Growth committee told base personnel numbers have bottomed out

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

The Local Growth Management Committee learned Wednesday that
personnel levels at Cannon Air Force Base have bottomed out and numbers
will begin to increase.

Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas said he learned from base officials
during a Clovis Chamber of Commerce meeting on Tuesday that the trough
in personnel levels that was expected during the base’s transition from
a jet fighter base to Air Force Special Operations reached its lowest
expected levels this month. He said the Air Force is expecting more
arrivals next month and from there the community should see a slow,
steady growth.

Lonnie Leslie, chairman of a LGMC subcommittee that is charged with
working directly on growth management issues connected with the base
transition, believes the slow growth is better for eastern New Mexico.

“They’re moving 90,000 people in at Fort Bliss, and it is just
decimating the school district there,” Leslie said. “I always think the
slow, gradual growth is so much better than what some communities are
dealing with after the last round of BRAC (Base Realignment and
Closure).”

LGMC members also received a preliminary report from Keystone
International of Albuquerque, the consulting company charged with doing
a survey of the communities affected directly by Cannon. The company
began the $542,775 study in October. The study is expected to take a
year.
Leslie reported the study shows that schools, in particular the lower
grades, are in good shape and sufficient classrooms are available.
However, recruiting personnel will be the challenge.

“Even though the classrooms are there, it’s going to be a challenge filling them (with teachers),” Leslie said.

Leslie said the area is likely to see the same staffing problem with
health care. He said recruiting specialty doctors and behavioral health
professionals is identified as a key for the communities.

Curry County Commissioner Tim Ashley said he had concerns about the
emergency rooms at the local hospitals, in particular the wait time.

Portales City Councilor Mike Miller said while the wait time at the ERs
needs to be addressed, the area EMT staffs have excellent triage
protocols and are able to get patients in serious condition to the
proper care quickly.

Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield agreed with Miller, that there were a lot of positives about local hospitals.

“The Air Force was pleased with the equipment here,” Brumfield said.
“They indicated it was better than in Florida (Hurlburt Air Force Base
area). The military was very happy with what they saw at both
facilities.”

Brumfield said that as a Realtor, she’s been able to assess the
attitudes of Air Force families that have recently relocated to Cannon.
She said they have been negative at first about housing availability
but pleased with the schools and community after they arrive.

“This is some of the best information we can have,” Brumfield said of
the survey. “It shows our deficiencies but it also lets us know what we
do well.”