Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Ron Warnick
QCS Senior Writer 

Snowy weather raises restriction concerns


October 28, 2020

With snow swirling outside, the Quay County Commission openly wondered Monday morning what would happen to stranded travelers if Interstate 40 closed because of a winter storm and motels and emergency shelters were limited in their capacities to house them due to COVID-19 restrictions.

County Emergency coordinator Daniel Zamora said his plan was to set up at least three emergency shelters that would hold about 100 people each, though he acknowledged that was down from typical capacity of 300 or more. He said each shelter would contain masks and hand sanitizer.

He admitted potential problems caused by coronavirus health restrictions was “keeping me up at night.”

“I think it’s an example of a rule made without forethought,” Zamora said.

The issue had some urgency for the commission. Heavy snow was forecast Tuesday, and the National Weather Service had much of the state under a winter storm warning.

Under the state’s public health order revised earlier this month, lodging establishments are limited to 25% capacity, or 60% if they completed New Mexico Safe Certified training. Zamora said he did not not know how many Tucumcari motels took the training.

Zamora said he doubted New Mexico State Police would cite motels for violating the occupancy-limit rule if a winter storm stranded travelers.

“The alternative is people freezing to death in their cars,” he said.

Commission Chairman Franklin McCasland said “it’s ridiculous to not put people in motels” and that even 60% occupancy was “not acceptable in an emergency situation.”

Even if roads remained open, McCasland said some travelers opt to stay in Tucumcari an extra day, waiting for bad weather to subside at Clines Corners and other mountain passes.

Commissioner Sue Dowell said such businesses should consider immediate public safety over the health order.

“Cite us; I don’t care,” she said, summing up her stance.

McCasland asked Zamora to contact the state to clarify on how local authorities are supposed to handle a winter storm in light of the public health order.

In other business:

• The commission unanimously approved a resolution that stated its objections to proposals before the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission.

One objection is to a plan to remove qualified immunity to governmental employees and entities against legal claims. Such proposals have been a hot topic this year after reports of police brutality across the country.

The resolution states such changes “would likely result in a premium increase which … cannot be quantified” and “could cripple smaller entities in their ability to provide services to their residents and might result in tax increases on everyone.”

County manager Richard Primrose said the New Mexico Association of Counties also wrote a letter stating similar concerns and that small counties may be unable to procure insurance.

Commissioner Mike Cherry, before moving to adopt the resolution, said of the civil rights commission’s plan: “I think it’s another way to defund law enforcement.”

• County Assessor Janie Hoffman said she’s received phone calls and social-media messages asking about increases to property-tax bills.

Noting rates are set by the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration and not the county, Hoffman said recent bond issues by the Tucumcari, Logan and House school districts primarily are responsible for the increases.

She said voters in Tucumcari Public Schools approved a two-mill levy during a special election last year.

“In my opinion, they did not tell the public” the levy would lead to higher property-tax bills, Hoffman said.

Hoffman estimated the Tucumcari levy led to an $85 increase in property taxes for a $100,000 home.

Dowell said she also received questions about the property-tax hikes.

• The commission approved a juvenile housing contract with San Juan County for $275 a day. Primrose said the commission last month received from San Juan County the wrong contract that would have guaranteed one bed per day at an annual cost of $6,000. Quay County has several contracts with juvenile-detention facilities and annual spends only a few thousands dollars total.

• Primrose said the county’s gross-receipt tax revenue continued to be strong because of ongoing highway and bridge construction projects, online sales and food sales.

• In more routine matters, the commission approved a first-quarter Department of Finance and Administration financial report, a first-quarter DWI Program distribution financial report and the DWI Program’s first-quarter report.


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