Officials discuss rental bill issues


December 19, 2018

Owners of rental property in Tucumcari apparently are tired of being held responsible when tenants skip out on water bills when they leave town, according to an attorney and Tucumcari City Commission members who discussed the issue in a public work session Thursday.

The work session was held just before the commission's regular meeting, and no decisions were made as a result of the discussion.

"There is a problem here,” Attorney Don Schutte said. "Landlords are getting hammered. Sometimes they don't even remember who the tenants were.”

Schutte said landlords sometimes are surprised when they are ready to rent out a property and find there is a lien because of unpaid water bills from a tenant who vacated it years ago or when the city will not turn on water until past tenant bills — sometimes totaling hundreds of dollars — are paid.

City finance director Rachelle Arias said city ordinances require that landlords be held responsible when tenants fail to pay water bills.

Schutte asked whether deposits paid to establish service should not be applied to unpaid bills.

Arias said deposits, which cover three months of typical bills, usually are applied, but often the deposit is insufficient.

District 1 Commissioner Ralph Moya said in Clayton, where he owns rental property, the city notifies a landlord when a tenant misses a water bill.

City Manager Britt Lusk said his solution is to increase the rent he charges to tenants and pay utilities himself.

Commissioners also discussed a pending decision on whether to participate in the state local election law, which would combine local contests with state races beginning in November 2019.

In its regular meeting Thursday, the commission gave an ordinance that would commit the city to participating in the state election law a first reading without further discussion.

In the work session, City Clerk Angelica Gray said the city has the option to participate.

If the city participates, the cost of the election is covered by a state fund that includes payments from municipalities that total $750 per $1 million in tax revenues. That translates to about $7,500 a year, she said.

If the city does not participate, it would be responsible for covering its election costs, and all elections would have to operate through mail-in ballots, she said.

Moya said the city should not participate because the city should retain its independence. Combining many elections on a single ballot would “create confusion,” he said.

Gray said the turnouts in local elections have been very low, adding recent recall elections have been triggered by petitions that required very few signatures because the number is a percentage of total turnout.

Gray also asserted there is confusion with city elections because early voters turn up at the Quay County Courthouse instead of Tucumcari City Hall to cast ballots.

Gray said local elections often leave her swamped because she alone administers the elections.

Lusk supported Gray, saying, “I think the amount of work the city clerk has to do is a huge consideration.”

In the regular meeting, the commission:

• Approved the hiring of George K. Baum and Associates, an Albuquerque financial services firm, to assist the city with investment decisions, such as floating bonds. Bradley Angst, first vice president of the firm, told the commission Baum would charge the city for fees only when its services are used. Moya abstained from voting, saying he wanted to learn more. Mayor Ruth Ann Litchfield and commissioners Chris Arias and Todd Duplantis voted to approve the arrangement. District 2 Commissioner Amy Gutierrez was absent.

• Approved the city's Youth Conservation Corps grant of $431,444.19 from the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to be matched by the city's contribution of 28,872.79, totaling $70,000. The money is used to hire young adults to work on fix-up, paint-up projects in city parks. Alex Villanueva, who supervises the program for the city parks department, said projects for next summer include replacing and painting wooden canopies, repairing basketball backboards and nets, constructing volleyball nets and repairing and replacing park benches.

• Authorized the hiring of Gallagher and Kennedy, a Santa Fe law firm, to represent Tucumcari as the city joins other New Mexico municipalities in a lawsuit alleging the New Mexico Tax and Revenue Department has unlawfully withheld gross-receipts tax revenues collected by the state on the city's behalf, according to text of the resolution the commission passed Thursday. The law firm will collect 10 percent of money up to $4 million and 3 percent of proceeds over $4 million, the text of the resolution said.

In his city manager's report, Lusk said he learned about the size of the outdoor recreation industry at a recent conference of city manager in Albuquerque. He said the city should look for more opportunities to support this $886-billion-a-year industry that provides 6 million jobs nationwide.

He said he is also looking at opportunities to help the city gain more in capital outlay funding in the 2019 New Mexico Legislature session by working with the Eastern Plains Council of Governments.

Moya asked about flooding problems on East Maple Boulevard and streetlights that had gone out on the city's west side at an exit from Interstate 40. Lusk said he intends to follow up on the Maple Street situation and said the city has done work to repair circuits on the street lights and is awaiting Xcel Energy crews to restart the lights.


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