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Friday, April 12, 2024

County votes to unrecognize Queen fire station

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The Eddy County Commission passed a resolution to unrecognize Fire Station 11, also known as the Queen Station, during its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday.

Eddy County Fire and Rescue (ECFR) was notified Jan. 12 via a meeting with regional and state Insurance Services Office (ISO) representatives that the Queen Station would be reduced to a Class 10 ISO area. This decision was based on their recent visit to the station.

Although the equipment and water system on site were deemed more than sufficient, it was the drive time from Carlsbad and Artesia that was alarming to the ISO. After careful consideration, representatives advised that unless the ECFR was able to gain 12 fully trained volunteer firefighters or commit to staffing four full-time personnel per day at the station, there was no other alternative.

ECFR Chief Joshua Mack recommended the commission unrecognize Station 11 and allow the ECFR to retain the facility and store apparatus at the station for service to the Queen community. Mack said the area residents will continue to receive the same service they have for many years, and with proper notification, the ECFR will still provide personnel for standby during large events in Queen.

Mack noted that if Eddy County did not act first, the New Mexico Fire Marshal’s Office would place the county on probation for this station and remove funding themselves if the ECFR were unable to provide one of the above staffing options.

In other business Tuesday, the Carlsbad Municipal Schools’ (CMS) upcoming school bond election received much discussion at the meeting.

CMS Superintendent Dr. Gerry Washburn shared the upcoming school bond for $300 million is to build a replacement high school on the current high school site and remodel and add on to PR Leyva Intermediate School. The CMS will be mailing out ballots Feb. 26-28 that must be returned no later than March 22.

Washburn stated the current tax rate will be maintained for the district and will accumulate debt service funds up to approximately $30 million. Washburn stated they will issue the bonds and pay them off the next day.

“We anticipate paying off the existing $100 million bond,” said Washburn. “It basically means we will have the buildings paid for before we get them built. The money is set aside for each project in regard to interest for us rather than us paying interest. The big advantage to us is because the way we are issuing the bonds, the clock doesn’t start to run on us.

“If you pay bonds off on a normal 20-year schedule when you issue the bond, you have four years to expend that money; because we’re paying it off the next day, we don’t have to worry about that clock running. It’s a huge advantage to us and keeps us moving forward without having to wait. So we’re very fortunate we have that.”

Washburn said the square footage of the high school will increase from 343,000 to 388,000 square feet and will include a significant increase in primarily career technical education space. The current high school opened in 1963.

Washburn went on to say they are not ready to announce it yet, but CMS is also looking at building a new middle school. Currently PR Leyva has about 980 kids, Alta Vista has about 810 kids, and the high school has 1,450 students.

“With all the production in oil development, we are anticipating continued growth in the coming years,” said Washburn.

Eddy County Treasurer Laurie Pruitt spoke up during closing remarks and encouraged citizens to think before voting yes to the school bond.

“I am very sensitive to our tax rates and how much people are paying,” Pruitt said. “We have a lot of people that have trouble paying their taxes. I think a lot of people think that if I pay $1,000 in property taxes, the county gets $1,000. That is so far from true. I want people to think before they vote on the bond election that he said it is going to go from $100 to $300 million in debt.

“If you have a house in city limits in 2023, you paid approximately 43 percent to the schools. So out of that $1,000, $430 went to the schools. If you have a house outside the city limits, it was 52.66%, so out of the $1,000 you paid, $526 went to the school. So I think we need to be careful when we just out of hand vote yes on these thinking, ‘Oh, this is for the kids. This is great.’ Think about how it’s going to affect your life with everything else we are facing right now in taxes.”

The Eddy County Commission also voted to award a construction management contract to King Industries Corp., based in Ruidoso. The contract is for one year and will auto renew three times for a total of four years. Eddy County has worked with them before.

“We are looking forward to continue moving forward with them,” said Eddy County Community Service Director Steve McCroskey.

Eddy County Manager Roberta Gonzales shared a legislative update that most of the bills the county is tracking have passed committee and moving on to one chamber or another. A few bills Eddy County is keeping an eye on:

• House Bill 88 – firefighter recruitment fund

• House Bill 236 – return to work

• Senate Bill 151 – EMS funding health insurance. “I believe that one did pass with a reduced amendment from 10 percent to 5 percent,” Gonzales said. “I think that funding went from $22 million to $11 million.”

• Senate Bill 148 – removal of tax fees on local governments and would specifically affect Eddy County by $2.7 million. That bill went all way through.

• House Bill 146 – transportation trust fund

• Senate Bill 3, House Bill 6, and House Bill 11 – all regarding the Family Medical Leave Act. “House Bill 6 is the only one that I know of that cleared the first committee but then died in the House,” she said.

• House Bill 238 – a project on Highway 31 and 128, from the Department of Transportation.

The commission approved the following travel requests:

• Amy Dugas attended the SHOT Show in Las Vegas, NV from January 22, 2024, through January 27, 2024.

• Juan Zamarron attended the SHOT Show in Las Vegas, NV from January 21, 2024, through January 26, 2024.

• Jarod Zuniga to attend Expert Witness Courtroom Testimony-ITC 2024 in Las Vegas, NV from April 7, 2024, through April 12, 2024.

• Jarod Zuniga, Chris Cook, Devin Trujillo, Maverick Sperry, Bill Dugas, Tucker Bruns and Kaden Zuniga to attend FDIC International Firefighter Conference in Indianapolis, IN from April 14, 2024, through April 21, 2024.

• Chris Chavarria to attend FDIC International Firefighter Conference in Indianapolis, IN from April 13, 2024, through April 22, 2024.

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