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Council discusses fee waivers at last meeting, sets Oct. 24 as date for water discussion

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Janeth Cox displays her certificate after being recognized for achieving Wastewater Level III certification at Tuesday’s Artesia City Council meeting. “She worked really hard to get this, and we want to say congratulations,” said infrastructure director Byron Landfair, also pictured. (Courtesy Photo)

The Artesia City Council received an update from the Infrastructure Department on the city’s water system and engaged in a lengthy discussion regarding the waiver of fees for community events Tuesday, Oct. 10, at its regularly-scheduled meeting at City Hall.

Infrastructure director Byron Landfair reiterated to the council that Occam Engineers Inc. has been hired to do technical research regarding the cost and design of any potential permanent water treatment systems the council might consider in the wake of the community’s second boil water order last month.

“Come to find out, one of the things we need to know is the particular quality of the water at each well, what is mineral makeup is and what’s in it, so we gathered up all the testing for that last week and are expecting those back pretty soon,” Landfair said.

As such, the department said it feels confident it will be ready to present the council with its treatment options and recommendations at the next meeting Oct. 24.

Landfair also reiterated the Water Department has been continuing to keep a residual amount of chlorine in the system – an amount running around .5 parts per billion – through the end of the year.

“We’ve had two town hall meetings, one after each event, to ask the public their thoughts, because they’re the ones that bear the brunt of it and have to go through it and have to comply with the boil water alert and everything else, and we’ve seen that there’s no unanimous feeling that we should not or should (permanently disinfect),” said Mayor Phillip Burch. “So the council is going to have to make a decision on what we view as best for the long-term of the community.

“Probably the easiest thing to say is that we don’t want another event and so we’re going to do everything we can to avert it.”

Burch said while that may point to permanent chlorination, Occam is exploring at least one other alternative and will present the options Oct. 24.

State Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, was on hand Tuesday and told the council that if they had an idea which system would be utilized and its cost prior to Eddy County’s capital outlay meeting Oct. 31, he and Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, would support efforts to aid the city with capital outlay funding, should it be available.

“One of the things that might be an obstacle with that is that we have, as a council, already approved our ICIP (Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan), and typically, to qualify for capital outlay, the project has to be on that ICIP,” said Burch. “That was because this issue really didn’t exist when we put that list together.

“If we could have some wiggle room as far as an emergency type of consideration, I think that would move that up the list.”

“If you can come up with a number that it might cost, Cathrynn and I will wiggle as much as we can,” Townsend said.

The council spent much of Tuesday’s meeting discussing a potential ordinance that would outline set requirements and specifications organizations and events would have to meet in order to qualify for a waiver of fees from the city.

Fees waived typically include the cost of renting barricades, generators, and other such equipment from the city; however, in researching the anti-donation clause set forth in the New Mexico Constitution, city clerk Aubrey Hobson and attorney John Caraway pointed out the clause is broad in its prohibition of conferring any benefit upon an individual entity or organization, regardless of its profit or nonprofit status.

Speaking on behalf of Artesia MainStreet, its executive director, Elisabeth Jackson, pointed out that while some events the organization conducts qualify for Lodgers’ Tax funds, others that are considered geared more toward local residents than tourists do not qualify and are therefore up to the organization to fund.

Such events include MainStreet’s upcoming Trick-or-Treat Main Street and the Veterans’ Day ceremony in Baish Park. Jackson told the council those events, which are not fundraisers and are free of charge for attendees, actually end up costing the organization money.

“Really, a lot of the future of our community events, specifically downtown events, could be at stake,” Jackson said.

The council debated a variety of factors regarding what could potentially qualify an event for a waiver of fees. Burch stated that, for the past six to eight years, the council has used a basic formula: If an event qualified for Lodgers’ Tax funds, its fees would be waived.

Councilor Bill Rogers stated it made no sense to him that “entities like Clean & Beautiful, like MainStreet, like the Chamber, things like that where we fund their operation but then turn around and tell them we can’t waive fees… it just doesn’t make any sense that you charge a group like that so you can have a veterans’ celebration at City Hall.”

“There are certain things that make sense for the City of Artesia to use tax money from the taxpayers of Artesia to benefit Artesia, and I understand that virtually every one of them, under the interpretation of the law, would be disqualified, but I don’t agree with it,” said Burch.

Ultimately, the council voted 4-2 to postpone making a potential decision on the matter until its Oct. 24 meeting.

In the police statistics portion of the meeting, Chief Kirk Roberts told the council that, just as was the case in September and October 2016, auto burglaries have increased over the past month-and-a-half, due largely to residents not locking their doors and/or leaving valuables in their cars overnight.

“I can’t put my finger on why this time of year (prompts an increase),” said Roberts. “Maybe it’s just that people are settling in a little earlier at home, perhaps individuals that do this feel more anonymity with less people out and about… it’s hard to say what drives that.”

