Officials eye legislative funding

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Local governmental officials say the signals from Santa Fe indicate another flush budget like last year.

They also know from experience the competition for those dollars will be fierce.

“It never fails — the more money there is the more competitive everything gets,” Roosevelt County Manager Charlene Hardin said. “I think it’s going to be a lot like last year. Everyone wants to get a piece of the pie.”

Portales City Manager Debi Lee agreed with that assessment, but is excited to compete for legislative dollars to feed the growth Portales is experiencing.

“Our biggest problem is we have a lot of needs,” Lee said.

“Unfortunately we don’t have enough revenue to fund a growing city.”
Atop the city of Portales’ capital outlay requests going to the legislature, which begins session Tuesday, is $3 million for street improvements. Lee says city staff identified 110 blocks of city streets as priority for improvements. Much of that she says was constructed in the 1950s and some streets and have no curbs and gutters.

Another big capital request goal is $1.1 million to purchase agricultural land and water rights that can be converted to use for the municipal water supply.

According to Lee, groundwater reserves in eastern New Mexico are declining in quantity and quality and it is critical to secure future water reserves.

Lee said the city supports and sees a critical need for the Ute Water Project to succeed. However, believes the city should do everything possible to make sure the city has water for the future.

Hardin said Roosevelt County’s biggest funding need — like most years — is for roads. She said the county plans to submit requests for approximately $875,000 for roads.

County officials have said previously the condition of roads has become more critical the last few years as the expanding dairy industry in the county has taken its toll on roads in the form of truck traffic.

At Eastern New Mexico University, President Steven Gamble also believes there are opportunities for the school to do well as far as funding from the legislature.

“In terms of just pure out and out capital, we intend to do well,” Gamble said. “The best thing we’ve got going for us is the tremendous support of our local legislators, led by Sen. (Stuart) Ingle.”

Gamble said there are several capital outlay projects important to ENMU, but aside from that, the school will be watching closely in anticipation of receiving full formula funding (the school’s main operating source) because of good enrollment numbers last year.

The school’s president said he also anticipates a compensation package with an approximate 5 percent increase for faculty and staff to be considered.

With the governor proposing an 11 percent increase in spending in his budget, local officials said distributing money will take precedence in the session. They noted a few possible regulatory initiatives that may come up though.

Hardin said the county is concerned about the legislature clarifying the description of a state prisoner because of the number they house at the Roosevelt County Detention Center. She said the fuzzy description now could lead to reimbursement controversy.

Lee said things such as minimum wage law, eminent domain, the fire protection fund and franchise fees will get her attention if they come up after the session wears on. She said there are no real hot-button issues right now.

Gamble said that the only thing outside of direct funding for his institution that’s popped up on his radar screen is possible debate over ensuring that the lottery scholarship program will remain self-supporting.