Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Ron Warnick
QCS Senior Writer 

Potholes, healthcare dominate political forum

 

November 30, 2022

Ron Warnick

State Sen. Pat Woods, left, listens as state Rep. Jack Chatfield speaks during a political forum Nov. 22 at the Tucumcari Zia Club.

Local healthcare access and potholes on city streets were the most frequent concerns that constituents relayed to two state legislators during a political forum last week hosted by the Tucumcari Zia Club. One lawmaker also offered a possibility to fund the construction of a new hospital in Tucumcari.

State Sen. Pat Woods and state Rep. Jack Chatfield, both Republicans, heard that feedback and talked about the New Mexico Legislature session coming in mid-January. Many officials from the city and county attended the Nov. 22 event.

Zia Club President Jerry Lopez and musician Carlos Medina, a frequent visitor to Tucumcari, organized the forum. State Sen. Pete Campos, a Democrat from Las Vegas, was invited but sent his regrets, citing time constraints.

Woods said state budget talks already have begun, with an estimated $2.5 billion in new money, mostly from oil and gas revenue.

Woods said he did not know how much new money would be given to capital outlay, noting those amounts usually aren't known until "the last minute" of the session.

He said an estimated $1 billion in capital outlay funds remain unspent across the state. Woods warned that entities had better spend that money.

"One of these days, the state is going to start pulling money back," he said.

Hospital

Both lawmakers were asked about possible state funding for a new hospital in Tucumcari to replace the aging Trigg Memorial Hospital. A new hospital will cost more than $20 million, and the county will seek state and federal funds for the project.

Woods, who arrived to the forum about an hour late because he said he forgot it, said a state fund of about $50 million for a hospital in Valencia County allocated about a year ago has remained unused. Woods said he could approach the legislature about letting Quay County tap that fund.

"If Valencia County won't spend it, why not let Quay County have it?" he said.

Woods said he asked whether Presbyterian Healthcare Services, which operates Trigg Memorial Hospital, might be interested in helping build a new Tucumcari hospital. He said he received a noncommittal on that.

Quay County Commission Chairman Franklin McCasland pointed out to Woods that Quay County owns the hospital and that Presbyterian leases it.

McCasland said keeping a hospital in Tucumcari is crucial.

"If we don't have a hospital in the community, you haven't seen the worst of it," he said. "We have to have the hospital. It's a backbone to the community."

Chatfield, a member of the legislature's Finance Committee, said he has tried to impress on other legislators the importance of the hospital.

"I believe it will be built," he said. "That's something we're pushing for pretty strongly."

The county commission likely will see the final design and a firmer cost estimate for the hospital during its December meeting.

Potholes

Tonya Rigdon, a Realtor and business owner in Tucumcari, said the city's crumbling streets need repair and wondered whether the city could receive some federal infrastructure funds for that.

Rigdon said the city's new residents have noted the poor condition of streets.

"Our county roads have really improved," she said. "I see no improvement in the city streets at all."

Scott Crotzer, director of the Tucumcari/Quay County Chamber of Commerce, said the city's potholes have proven harmful to tourism and commerce. He said several prospective new residents and businesses have backed out of deals in Tucumcari due to the poor condition of roads.

Crotzer suggested the city needs to find "a creative way" to use tourism funds on streets.

City manager Paula Chacon acknowledged the poor state of streets "is a big issue" but noted two street rehabilitation projects are scheduled to begin soon. She said she also was investigating grant options for such repairs.

City Commission Pro Tem Ralph Moya said Campos has helped the city obtain street-repair materials and a pothole machine, but the latter was vetoed by the governor. Moya said officials from the state Department of Transportation have inspected streets under their jurisdiction and offered funding.

Moya said Tucumcari is a large city geographically and that street-repair funding has been lacking for years. He said he fears the condition of some streets are "so far gone," they'll be much more costly to repair.

City commissioner Paul Villanueva advocated finding funds for the city to buy UPM, a high-quality cold-mix asphalt patch material, to repair potholes.

Rigdon didn't mention him by name but criticized Greater Tucumcari Economic Development Corporation director Patrick Vanderpool for not attending the forum. She also said Vanderpool "has never set foot" in her businesses.

"Maybe it's time to get another economic development person," Medina responded.

Philip Box, an EDC member, pushed back on some of Rigdon's criticisms, noting the organization's "door is open" to hear concerns. Box said concerned residents should become an EDC member and offer to help.

Upon hearing the concerns, Medina said the Zia Club should hold political forums quarterly or every two months. He also said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's Cabinet secretaries should visit Tucumcari.

Medina said he also would offer to introduce residents to lawmakers during the annual Quay Day in Santa Fe before the session.

Healthcare

Clara Rey, director of senior centers in Tucumcari and Logan, specified funding needs for the region's elderly.

She said the region needs funding for non-emergency medical transports because patients have to travel out of town to see specialists.

Rey also said funding is needed for home caregivers. She said Medicare doesn't cover such services.

"We have a lot of people living alone with dementia, and it's heartbreaking," she said.

She said the state also needs to hire more adult-protective services staff members, noting the closest one is in Clovis.

McCasland said state lawmakers need to be pressed on the importance of a proposed four-county behavioral health center. He said the county spends $1 million each year to house inmates, many who have mental illness. He said the state pulled funding for TeamBuilders counseling services in this area.

Moya expressed concerns residents will fall off the Medicaid rolls once the expansion of the federal program, which began during the coronavirus pandemic, ends.

Other concerns

• A woman who didn't identify herself said it's "depressing" that Route 66 tourism - a significant revenue source in Tucumcari - is not supported more by the state government. She also said Route 66 tourism needs more national funding.

Crotzer said New Mexico "needs a plan" for Route 66 before its 100th anniversary in 2026. He said Route 66 remains internationally known among many prospective tourists.

• Lopez, a member of the Tucumcari Public Schools board, recommended New Mexico pass a version of David's Law to address cyberbullying and hold parents accountable. Lopez said he hears constituents complaining of inaction by school administrators. He said current state law "needs teeth" and added: "I don't want Tucumcari schools to become the next Uvalde."

• City commissioner Mike Cherry urged lawmakers to increase state EMS funding from the current $2.8 million to $10 million. He said under the current structure, Tucumcari's EMS program receives only $14,000 from the state, which is "way not enough."

Moya also noted the city's ambulance service once ran a $300,000 deficit and that the service covers the entire county - with the possible exception of Logan - along with parts of Harding County and the Conchas Lake area in San Miguel County.

• City commissioner Christopher Arias, noting Quay County ranks last in child welfare, recommended that state lawmakers strongly consider the city's infrastructure plan, saying it contains "a commonsense approach for children."

 
 

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