He said he was upset it didn’t specify anything about the $3 million funding for the wide-body hangar, even though that had been in a draft he had presented. He also didn’t like that the county kept in a provision indicating that the encumbrance money might be used for a study to create more long-term aircraft storage areas, a need city staff said is no longer a top priority as storage demand is lessening.

He expressed frustration that the funding is “controlled” by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and goes through “her agent,” Tim Jennings, whom Kintigh said can approve or disapprove outlay allocations for the Air Center.

Another grievance Kintigh expressed was that Air Center Director Scott Stark was never consulted directly about the capital outlay request and whether there was a need for utilities in the south area of the airfield, which Stark confirmed.

“There is a serious relationship problem with the county,” Kintigh continued. “The $5 million, though, is between the city of Roswell and the governor’s office, through Sen. Jennings.”

In the end, most councilors agreed that it would be better to use the $5 million than lose it.

“We are in a really hard spot with this,” said Jacob Roebuck, adding that it could make future discussions about possibly forming a regional air authority even more difficult.

“I think, as you have been working on it and the mayor has been working on it, we have come to a hopefully reasonable compromise so that we feel it is not a waste of money,” he said.

Will Cavin, chairman of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners, said he was pleased with the city’s approval and expects the 5% encumbrance to occur by the state deadline.

Cavin was online during the City Council meeting, but Kintigh chose not to allow him to speak or to have councilors ask him questions.

Cavin said he acknowledges the difficulties between the city and county. He said he thinks the problems need to be worked out so that the governing bodies can have a good working relationship in the future, but he added that he doesn’t think recriminations are helpful.

“We could sit around the table and point fingers and say this and say that, but that isn’t going to do us any good,” he said. “We need to go ahead and move on and get to work.”

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