Serving the High Plains

Officials back away on proposed $400 fee

Tucumcari city commissioners during a work session and the first reading of a revised cannabis ordinance on Thursday backed away from a proposed $400 fee for cannabis business licenses.

City Manager Mark Martinez recommended striking the $400 fee from the ordinance after a lawyer with the New Mexico Municipal League discouraged it during an earlier meeting, citing the possibility of discrimination lawsuits. A cannabis license applicant also indicated she would sue if the fee were enacted.

Martinez said commissioners can set fees by a resolution at a later date, probably after the second and final reading of the revised ordinance scheduled for Jan. 27.

Martinez recommended lowering the cannabis license application fee or raising other city license fees to make them more equitable.

During the work session, several commissioners and city officers expressed discomfort with the previously discussed $400 fee for a city cannabis license.

Santa Fe attorney Jared Najjar, who first alerted city officials about the ordinance’s initial problems during a New Mexico Municipal League workshop and advised on revisions, had said the city’s cannabis license fee shouldn’t be more than $25 to $50 higher than the city’s top tier for other licenses. The city’s maximum fee is $250 for a liquor license. Martinez also noted the state also sets a $250 fee for medical marijuana couriers.

“I worry about opening ourselves up for a lawsuit,” Martinez said of the $400 fee. “I don’t want to paint ourselves in a corner.”

City Clerk Anjelica Gray agreed: “When the attorney talks about potential lawsuits, that worries me.”

New commissioner Mike Cherry said, “I believe you should listen to the attorney.”

Commissioner Christopher Arias said he also disagreed with the $400 fee, noting some residents believe city government is not “business-friendly,” and such a fee would strengthen that perception.

Mayor Ruth Ann Litchfield asked: “Wouldn’t it be easer to go lower (on the fee) and raise it later?”

Commissioner Ralph Moya insisted the city can justify the higher fee due to the bigger workload such licenses will create for city agencies. He dismissed the notion a higher fee would be a hardship for mom-and-pop businesses.

“If you’re going to have a dispensary, you’re going to have to have money,” he said.

Martinez said cannabis licenses will create “a bit more paperwork,” but little else.

“Yes, it’s more of a workload, but I don’t anticipate hiring more personnel,” he said. “It’s not in the budget.”

Martinez also recommended the ordinance contain language to allow manufacturing “to a slight capacity” of cannabis products, especially for those growing their own marijuana.

Legal sales of recreational marijuana in New Mexico are set to begin no later than April 1. The state’s Cannabis Control Division last week approved its first retail licenses, both in Albuquerque. A cannabis manufacturing business license in Clovis also was approved.

Other action

• At the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, commissioners choose their officers. Litchfield was re-elected as mayor. Moya was elected as mayor pro tem. Cherry was chosen as liaison for the city’s lodgers tax advisory board. All other committee members remained the same.

• Jamie Luaders, director of the Tucumcari Quay County Emergency Communications Center, gave what she said will be quarterly reports about the region’s 911 system. She detailed improvements to the center’s systems and furniture in recent years and said the phone system should be updated in February. She said the center answers 500 to 900 calls per month.

During a discussion of police response times, Moya said it was “alarming” only two or three officers are on duty during shifts.

Interim police chief Pete Rivera, acknowledging a lack of manpower, said only three people had applied to become an Tucumcari Police officer in 2021.

“We don’t have the applicants,” Rivera said. “We do the best we can.”

Martinez also said the sheriff’s department and New Mexico State Police generally do not assist city police unless it’s an emergency.

• The commission adopted an annual Open Meetings Act resolution where it sets meeting dates for 2022. Regular meetings remained on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month, except for adjustments for holidays.

• The commission with little discussion approved renewal of four-year contract with contractor Clara Rey to run Tucumcari Senior Center programs. According to commission documents, the city has committed to contribute $62,111 to the program for the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

• The commission approved a modification of a runway rehabilitation contract for Tucumcari Municipal Airport. Project manager Ralph Lopez said the cost of the project fell from $372,600 to $349,482.25. All costs are covered by federal funds.

• In the consent agenda, the commission approved the appointment of Dana Leonard to the city’s Planning and Zoning Board.

• Rivera announced the promotion of officers Justin Garcia and Daniel Lopez to the rank of corporal in the department, prompting applause from the gallery.

Manager’s report

• Martinez said he recently met with principals of the “Bands of Enchantment” music television show, which lowered its request for lodgers tax money from $300,000 to $200,000 to cover costs for shooting its second season in Tucumcari. He said the producers were firm with their revised request but were looking at landing more sponsorships.

• Martinez reported the state’s tourism department was providing a 2-to-1 match in tourism advertising this year.

• He said floor renovations for the Tucumcari Convention Center were ongoing. Tile was nearly all removed and will be replaced by polished concrete.

Commissioner comments

• Arias asked Martinez whether repairs to a road near Tucumcari Memorial Park cemetery and landfill road would be higher priority. Martinez said he was looking at resurfacing the landfill road but cautioned it is a private road to which the city has an easement. Martinez also urged residents to report potholes so they can be added to the city’s repair list.

• Answering a question from Moya, Martinez said three of the city’s four ambulances were well-working. The fourth needs its rear end replaced. Moya said work on that vehicle has been needed since fall and urged him to resolve it quickly.

Moya again asked for action on a collapsed building at Second and Main streets.

• Commissioner Paul Villaneuva apologized for his absence from several weeks of meetings after his wife suffered broken ankles and he contracted COVID-19.

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