Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

City manager 'excited' about challenges of job

Britt Lusk took over position June 1.

 


Without the challenge, it would not be fun.

That's how Tucumcari's new city manager Britt Lusk feels about his new job of managing day-to-day operations of city government.

Lusk has been on the job since June 1.

"I'm excited," he said. "I see lots of challenges. The city has laid some good ground work and we need to keep up the momentum and figure out solutions."

Immediate challenges, he said, include getting control of the city budget, making sure the city is a "good steward" in maintaining its own properties (especially in light of the city's crackdown on hazardous and unsightly private property) and instilling a "customer service mindset" among city employees.

City budgets are "very tight," and the city should take care that it "balances its checkbook," he added.

The city has relied on state-required cash reserves to make up for shortfalls in recent months, but Lusk said that can lead to insufficient savings.

The city is working to submit a sound budget to the state by July 30, and then on ensuring the city has "a good audit," he said.

After receiving good "unmodified" ratings from the New Mexico State Auditor's office since 2013, the city's 2017 audit brought a "disclaimer" opinion, New Mexico State Auditor's Office records show.

The auditor's office's definition of "disclaimer" states, in part: "This means that the (city) failed to support their financial statements. Most likely there are missing documents in this case; such as missing invoices, etc."

Lusk said city employees should double down on efforts to spruce up city properties that have become overgrown or run down and be creative in getting the job done, especially in light of budget limits.

In the meantime, he said, Police Chief David Lathrom is planning a series of meetings with city residents to explain the city's "nuisance ordinance," that seeks to eliminate health and safety hazards on city lots.

The series will begin 6 p.m. Thursday at the Del Norte Center with a meeting focusing on District 1, represented by Commissioner Ralph Moya, Lusk said.

To begin developing a customer service orientation, employees should know "the goals of their department and know how they fit in the big picture," he added.

The city should let each employee know, "Your role is important," he said.

He told a story about President John F. Kennedy's visit to a National Aeronautics and Space Administration facility.

The president encountered a janitor, Lusk said, and asked what the janitor did for NASA.

"I'm helping to put a man on the moon," the janitor said, and explained how he kept floors mopped and restrooms clean so the scientists working on the moon project had more time to devote to science.

"We have to get creative and find ways to do more with less," Lusk said.

He is already encouraged by the people he is working with, he added.

"We have a strong commission and a great team (of employees) working for the city," he said.

The city should be finding ways to raise revenue by attracting more business, he said.

"We need to find ways to raise gross-receipts tax revenue," he said.

The city should also look for more reasons for drivers to pull off the road in Tucumcari, he said, citing studies that show 14,000 to 15,000 vehicles drive through Tucumcari daily on Interstate 40 and 4,000 to 8,000 a day drive through on U.S. Route 54.

"That's about 20,000 vehicles a day," he said.

At a recent Knights of Columbus state convention that Tucumcari hosted, Lusk found many in the state knew Tucumcari as the "city of murals" and "a city of potential."

Over a longer term the city should improve its infrastructure to attract more visitors, he said, especially on Route 66 and downtown.

He is encouraged by a state program that may be providing more funds for projects along Route 66.

City government is currently working with Griffin and Associates, an Albuquerque marketing and advertising firm, to develop a branding strategy for the city. The firm has a $50,000, one-year contract with the city to develop a brand and marketing strategy.

The $50,000 is part of a $63,000 grant from the New Mexico Department of Tourism's New Mexico True campaign, said Joanie Griffin, owner of Griffin and Associates.

She said the city will also use grant funds to purchase print, broadcast and social media advertising.

At Griffin's suggestion, the Tucumcari Chamber of Commerce is running a photo contest to collect images of people and places in Tucumcari.

Griffin said Monday her firm will focus on Route 66 and its "unique dining, museums and lodging;" Ute and Conchas lakes and water activities, the Mesalands Community College Dinosaur Museum and the city's murals.

While Lusk sees promise in the prospect of Tucumcari receiving a racetrack and casino license from the state, he said the city will hold off on campaigning until the application is submitted to the New Mexico Racing Commission. The deadline is July 30.

Lusk said benefits of the racino are likely to outweigh negative consequences.

Marketing strategies, like changing the city's employee mindset and infrastructure upgrades, "will not happen overnight," Lusk said, but he said he welcomes the challenge to tackle these issues.

 

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