By Steve Hansen and Thomas Garcia
Quay County Sun
New roofs, a trash compactor and other big-ticket hardware dominated the wish lists of Quay County civic, school and other leaders presented Monday to two members of the New Mexico State Legislature.
State Rep. Dennis Roch (R-Logan) and State Sen. Pat Woods (R-Melrose) listened to the presenters and expressed a few goals of their own at Monday evening’s legislative reception sponsored by the Greater Tucumcari Economic Development Commission and the Tucumcari Chamber of Commerce.
Roch said capital outlay funding, which is where most of the legislative money for local projects originates, comes from severance taxes derived from mining and oil and gas drilling. Each representative and senator receives a portion of capital outlay funds to allocate to their districts.
Last year, Roch said, the House and Senate split $100 million.
Roch said local interests ask for more than his total allocation, which requires him to submit phased capital outlay projects. If local interests ask for phased projects, he said, he can serve more communities by allocating in installments until projects are completed.
Tucumcari is seeking assistance with the $100,000 cost of a new roof for the Civic Center, according to Jessica Elebario, who made the appeal. City Manager Doug Powers appealed for capital outlay funding of $425,000 to purchase a new trash compactor for the city’s landfill.
Powers said it will make the new cell added to the city’s landfill last longer than the previous one, which filled up prematurely, largely due to inability to reduce trash volume adequately with an aging compactor. Powers said an official designation of the landfill as a regional facility would increase the city’s influence to obtain further equipment and assistance to operate the landfill. The landfill currently takes garbage from Santa Rosa, San Jon and other nearby communities.
Quay County government is seeking a new roof for the Quay County Detention Center and some help in renovating heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at the jail, County Manager Richard Primrose said. He also said he would like to see more state-level funding to support for the Dr. Dan C. Trigg Memorial Hospital, other county health facilities and the county agricultural extension offices.
Franklin McCasland, manager of the Arch Hurley Conservancy District, said the district is looking for state support to buy equipment and fixtures that will help the district conserve water. Examples, he said, include digging equipment to deepen channels, installation of pipelines and Bentonite, a clay-like material, to line water transport ditches, to reduce water loss due to seepage. The total bill for such equipment, he said, might total about $500,000. The district, he said, is poised to allocate water next growing season for the first time in three years.
Mark Lake, director of Tucumcari MainStreet, said he would favor more support for the Frontier Communities program. He said could provide more assistance for the continuing renovation of Tucumcari’s historic Train Depot, the “anchor project” for MainStreet’s effort to revitalize the Tucumcari’s downtown area.
Larry Wallin, village manager for Logan, said the village needs more water storage facilities.
Not every official asked for hardware, however.
San Jon Mayor Billie Jo Barnes said state money could help alleviate problems with drainage north of I-40 and west of State Highway 469. She said the village needs a new ambulance. The current ambulance was purchased in 2004 and has been repaired several times, and emergency medical crews feel it is not dependable.
Colin Taylor, superintendent of San Jon Schools, said his main wish from the legislature would be to pass legislation that would set a minimum level of funding for smaller school districts.
“There is a level of funding that even the smallest districts cannot operate without,” he said, and setting a floor level for small-district funding, he said would guarantee that each district would be able to meet its most essential needs.
Taylor also said San Jon schools would benefit from a pre-kindergarten program to improve school readiness for children entering kindergarten.
Dr. Thomas Newsom, president of Mesalands Community College, said he is seeking support from the state for the college’s efforts to coordinate with local government agencies to enhance economic and workforce development through education and training.
Leonard Lauriault, superintendent of the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center near Tucumcari, said he is seeking state help in increasing faculty and technicians at the center. An additional faculty member has been authorized to specialize in limited irrigation and dry-land farming. Since 40 percent of the world’s arable land is similar to that in New Mexico, he said, the Tucumcari Ag Science Center could become an international center for research on semi-arid agricultural methods.
Roch said he was impressed at Quay County’s effort to gather a variety of community leaders in the same place to make funding requests. He said it would show regional cooperation and recognized common needs.
“The landfill is a regional concern,” he said. “The college is a regional asset. The hospital is regional.”
Quite often, he said, neighboring local interests are fighting each other with competing desires, which works against meeting common needs. Roch said regional approaches are more productive use of capital outlay and other legislated funding than a focus on purely local needs.
Roch, who is also superintendent of Logan Schools, also said the state needs to change the basis on which it awards “lottery scholarships,” financed with proceeds from the New Mexico State Lottery. Lottery scholarships have been consuming about $80 million a year, he said, but lottery proceeds are down to about $40 million a year, and the extra lottery revenue that had allowed current funding levels is gone.
Roch said he would favor rewarding scholarships based either on academic performance or choice of career areas in high demand over rewarding scholarships purely on the basis of need.
Woods said it is tough to drive through small towns like Tucumcari and see businesses with boarded up windows.
Woods said he recognizes the impact the drought has had on the economy of Tucumcari and Quay County, as well as other rural areas across the state. He said the resulting financial losses have been devastating to both individual farmers and ranchers and the state.
Woods said there is a need of continued support for irrigation projects such as Arch Hurley Conservancy District, which supplies water to 43,000 acres of farm and ranch land in Quay County. He said the district’s inabilty to allocate water to members in the past few years has resulted the loss of millions of dollars of revenue.
Woods said it is very hard to explain rural problems to officials in Albuquerque and Santa Fe who are unfamiliar with rural areas that are driven by agricultural production.
If the current decline of rural agricultural production continues, he said, there will be an increase in imports of agricultural products.
“I’m sure when they are paying $9 for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread they will begin to take notice,” Woods said. “Though we want to raise awareness of the need to support agricultural production before it comes to that.”