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

Curry to withdraw from water authority

 

November 20, 2019



CLOVIS — Curry County commissioners on Tuesday voted to begin withdrawal from the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority.

In a 3-2 vote, commissioners decided to withdraw from the authority and work with Grady and Melrose to have 2011 state legislation creating the authority amended to reflect their departures.

Much of the morning portion of Tuesday’s meeting — about 3 1/2 hours — was dedicated to discussion with Clovis Mayor and Authority Chair David Lansford on the future water situation.

The Clovis city commission recently approved a tentative tax that would raise $15 million toward an interim groundwater project.

The authority is tasked with creation and operation of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System, which would use reserved water at the Ute Reservoir in Quay County as a source of municipal water for authority entities throughout Curry and Roosevelt counties.

Those entities are now reduced to Clovis, Portales, Texico and Elida.

The project includes three components — an intake structure at the reservoir, an interim groundwater delivery system and eventual connection of the system to the reservoir.

Lansford said the intake structure is in place, and building the interim groundwater project means the authority “would be a functional utility.”

The project comes at a $90 million cost, with a proposed cost share of $20 million from the authority, $30 million from the state and $40 million from the federal government. The Clovis city commission recently passed a property tax increase that would only go in effect if both the state and federal shares were authorized, with a deadline of March 31, 2022. The tax would raise $15 million of the authority total, with Lansford noting the city is 75% of the authority.

When asked where the remaining $5 million would come from, Lansford said the city of Portales still needed to have those discussions, as did other authority members, but he felt Clovis needed to show commitment to motivate other entities to make those same financial decisions themselves.

County commissioners, and citizen Blake Prather, questioned the idea of committing entirely to infrastructure without having any negotiations with water rights owners to make sure there is an eventual water supply to put in that infrastructure.

Commissioner Seth Martin, a farmer, noted, “I can make more money growing a crop,” than selling water rights to a municipality and Prather echoed those sentiments.

“You don’t build the house before you drill the well,” Prather said.

County Commission Chairman Chet Spear noted that EPCOR, the city’s water supplier, is a for-profit business that would stand to profit heavily while government entities take on the financial risks.

Commissioner Ben McDaniel echoed those concerns, noting, “EPCOR has us,” while making a gripping motion with his hand, “and we need to keep that in mind.”

Martin said any inclination he had to withdraw from the authority wasn’t based on EPCOR, which he noted has worked with county residents on its own, or the county’s $30,000 in annual membership dues. His issue was that the authority’s goals only address the concerns of municipalities and not those of county residents who don’t live in those municipalities.

“We should not have skin in the game,” Martin said, “because we don’t have any water distribution system.”

The authority board currently has seven members — three Clovis representatives, two Portales representatives, one Curry County representative and one member that rotates annually between the smaller municipalities. Lansford noted that the county pays less than 2% of the costs of the water project, but has roughly 14% of the representation. He also noted that the gross receipts taxes of the interim groundwater project would benefit the county far more than it would spend on membership fees.

Commissioner Robert Thornton, the county representative on the authority, felt the commission was making a reckless decision that would impact the authority’s chances of getting state and federal dollars for the interim groundwater project.

“For us to exit sends the wrong message to the state, it sends the wrong message to the federal government,” Thornton said. “It’s extremely short-sighted on our part to not be part of the solution.”

Commissioner Robert Sandoval agreed with Thornton and said the county would regret withdrawing.

“I don’t think we’re just street signs and green lines,” Sandoval said. “We’re a community of people. We spend a lot more on things for a lot less (benefit).”

Spear, reading a list of his concerns he wrote in advance, pointed out that Lansford is the mayor of the city, the chairman of the water utility authority and chairman of the city’s water advisory policy and holds too much influence over the process. He frequently referred to Lansford as the “mayor-chairman-chairman” while addressing the city’s tax increase would not cover future water acquisition costs. Lansford, in response to a question from Spear earlier in the meeting, said, “The public knows there are more costs coming, but if the authority were to become functional it would take care of some of those operating costs.”

The vote to exit the authority was approved by Spear, Martin and McDaniel and opposed by Thornton and Sandoval. Thornton noted post vote, “I think we’ve just made a huge mistake; I don’t know where we go from here.”

Authority Executive Director Orlando Ortega said he would work with the county to help it exit.

“We respect your decision,” Ortega said. “Whether the decision is good or bad, it’s your decision. We took the same approach with Melrose and Grady.”

Spear concluded the discussion by noting, “This is not personal; it’s business.”

 
 

Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2019