The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Curry votes to allow funds for easement project


September 19, 2018

Jamie Cushman

Clovis City Manager Justin Howalt answers questions from the Curry County Commission about the city's conservation easement pilot program.

CLOVIS — After a lengthy discussion, the Curry County Commission on Tuesday voted 4-1 to allow the city of Clovis to use county funds for a conservation easement pilot project.

Commissioner Seth Martin cast the lone vote in opposition.

The county previously approved an intergovernmental services agreement with the city at its May 15 meeting, which included a $1 million payment from the county's environmental fund to the city.

During Tuesday's meeting, Clovis City Manager Justin Howalt told the commission that the city wishes to put some of those funds - he wasn't sure how much, though he expected it to be under $100,000 - toward attorney and appraiser fees associated with securing conservation easements for two landowners interested in the city's water banking proposal.

Water banking is one portion of the city's Master Water Assurance Plan, which will compensate landowners for storing or banking water instead of using it for agriculture.

"All this is doing is starting the acquisition process and paying those fees that are associated with it," Commissioner Robert Thornton said. "Water is something that there is no simple solution for and we have got to start somewhere trying to figure out a way to remedy the problems that we have and this is a start and this is something that we need to do."

There were questions about the legality of spending environmental funds when costs like attorney fees are not specifically identified as eligible in the county's ordinance. But City Attorney Dave Richards wrote in a letter that he believes the pilot project would qualify and Thornton included in his motion that the county check with the state before expending any funds.

Martin told The News he voted no because most of the targeted landowners have said they don't believe the city's water banking proposal is feasible.

"I think they need to proceed at looking at an option that the majority of the property owners are in favor of, not proceeding in a direction where it's a minority but it fits Clovis and their proposal," Martin said.

Howalt said at the conclusion of the pilot program, if the landowners choose to accept the conservation easements, the city will attempt to recoup costs from the landowners to avoid violation of the Anti-Donation clause.

He said the Clovis city commission also needs to approve the use of the environmental funds for the pilot project at a future commission meeting.

Also at Tuesday's meeting (all votes 5-0):

• The commission approved the county's $24,154 member contribution to the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority as part of its action items after Martin requested it be pulled off the consent agenda.

Martin asked ENMWUA Administrator Orlando Ortega about the city of Portales' $367,712 member contribution for last fiscal year, of which only $253,676.47 has been paid.

Ortega said his hope is that Portales will pay the remainder of that balance and the complete member contribution for fiscal year 2019.

Moments earlier the commission discussed a 2016 resolution approving ENMWUA loans. Martin asked Ortega why the authority plans to borrow $2.1 million to put toward Finished-Water 2 when it has nearly $5 million sitting in its general fund.

Ortega said the authority has other plans for that money and plans to use the majority of its $4.8 million general fund for FW-2 construction.

• The commission approved a notice of intent to authorize a $3,526,449 loan with the New Mexico Finance Authority.

County Manager Lance Pyle said that includes approximately $2.5 million for the detention center addition renovation project and $1 million for courthouse renovation.

• The commission authorized Spectra, which manages the Curry County Events Center, to enter negotiations with a band for an Oct. 25 country concert.

Pyle said including concessions, 1,075 tickets would be needed to break even.

The name of the band was not revealed.


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