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Local officials seek $10 million for Air Center projects

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Roswell City Councilor Angela Moore signs a joint resolution Tuesday night about Roswell Air Center state funding requests after a combined meeting of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners and the Roswell City Council at a fire station near the airport. Also shown near the table are, clockwise from left, City Clerk Sharon Coll, Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell Jr., Commissioner Richard Taylor, Commissioner Jeff Bilberry, City Councilor Jason Perry and Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Declaring that they “stand united in moving forward” and describing the Roswell Air Center as an “engine for economic prosperity,” the members of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners and the Roswell City Council passed a joint resolution Tuesday night in support of efforts to seek $5 million each from the 2022 state legislative session for the airfield and its related properties.

The votes occurred at a rare joint meeting of the governing bodies held in a fire station near the airport.

“Ten million dollars is not a lot for this center, but it will go a long way to allowing us to do some fantastic things with it,” said City Manager Joe Neeb, who gave some introductory remarks before the city council made its decision.

The commissioners already had passed the measure unanimously by that point, with T. Calder Ezzell Jr. arriving a few minutes after the other four commissioners had voted to give his assent.

As stated in the resolution and by Neeb and confirmed by Board of Commissioners Chair Will Cavin later, the county wants $5 million in capital outlay funds for additional infrastructure work. Specific plans are to continue and expand a project that is in progress now using $2 million of a $5 million capital outlay award given to the county in February 2020. That project involves upgrading and replacing the water and sewer lines on the southeast side of the airfield that will benefit airfield tenants as well as some residents living in the county to the south of the airfield.

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The city is asking for $5 million for hangars, warehouses, taxiways and utility infrastructure.

“I mirror exactly what Councilor (Jacob) Roebuck said at the Infrastructure meeting yesterday, ‘Hangars, hangars, hangars,’” Neeb said.

He has explained at prior city meetings that planners generally consider a property to be full when it is 70% occupied. He said the Roswell Air Center’s buildings are about at that occupancy rate now.

City councilors voted 8-1 to approve the measure.

City Councilor Margaret Kennard was absent. The dissenting vote was made by City Councilor Jeanine Corn Best.

Best said that she believes in the importance of the Air Center but said that she thinks local officials have “strangled” the Air Center for years by a “good ol’ boy” system that has made cooperation difficult.

“My faith wavers when it comes to that,” she said. “I hope you prove me wrong. I have seen nothing but years and years of constant head-butting, and the system hasn’t changed over there. I know Roswell has changed because I have watched it grow from 2012 when I became a councilor. It has done nothing but move forward as fast and quickly as we can. I have seen the county just stagnate.”

The only other councilor to raise some concerns was Juan Oropesa. He had asked whether the county would be able to do work on the airfield without city approval, as the Roswell Air Center is on city-owned land.

“I don’t look at it as the county doing their own thing out here,” Neeb answered. “It is city property, so we are going to work together to get all of this work done. So I guess I don’t look at that as being a problem. It is not like we are going to toss the keys and say, ‘Okay, go do something out at the Air Center.’ We are going to work in partnership on that.”

Mayor Dennis Kintigh also explained that capital outlay funds are not outright funding but reimbursable awards, with funding released only after work has been done and the state has approved the expenditures.

Working together on the capital outlay requests for the Air Center prior to the legislative session, a departure from recent years, was strongly supported by Cavin and City Councilor Jason Perry.

Perry said he had spoken with state legislators and representatives with the Governor’s Office and thinks that they recognize that growth and development at the Roswell Air Center is important to the entire state. He said he also saw the need for the city and county to act in concert in their funding requests. Capital outlay awards as large as $5 million to $10 million will need to come from the Governor’s Office, he and Cavin have said.

“This has come about because I think everyone in this room recognizes the gem we have in this Air Center,” he said. “We have something that no one else has as a potential. We have something that is not just valuable to the city of Roswell but also valuable to Chaves County, also valuable to the counties around us, also valuable to southeast end of New Mexico and significantly valuable to the entire state of New Mexico. The value we have here, the potential we have here — there is no one else in the United States of America who has this ability with an airport.”

Cavin, speaking after the meeting, echoed that sentiment.

“I think the majority of us are on the same page that, if we are going to have growth and economic development, it is going to occur at the Air Center,” he said.

He added, “I know there is a lot of public support and business support for what we are trying to get accomplished at the Air Center.”

Cavin also said that he has talked with legislators and the Governor’s Office about funding to improve highway safety from Roswell to the Texas state line.

An August report of the state Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, made up of representatives from various legislative committees and state departments, projected that the state will have about $746.3 million in severance taxes for fiscal year 2023, the fiscal year that the 2022 legislative session would be considering. Severance taxes are typically used to fund capital outlay awards.

“New money,” defined as projected recurring revenues minus current recurrent revenues, is estimated at $1.4 billion.

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.