City councils show approval for Ute Water project

By Tony Parra

City councilors discussed the importance of the Ute Water Project at the city meeting on Tuesday while Mayor Orlando Ortega was in Washington D.C. giving testimony in favor of the Ute Water Project on Wednesday.
City Manager Debi Lee and the councilors discussed an agreement with the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority for the Ute Water Project. Portales is one of 12 entities of the ENMRWA.
“Each entity is presenting an agreement,” Lee said. “Portales wants to pursue the project and it’s worthy of serious consideration.”
Ortega is a big proponent of the Ute Water Project and according to Lee he was at Washington D.C. giving testimony of support for the Ute Water Project to congress. She said U.S. Rep. Tom Udall is presenting a companion bill before Congress.
“The entities are being asked to show their commitment to the project,” Lee said about the trip to Washington D.C. “They want assurance from all of the entities that they can pay for the project. The greatest concern is the operation costs. Portales is in good shape, financially. Portales has money set aside in reserve to offset the cost.”
Lee said a reason for the discussion of the ENMRWA commitment agreement is to demonstrate to congress that Portales is committed if all of the variables are in place.
The city of Portales also went into agreement with the Public Health Division of the New Mexico Department of Health to have the Roosevelt County Health Planning Council to handle health issues in Portales, such as obesity. The Public Health Division proved $30,000 in fiscal year 2005 for services provided by the Roosevelt County Health Council.
Some of the tasks for the health council are to develop, maintain and update a community health profile and community health improvement plan, and plan and coordinate implementation of community-based strategies to bring about health improvements. One example is to figure out the percentage of people in Roosevelt County who are obese and develop a plan to reduce the number.
City attorneys Stephen Doerr and Randy Knudson did not like the initial language of the agreement.
“We (city) could be accused of gross negligence (with) the way it is written,” Doerr said in a late July meeting. “The state could tell you the provisions and if you don’t meet the provisions they could place sanctions on you. They can also set the penalties.”
It is no longer a contract, but instead an agreement, according to Lee. Lee said the changes were made to allow the city of Portales to only be a fiscal agent and the Roosevelt County Health Council will be responsible for the requirements set by the Public Health Division.
“It’s a completely new agreement,” Lee said. “All of the language considering the liability to the city is out. Our attorneys worked on that. The health council can start working on their projects.”
Lee said councilors showed their support for General Obligation B, which will be on the ballot for the general election in November. The bond will provide $96 million for general education projects. Eastern New Mexico University would receive $7 million for a new science building and $1,913,500 for infrastructure improvements.