Roberts also reported the Artesia Animal Shelter had seen an increase in reclamation, adoption and rescue of animals recently, and a subsequent decrease in euthanizations.

Community Development Director Jim McGuire updated the council on the Roselawn Manor affordable housing project, stating the complex planned to open by the end of the month and has all but eight units leased.

Landfair also told the council the 13th Street Reconstruction Project was still on pace for a Christmas completion and that the renovation of Texas Avenue between Seventh and Fourth streets is expected to be paved out by the end of the month.

The council postponed to its Oct. 24 meeting a decision on an ordinance amending certain sections of the Uniform Traffic Ordinance, including a portion that would permit Off-Road Vehicles (ORVs) to operate on city streets.

“We’ve had it come up a couple of times,” said Burch. “In the past, there have been citizens who’ve really pushed to have this done, because they have vehicles they wanted to run around town and run to the store in, that sort of thing.

“We’ve never accepted this as a part of the city code. It’s not to say we shouldn’t, but to this point, we haven’t.”

Roberts told the council that, from a police department standpoint, potential issues including lighting on ORVs and operational hazards – braking and steering systems, vehicles sitting too low to be safely seen from behind by other vehicles, etc. – make them unsafe to operate on the streets.

“My experience is it’s not a good idea to have vehicles that are not designed to travel on a paved roadway driving on a paved roadway,” said Roberts. “They’re designed to drive off the roadway, and they’re equipped for that.”

The council removed from the agenda a public hearing regarding a Project Participation Agreement between the City of Artesia and Chase Energy Services and approved a request from Human Resources director Sandi Countryman to change the wording of the Changes in Employment Status (Promotions) section of the Artesia Municipal Code to remove the language regarding pay “steps.”

“We don’t have steps in our pay classification,” said Countryman. “We’re asking that we change ‘promotion’ to being when an employee moves from one position to another position with a higher maximum pay grade and greater responsibility; the responsibility will receive an increase in pay of 5 percent or the entry-level pay of the new position, whichever is greater. To be promoted, an employee must be upgraded in pay and shall apply for the vacancy.”

The change was approved.

In personnel business Tuesday, the council approved the hiring of Jarod Acosta, community service officer, at a pay rate of $2,037 per month; Virginia Franks, police records clerk, $2,037 per month; Phillip Bustamonte, streets department Equipment Operator I, $2,482 per month; Jordan Herrera, IT technician, $3,100 per month; Marie Garcia, humane officer, $2,037 per month; and Clarissa Cabezuela, community service officer, $2,037 per month.

The council also approved a voluntary demotion request by Amber Thornton, who will be moving from Artesia Municipal Court to a police clerk position at a pay rate of $2,197 per month, and the promotions of Anthony Heady to uncertified police officer, $3,178 per month, and Joanne Jones to purchasing agent/assistant city clerk-city treasurer/records supervisor, $3,969 per month.

Approval was given to advertise and fill the positions of police department administrative assistant, detention officer, two street department equipment operator positions, water technician, cashier and cemetery equipment operator.

As part of its consent agenda, the council approved:

• a Memorandum of Understanding with the Chaves County Children’s Advocacy Center and Artesia Advocacy Center.

• the First Amendment to the Industrial Park Lease Agreement (renewal for an additional 10-year term) for Fasken Oil and Ranch Ltd. At 2406 Parkland Ave.

• the resignation of Tammy Brown, police department administrative assistant, effective Oct. 13.

• the resignation of David Orquiz, street department equipment operator, effective Oct. 6.

• the resignation of Billy Bailey, water technician, effective Sept. 27.

• the probationary termination of Jeremy Parks due to failure to successfully complete post-employment testing, effective Sept. 28.

• the resignation of Monique Ramirez, cashier, effective Oct. 13.

• the resignation of Isaac Sanchez, cemetery equipment operator, effective Oct. 13.

• permission for one fire employee to attend Fire Instructor III certification in Soccoro.

• permission for one fire employee to participate in the site visit and cadaver lab at Trans Aero Medivac in Dallas, Texas.

• permission for four police employees to attend the simunitions instructor course in Ft. Worth, Texas.

• permission for one wastewater employee to attend the NMRWA Southern Fall Conference in Las Cruces.

• permission for two F&A employees to attend election school in Albuquerque.

• permission for one F&A employee to attend a DFA Budget Workshop in Albuquerque.

• permission for two water employees to attend the NM Rural Water Conference in Las Cruces.

• ratification of Burch’s approval of Trampas Spence’s request, representing Artesia High School, for an ambulance for the AHS rodeo, held Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, and waiver of fees.

• permission for Artesia MainStreet to hold Trick-or-Treat Main Street from 4-7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, from First to Seventh streets and on Fourth Street between Main Street and Quay Avenue; a Veterans’ Day Celebration from 10 a.m. – noon Friday, Nov. 10, in Baish Veterans’ Park; and a lighted holiday parade from 6-7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30, on Main Street from Bulldog Bowl east to First Street.

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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