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The Artesia City Council approved the promotions of six members of the Artesia Police Department at Tuesday’s meeting, an action that, according to Chief Don Raley, effectively promoted half of the APD’s supervisory staff.

“This was a long process,” Raley said. “But we’re looking at young folks now who, even though they have a long history of reliable service to this community, have a long future ahead of them before retirement, so we wanted to make certain they were prepared for the positions that they were looking to go into.”

The council approved the promotions of Pete Quinones and Ricardo Huerta to commander and the promotions to sergeant of Kirk Roberts, David Rodriguez, Jon Perez and Chantel Longway.

“We appreciate your service, and you deserve every bit of this,” said Mayor Phillip Burch.

The council also voted Tuesday to renew its franchise agreement with the Southwestern Public Service Company franchise (Xcel Energy) at a rate of 2 percent. That rate has been in place for the past 24 years, and the council elected to maintain it for the next 25.

Councilor Jose Aguilar expressed concern over being tied to a 25-year agreement but was assured the ordinance was not set in stone and could be revisited at any time.

Aguilar then motioned to increase the rate outlined in the agreement to 3 percent.

“Three percent is $750,000, and I think that’s what we gave away in property taxes,” Aguilar said, referring to the council’s decision this spring to eliminate the city’s property taxes to the tune of $750,000. That action was taken to offset a Hold Harmless Gross Receipts Tax increase, bringing income in line with exactly what the city was losing to the state in hold harmless payments.

“At a time that we’re a little tight with our budget, I think we need to, if we have an opportunity, restore that,” Aguilar said. “In the future, things are going to go up. Five years from today, 10 years from today, I don’t want them to say ‘This council should have done it.’

“I’d rather have that in property taxes, but I’m giving an opportunity to erase what we gave away when we took the high road on the gross receipts tax.”

“Yes, we’re working with a shorter budget this year than what we’ve had in the last several, but I sure don’t think that it’s the time that we go back and try to make up that difference in every little piece that we can in every different spot,” said Councilor Bill Rogers. “Now’s not the time to continue to tax the citizens of Artesia.”

Councilor Jeff Youtsey agreed.

“My argument when we were at the retreat was, because this is based on a percentage, as time goes on and electric bills go up, just like everything else does, your tax intake is going to go up, as well, so I think you get a modest increase just because of that act,” Youtsey said. “And like Councilor Rogers, I just can’t see another tax at this point.”

Aguilar was the lone vote in favor of the increase to 3 percent, with Councilors Nora Sanchez, Kent Bratcher, Youtsey, Rogers and Mayor Pro-Tem Terry Hill voting against. Councilors Raul Rodriguez and Manuel Madrid Jr. were absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

A vote was then taken on the originally proposed agreement at a rate of 2 percent, with all attending councilors approving unanimously.

“We’re two months into this year’s budget, and at this point, we’re on budget,” said Burch. “We’re slightly over as far as revenue’s concerned. We don’t have any reason to believe any expenses are out of line at all, so nothing has changed, basically, since we left for the retreat in the first two months to indicate we need to do something vastly different to increase taxes.”

Community Development Director Jim McGuire reported to the council an increase in building permit fees collected for the month of August. August fees collected this year totaled $13,766, up from $9,070 in 2014.

McGuire also indicated code enforcement is beginning to take action on the city’s new water ordinance, with an instance involving educating a user violating the ordinance listed in the statistics.

“Over the summer, I noticed several large water users in this town are not going by the ordinance,” said Youtsey. “Obviously, there are some people who could make a huge impact who are not getting the message for some reason.”

Burch encouraged the councilors to notify code enforcement of any violations they may witness.

Infrastructure Director Byron Landfair informed the council work at Woodbine Cemetery is essentially complete, with the exception of a landscaping glitch.

“The last piece of work out there was we were going to get 75 new trees,” Landfair said. “They got them in last week, and only 12 of them are still alive. So it’ll be maybe another two weeks or four weeks before
the other trees come back.”

In other business Tuesday, the council approved a request for the use of Jaycee Park from 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, for the Marcos Morillon Memorial 5K Run, as well as the hiring of Jeremy Rodriguez as an IT Technician I and James Hill as a Solid Waste Equipment Officer I – with Mayor Pro-Tem Hill abstaining – along with the promotion of Jesse Dominguez to Code Enforcement Officer I in the Planning Department.

Burch also informed the council of the upcoming retirement of John Jaquess of Smith Engineering.

“John has been in that position for a number of years and is one of the Smith Engineering folks that truly knows the City of Artesia,” Burch said. “Smith Engineering has always been a friend of Artesia’s, and we wish him well. I would like the record to state we appreciate John and the years he gave the City of Artesia.”