By Ron Warnick
QCS Senior Writer 

City settles on $1.50 raises for workers


August 3, 2022

A divided Tucumcari City Commission on Thursday settled on $1.50-an-hour raises for all city employees for fiscal year 2023 after considering $2.50-an-hour hikes for those workers or exclusively police officers.

Most commissioners admitted they wanted the bigger raises to help the city’s pay scale be even more competitive with other municipalities. They expressed concerns, however, about the possibility of a national recession blunting city revenue, plus deficits that might empty the city’s cash reserves in just a few years.

The city’s finance director, Rachelle Arias, reported the $2.50-an-hour raise for everyone on the city payroll would lead to a projected deficit in the general fund of over $803,000 for fiscal-year 2023, which begins July 1. The projected deficit for $2.50-an-hour races for just the Tucumcari Police Department and $1.50 for everyone else would be over $717,000. The general-fund deficit for $1.50-an-hour raises for all city employees would be a little over $681,000.

Arias said the city’s cash balance would fall from the current $4.8 million to $4.2 million with $1.50 raises that the commission eventually imposed. The $2.50 raises for all would have cut the cash balance to $4 million.

Mayor Pro Tem Ralph Moya, noting the police department was down to half of its 14-person force because of departures, insisted during a work session earlier Thursday that $2.50-an-hour raises were sorely needed and that city revenue was better than the finance director’s projections.

“I don’t see (revenue) as big of a problem as it once was. I see Tucumcari growing. I think GRT (gross receipts taxes) will stay up,” he said.

“It’s tough for the commission, but we have to help the community retain our employees. I’d like to see our employees not have to have a second job.”

Interim City Manager Mark Martinez said manpower shortfalls don’t exist in just the TPD, but in other city departments. Commissioner Christopher Arias noted the Clovis Police Department also had dwindled to half of its full staff.

Police Chief Pete Rivera said the FY2022 hourly wage of $16.37 for an uncertified police officer wasn’t enough to draw applicants.

Rivera said young applicants look at the city’s pay scale and say to themselves: “I can go to McDonald’s and get as much and not put my life on the line.”

Rivera at a previous meeting said uncertified officers were being offered $20-an-hour at Santa Rosa.

Commissioner Mike Cherry balked at the proposed $2.50 raises, saying it was “too much” amid the uncertainties with the economy.

“I’m scared to put any more in,” he said. “Let’s be realistic, and let’s be prudent.”

Cherry said he was open to the commission holding midyear budget review in January, after the state’s minimum wage rises to $12, and reassessing whether the city can impose more raises at that time.

Commissioner Arias agreed with Cherry that $2.50 raises were too high but concurred with Moya’s optimism about the city’s revenue — to a point.

“Until we see that happen, we have to control the purse,” Arias said. “The idea we can drain our cash reserves in five years scares the crap out of me.”

Arias asked the finance director how much revenue had increased in the general fund in the past fiscal year. She estimated it rose by about $300,000.

Commissioner Paul Villanueva said he could empathize with the arguments for prudence by Arias and Cherry.

Mayor Ruth Ann Litchfield agreed with Arias and Cherry, saying she wanted bigger raises for employees but that pay hikes “must be realistic.” She also agreed with Cherry’s idea for a midyear budget review.

In the end, Moya cast the only dissenting votes against adopting fiscal-year 2023 budget and final-quarter financial reports for FY2022. Moya said his “no” votes were because he favored the $2.50-an-hour raise, though it remained unclear why his dissenting vote was relevant to the financial report for the previous fiscal year. Villanueva abstained in his vote both times.

In a vote for a final budget adjustment for FY2022, Cherry abstained while the other voted to approve. He indicated he was bothered by the lack of a paper copy that detailed the budget adjustment.

Martinez during the work session also recommended that fee increases for sewer and trash rise from the usual 2% a year to 4% to give those departments more fiscal headroom.

Reports, comments

• During public comments, resident M. Jaramillo said she was disturbed by the recent cutting of trees near her parents’ graves at Tucumcari Memorial Park cemetery. She said she received no notification of the tree removals, nor did Martinez return her phone messages.

Jaramillo said another resident saw a tree removed next to her father’s grave, and another resident said a tree next to her husband’s gravesite was “hacked off.”

Upon questioning by Villanueva later in the meeting, Martinez said later he was busy or in meetings all day and was unable to call Jaramillo. Cherry later said that residents with complaints also should contact their city commissioners.

• Daniel Evans said he recently acquired the vacuum-cleaner building in downtown and asked that code violations sustained by the previous owner in 2019 be removed. Martinez said later in the meeting he met with Evans and was confident that issue would be resolved.

Evans also told about a sewer problem by his property that was “definitely on the city side.”

He urged the city obtain a grant to fix the city’s closed swimming pool and offer van service to residents who are unable to travel due to high fuel prices.

• Several city commissioners gave Martinez verbal authorization to send an email to the New Mexico Music Commission and express interest in participating in its cost-share grant program that might offer the city up to $10,000 to help pay for musical entertainment.

• During commissioner comments, Moya urged more code enforcement on trash near Jimenez Park and weeds at the closed KFC building on South First Street, including filing liens. Martinez said such enforcement is on hold while there is an opening for the municipal judge position. He also advocated taking a closer look at future city budgets and creating a fund to deal with unsafe abandoned buildings.

Moya said he was troubled by a larger deficit in the city’s EMS service. Martinez said such medical services never reach a break-even point.

• Villanueva directed complaints about trash in public housing behind the Circle K store on East Tucumcari Boulevard and old couches and mattresses littering alleys. Martinez said issuing work orders would clean those alleys. He said a $15 pickup fee for large items also serves as an option for residents.

• Litchfield read a thank-you letter from four people whose family member became seriously ill while staying at a Tucumcari hotel, requiring an airlift to Amarillo for treatment. The letter praised paramedics Elena Young and Garrett Nash and Fire Chief Casey Mackey for their quick response and support. Resident Arthur Romo took care of the ill woman’s small dog, Tate, at his home as she recuperated. The letter praised other residents for taking care of the woman’s belongings.

“You should be proud that everyone involved made a huge difference and are the reason our friend is recovering,” the letter stated. “Our heartfelt thanks to the people of Tucumcari for making sure a complete stranger was treated like family.”

Other action

• Commissioners approved a resolution to participate in the New Mexico Department of Transportation’s Co-op Fund for street work near the Tucumcari Recreation Center. The total amount was $73,333, with the city’s share being $18,333. Commissioners also approved a resolution requesting a waiver of the city’s cost-share amount.

• Commissioners gathered in a closed executive session for about 45 minutes to discuss the hiring of a new city manager. No action was taken when open session resumed. Once a city manager is hired, Martinez will step down to resume his old position as assistant city manager.


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