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The Artesia City Council will hold a special meeting Tuesday, Sept. 6, to discuss the city’s “hold harmless” Gross Receipts Tax distributions ahead of a special session by the New Mexico Legislature.

At the upcoming special session, called for last week by Gov. Susana Martinez in order to address the state’s budget shortfall, the Legislature is anticipated to take drastic measures to stop the bleeding, which could include dipping into municipalities’ hold harmless distributions.

However, state law mandates if those funds have been pledged against a bond or other debt owed by the municipality, they are exempt from recall. As such, the council will be discussing committing the city’s distribution money to the bill for the Public Safety Complex.

The slashing of payments to municipalities by the state in the wake of the budget crunch and the downturn in the oil and gas industry that continues as a direct cause have led to other headaches for the council in recent weeks, including the decision following its annual retreat in late July at Hotel Artesia to cut city employees’ pay by 10 percent.

That decision came after the projected $1.55 million in revenues the city expected to receive per month came in at $1.39 million on the fiscal year’s first check received in July. Laid out over 12 months, that left the city approximately $12 million short of projections.

Having cut the majority of feasible line items from the budget, the council said, it was left with personnel costs as the only source to generate a significant amount of revenue.

Many city employees expressed disappointment with the manner in which they learned the news of the salary reductions, saying they received word in a bulk email. The city said it chose that method in order to ensure all employees would receive the news at the same time and eliminate any chance of rumor or speculation.

Also at the retreat in July, the council reevaluated its take-home vehicle policy, removing vehicles it determined were not absolutely necessary for some positions to perform their duties.

At the center of the discussion on take-home vehicles was the Artesia Police Department, which received permission over the last several years to bypass the original policy that take-home vehicles were only authorized within 15 miles of the intersection of 13th and Main streets. The APD maintained that in order to compete for qualified candidates living in the Carlsbad and Roswell areas, offering those officers a take-home vehicle was a must.

However, in the face of budget woes, the APD agreed to return to the “15 mile” policy for all new hires. Those employees already taking vehicles home will be allowed to continue to do so.

The council also approved a $600,000 project for the city’s IT department to address three primary concerns. Those include the replacement of outdated switches between city buildings, for which replacement parts have become impossible to find; the repair of breaks within the fiberoptic network around Artesia; and the implementation and necessary federal certification for the use of new dispatch software that would allow the APD to pull information directly from the software’s data repositories.

During its regularly-scheduled meeting Tuesday, the council also approved the hiring of a second city cashier after initially denying the position at the retreat. After identifying hardship placed on in-office staff at City Hall – which had not been without a second cashier in more than 50 years – who were being required to fill in when necessary, the city agreed to the hiring, and Jenna Gonzales was submitted as a candidate at a pay rate of $1,833 per month. Oscar Bejarano was also hired as an apprentice mechanic at a rate of $2,024 per month.

The council additionally granted permission to fill the positions of firefighter(s), solid waste equipment operator, and cemetery equipment operator following the submitted resignations of Arturo Alfaro Jr., Solid Waste Department equipment operator; Phillip Acosta, cemetery equipment operator; Dakota Corbell, firefighter; and Darryl Fedric, fire lieutenant.

Artesia Fire Chief J.D. Hummingbird also informed the council Fire Marshal James Abner would be resigning effective Sept. 9.

In other business, the council passed a resolution to accept a grant from the Construction Programs Bureau of the Environment Department for $360,000 for a water tower to be constructed in the Jaycee Park area and the setting of a public hearing for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13, at City Hall for those wishing to appeal utility accounts currently listed as delinquent with the city.

The council approved the mayor’s signing of a purchase agreement for property on Main Street through the Greater Artesia Economic Development Corporation. Once that agreement is finalized, the city will disclose the location of that property.

Permission was also granted to First Baptist Church for the use of Jaycee Park from 1:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18, and Sunday, Oct. 16, for Seek First Flag Football Tournaments, and a beer and wine license was approved for La Fonda Restaurant. The restaurant is not yet serving beer and wine but will be utilizing the license soon.

As part of its consent agenda, the council:

• approved the awarding of a bid to provide on-call services for pump and well repair and replacement, primarily for the Water Department, to Pecos Valley Pump Inc. of Artesia.

• approved the New Mexico Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NMLETS) Criminal Justice Non-Terminal User Authorization Agreement.

• ratified the mayor’s decision to approve an Assignment and Assumption of Interest in Lease from Western Atlas Inc. to Baker Hughes Oilfield Operations Inc. for Lot 1, Block 1, of the Artesia Industrial Park.

• ratified the mayor’s decision to approve a Memorandum of Lease with Baker Hughes for Lot 1, Block 1, of the Artesia Industrial Park.

• ratified the mayor’s decision to approve an Assignment and Assumption of Interest in Lease from Baker Hughes to Grimes Land Col., Ltd., for Lot 1, Block 1, of the Artesia Industrial Park.

• ratified the mayor’s decision to approve a Memorandum of Assignment of Lease with Grimes Land Co. and Baker Hughes for Lot 1, Block 1, of the Artesia Industrial Park.

• set a public hearing for Sept. 13 for consideration of ordinances to amend certain Criminal and UTO provisions of the Artesia City Code.

• granted permission for two police employees to attend the New Mexico Property and Evidence Techs training in Albuquerque.

• granted permission for one police employee to attend the New Mexico Homeland Security training and conference in Albuquerque.

• granted permission for two police employees to attend the Unmanned Aircraft Systems in Disaster Management training in Socorro.

• granted permission for one police employee to attend the Strategies and Tactics for DeEscalation Instructor training in Artesia.

• granted permission for one wastewater employee to attend the NMWWA Central School in Albuquerque.

• granted permission for one police employee to instruct an Ethics/Sexual Harassment training in Santa Fe.

• granted permission for one fire employee to attend the New Mexico Fire Chiefs’ conference in Ruidoso.

• granted a request from Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church for the use of Guadalupe Park from 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, and 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, for the annual Family Fun Fall Fiesta.