City officials talk finance

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

Whether it’s the Hull Street overpass, the Portales wastewater plant or a patch of Tucumcari Boulevard, chances are something needs replacing in a New Mexico community.

Infrastructure needs bond cities large and small, and local dignitaries are taking advantage of the New Mexico Municipal League conference to seek solutions.

Held at the Clovis Civic Center and Clovis Community College, the conference has brought approximately 700 municipal employees for votes on state policy and sessions to find out how to address city and county needs better.

A theme that shows up year in and year out, NMML Communications Coordinator Roger Makin said, is infrastructure.

“It’s a constant problem,” Makin said. “There are X amount of dollars that can go around, and they’re all fighting for those same dollars.”

The goal, Tucumcari City Commissioner Jim Lafferty said, is self-sufficiency.

“Tucumcari’s ongoing problem is that we’re a handout town. When we need to fix a street we go to Santa Fe,” Laffery said. “Our goal should be to do our own (funding) and debt service so if (a road) lasts 20 years we can plan to replace it without having to go to Santa Fe.”

Tucumcari does have one advantage in that one of its biggest streets, Tucumcari Boulevard, is part of Route 66 and qualifies for many types of funding. But those funds don’t help the roads in front of his or his neighbors’ homes, and Santa Fe can only do so much to help.

“Everybody does the same thing,” Lafferty said. “We’re all after state grants and state money, and (the state) tells us it’s going to dry up.”

When grants or funds aren’t available, cities try to find ways to extend the lives of infrastructure. Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield, in her first conference as mayor, said she’s discovered Clovis isn’t the only city with problems such the Hull Street overpass, which has been closed indefinitely since the end of July for safety reasons.

“What’s really (helpful) is the networking to find out how other towns have taken care of some of their problems,” said Brumfield, who is traveling to Santa Fe at the conference’s conclusion to ask Gov. Bill Richardson for funds to fix the overpass. “Me being as new as I am, I’m just enjoying seeing how other people do it.”

The league has sessions on how to seek funds under a new unified application process. Portales City Manager Debi Lee said Portales was the first to take advantage, since she could go back to her office and apply online.

Being near the conference also helped Lee and others get New Mexico Environment Department officials to tour the city’s wastewater plant, which will need replacing soon.

“A lot of cities are working with the same problems we are with aged infrastructure,” Lee said, “specifically water and wastewater.”

Dignitaries from smaller cities, meanwhile, bounce ideas off of each other on how to get by on little or no gross receipts.
“No gas station, no general stores,” longtime Grady Mayor Wesley Shafer joked. “Other than that, everything’s great.”