By Tony Parra
Questions and doubts over whether people from Roosevelt County would have to drive to Clovis for unemployment and veterans services were answered in one hour on Thursday morning in the city hall chambers.
Steve Gallegos, Deputy Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Labor, Kim Huffman, Community Development Director and landlord of the Business One-stop career center along with Lee Tillman of the Eastern Area Workforce Development Board were able to come to a compromise in order to keep the department of labor office in Portales open.
“I was surprised we were able to get everything done today,” Gallegos said. “It was a positive agenda. Because we have the cooperation of the county, WIA, Mr. Huffman and especially the mayor, we were able to get this done quickly. It’s good for the community and it sets their mind at peace.”
The snagging point was the rent cost of the DOL office located in the business center, located on the downtown square. This coupled with the DOL’s loss of the contracted Workforce Investment Act services to community colleges, created a dent financially for the DOL.
The rent of the DOL office, which is 900 square feet, was originally $900 a month. Huffman said the rent covers all utilities, such as water, sewage, garbage, custodial services and electricity costs.
Huffman said he would be willing to bring the rent cost down to $700, while Gallegos and Tillman each agreed to foot half of that cost. Department officials did not pay anything while the DOL office was in the Memorial Building.
“My goal is to get the community a solution by today,” Mayor Orlando Ortega said during the discussion session of the forum.
Once the financial problem of keeping a DOL office in Portales was resolved, Ortega was pleased with the outcome.
“I can’t say enough about the deputy secretary,” Ortega said. “They (Huffman, Tillman and Gallegos) were willing to work with us to find a solution. We definitely worked together to find a solution to serve the citizens.”
Roosevelt County officials, residents and business owners turned out on Thursday morning in support of the office in Portales. Sheryl McClary, owner of Pat’s Twin Crownie, said as an employer she depends heavily on the DOL office in Portales. McClary said if someone walks out of Pat’s Twin Crownie, she can’t wait two or three days to hire another employee by calling the office in Clovis, if the Portales office were to close.
McClary said when she calls the DOL office in Portales, they are able to help her hire someone the same day. One of McClary’s employees spoke about how much the DOL office helped him.
“I moved away to Oklahoma and when I came back, I didn’t have nothing,” Robert Quinn said. “I talked to Vickie (Barnard, employee of the DOL office in Portales) and she told me she would see what she could do. I was sleeping in a van with no food, nothing. She helped me get a job. With one phone call. That’s what that place does for the community.”
Joan Martinez-Terry also said if it wasn’t for the DOL office she wouldn’t have gone to school and wouldn’t have become the city clerk.
“It sounds simple on paper,” Debi Lee, city manager, said about the budget cuts. “But it is about emotion and the impact it has. It’s not an easy task to manage budgets. It’s about money, but it’s also about the impact it has and this (DOL office) is worthy of it.”
The contract for the WIA services were scheduled to terminate by the end of September and could have caused the closure of the Portales office by Oct. 1.