Book borrowers beware

Mike Linn

Sherlock Holmes and Perry Mason won’t be knocking down doors looking for local library looters any time soon. But Portales citizens may end up in court charged with petty misdemeanors if they continually ignore requests to return books.
The Portales City Council on Tuesday adopted a notice of intent to amend an ordinance that would make not returning a book to the library a petty misdemeanor, the same as traveling 70 m.p.h. in a 55, possessing an ounce or less of marijuana or improperly singing the “Star Spangled Banner.”
City Council members passed the notice of intent by a 6 – 2 vote and a public meeting to discuss the amendment is set for 7 p.m. on Nov. 18 at city hall.
The amendment states that residents could only be charged after library officials have exhausted every avenue to retain the book or video.
“We’re going to give them every opportunity to return the book or replace it (before we file charges),” City Attorney Randy Knudson said. “Hopefully very few people will be prosecuted under this.”
The idea to amend the oridnace came from Municipal Judge Fred Arnold, who along with city and library officials wanted to see a decrease in residents abusing the privileges of the Portales Public Library.
Knudson said the list of excessively overdue books is in the hundreds and the monetary loss is beginning to mount.
Even so, council member Mike Miller and Jake Lopez voted against the amendment.
“Are we going to make criminals out of children who lose a book and are afraid to come in?” Miller asked.
Knudson said being charged would not necessarily result in any type of criminal record.
“The way the ordinance is drafted it wouldn’t necessarily result in any type of criminal (history),” Knudson said. “It merely would bring a person up in front of the court and ordered to pay restitution.”

Also at the meeting:

— New Mexico Region IV economic developer Frank Griego spoke with the council about their attempt to gain certification by the New Mexico State Department of Economic Development.
Griego said he feels confident the city will gain certification in 2004 and lauded their use of the 1/8 of a penny’s gross receipts tax that goes to economic development.
Portales is one of only four city’s in New Mexico with the tax in place, Griego said.
This year Portales was one of two cities out of 15 that did not receive certification from the state.
Portales met one of the six requirements by establishing a local economic development organization.
But Portales did not have a retention program for businesses; a two-year community business plan; a land and building inventory; a local economic development act; or a community profile for the department, which consists of education and unemployment labor.
Gaining certification from the NMSDED will allow Portales to be added to a state Web site created to attract business to cities and counties in New Mexico.

— A decision by the Planning Commission to deny a resident’s request to turn four lots into five and build homes for senior citizens turned out to be unlawful.
City Attorney Stephen Doerr told commissioners the request should never have been brought before the Planning Commission for approval.
Valerie Jones appealed the 4-0 decision against the re-plat of lots and will now be able to build the five homes at the corner of South Ave. S. and Beech Street.