Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Local concerns aired at legislative forum


December 12, 2018

Ron Warnick

State Sen. Pat Woods, left, and Jack Chatfield, representative-elect for District 67, listen to a question Saturday during the Quay County Legislative Forum in the Tucumcari Convention Center.

Several concerns aired – including gun-control legislation, preservation of four-day school weeks and a possible hike in the minimum wage - during the Quay County Legislative Forum in Tucumcari illustrated New Mexico's rural-vs.-urban divide.

One current and two future state officials attended the forum Saturday at the Tucumcari Convention Center. State Sen. Pat Woods (R-Broadview), a lawmaker since 2012, presided over much of the talk.

Also attending were Jack Chatfield, a Republican from Mosquero recently elected as representative of the state's 67th District, and Jeff Byrd, a Republican from Tucumcari recently elected to District 2 of the Public Regulation Commission.

Among those attending included officials from Tucumcari, Quay County and Mesalands Community College. Patrick Vanderpool, executive director of the Greater Tucumcari Economic Development Corp., served as facilitator of the discussions.

Some officials expressed anxiety over the agendas of mostly Democratic lawmakers from the densely populated Rio Grande Valley versus the more conservative viewpoints of rural New Mexico. Democrats gained more power in the legislature during the November election by sweeping all the major state offices, including governor.

Woods said he expects to see gun-control bills when lawmakers reconvene in Santa Fe in early January – especially "red flag" legislation that would allow family members or police to seek a court order to confiscate firearms from people deemed as an immediate threat.

Like Woods, Chatfield expressed his wariness to red-flag bills on Second Amendment grounds.

Chatfield said he wants to keep the current four-day school week because it's "important" for farmers and ranchers and their children. He said the four-day week reduces busing and utility costs for school districts. Some urban lawmakers have expressed dissatisfaction with the four-day week and want to return to the traditional five-day schedule.

Several attendees asked Woods about the possibility of lawmakers proposing a minimum-wage increase to $10 to $12 an hour. Tucumcari City Manager Britt Lusk said a large increase would be "detrimental" to small towns. Carmen Runyan, director of the Tucumcari/Quay County Chamber of Commerce, also said a large hike would be "catastrophic" to small, family-run businesses.

Because of recent high-profile school shootings, Woods said he expects state lawmakers to allocate more money for school security, including fences around school buildings to limit access. The Tucumcari school district has perimeter fencing included in its proposed five-year plan.

The senator said lawmakers probably will increase teacher pay because of a lack of prospective teachers attending college. The New Mexico Supreme Court also ruled this summer the state's funding formula for schools is inadequate; Woods said more funding for school districts is likely in the wake of that edict. He said he wasn't sure on the total, except it will be "an enormous amount of money."

Woods noted governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham wants to improve road funding, especially in the oil- and gas-producing areas of southern New Mexico. He said the larger number of trucks in the oil fields in that region have torn up local roads and increased the number of traffic accidents.

Byrd said New Mexicans should expect a "somewhat higher" utility rates in the coming years. He said his job at the PRC is to "balance the needs of industry and people," and electrical rates need to go up to help utilities cover rising costs. Byrd said if the PRC rejects a rate hike, utilities would appeal it to the state Supreme Court and likely be awarded a much higher increase.

Quay County manager Richard Primrose said the state needs to increase funding for rural counties' detention centers. He said insurers now are requiring county detention centers to provide medical and mental-health treatment to inmates.

"It's a huge drain on all the counties," he said of jail operations. "I'd like to see the state pay its share."

Woods asked about whether regional detention centers would help, but County Commissioner Sue Dowell opposed the idea. She said many poor families can't afford longer trips a detention center would require, and she didn't want to take jobs away from the county detention center.

Primrose also held a dim view about property-tax breaks for incoming companies. "Anytime you're decreasing property and gross-receipts taxes, it makes it more difficult for municipalities to keep operating," he said.

Chatfield said he favored property-tax decreases, but only for a short time for companies to help build their infrastructure.

Lusk said Tucumcari's wastewater treatment center soon will no longer be compliant with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations. The city has formed a plan to use wastewater to help grow field crops. But funding for the project remains problematic, and it recently was rejected for a $3.3 million state grant.

Lusk said Runyan has become "more aggressive" as a liaison for the New Mexico State Film Office to attract movie and television productions to Quay County. He also said a committee has been formed to attract more retirees to Tucumcari.


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