The subject of taxes weighed on the minds of Tucumcari city commissioners and citizens at the commission’s Nov. 11 city hall meeting.
Pajarito Interiors owner Ruth Nelson was the first to address the commission. She expressed concern over the burned, hazardous Sands Dorsey building and asked the commission to pursue legal action against building owner Robert Hengstenberg.
“Use some of our tax money, whatever you need to do to get this problem taken care of, but you can’t expect me or other citizens to think this is a great idea if you’re not trying your best to collect from him,” Nelson said.
Tucumcari Mayor Jim Witcher read a letter from city attorney Randy Knudson addressing Hengstenberg’s liability to pay for the demolition of the building.
“After re-reading a variety of statutes I do not believe that there is any way Mr. Hengstenberg can be cited criminally … but perhaps has sufficient resources that we could attach or garnish in an effort to force him to address the issue. I do want to further advise you that a civil lawsuit could be a futile gesture if Mr. Hengstenberg does not have sufficient assets that we could attach or garnish,” the letter read.
Hengstenberg and his attorney could not be reached for comment.
The major issues addressed at the meeting included two proposed tax ordinances. One would rededicate the city’s current .25 percent Ute water tax to fund the demolition and disposal of the Sands Dorsey building as well as beautification of the site. The other ordinance would enact a .25 percent municipal gross receipts tax increase to fund initiatives including landfill equipment purchases and city revitalization projects.
Witcher said the city would take out a loan to begin work on the Sands Dorsey building if the Ute tax ordinance passes, and that the project could take between three and five years for the city to fund. Commissioner Jimmy Sandoval questioned if re-allocating the Ute tax would weaken the city’s claim to Ute Lake water.
“Amarillo was saying on the news the other day that they want the water from Ute, and then the people from Clovis and Portales want the water,” Sandoval said.
“I understand that,” Witcher responded.
“But they’re big communities and we’re a small community, so we don’t have a chance at the rate that we’re going,” Sandoval said.
“We’ve got every chance in the world because they can’t have our water. We’re not talking about using their water and they can’t have our water,” Witcher said.
“They’ve been talking about it,” Sandoval responded.
“Well they can talk all they want to,” Witcher said.
“We’ll see. Five years is a long time,” Sandoval said.
“Well again, we’ve got $1.2 million in it now, so we’re not talking about using that money. We would still have $1.2 million to do with whatever we needed to,” Witcher said.
The commission approved the first reading of an ordinance to re-allocate the .25 percent Ute Lake water tax with Sandoval and Mayor Pro Tem Antonio Apodaca voting no. If the second reading is approved, citizens will vote to pass or block the ordinance.
The commission voted to table an ordinance enacting a .25 percent municipal gross receipts tax increase. Members will first read the ordinance at their Dec. 9 meeting. The city council will hold a town hall meeting at the Tucumcari Convention Center Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. to address resident concerns.
If the commission votes to approve the tax increase, no public vote is required to enact it. Citizens must petition the council by collecting signatures from at least five percent of Tucumcari residents who registered to vote in the November midterm elections.
While Witcher and Lumpkin voiced support for the ordinances, Apodaca expressed opposition to the tax increase.
“Tax increases are not an excellent economic tool and I think we’re hurting economic development in Tucumcari,” Apodaca said.
Lumpkin said he felt the council needed to inform the public of the proposed tax ordinances before making any final decisions.
“People need to know everything we are going to spend this money on. They need to know how long it is going to last, they need to know that this money is going to benefit Tucumcari and also when people — if we pass this and the people don’t want that — then they can get a petition. They would cause this to have to go to election or drop it. So without that meeting of information I believe that it could fail,” Lumpkin said.
The commission also approved the first reading of an ordinance creating the Tucumcari Memorial Park Advisory Board. If approved, the board will consist of five members appointed by Mayor Jim Witcher and approved by commissioners for one-year or two-year terms. The board would meet on a quarterly basis. The commission will conduct its final reading of the ordinance at its next city hall meeting scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m.