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The Artesia City Council is hoping they’ll soon have an answer as to why some of the city’s Gross Receipts Tax checks have been much smaller than anticipated.

While GRT payments from the State of New Mexico have dwindled in all municipalities, the issue of mysteriously leaner returns is of particular interest in Artesia, where last month’s payment of $713,000 – about $1 million less than the $1.7-$1.8 million the city was expecting – put the community atop a dubious list.

“In the last eight years, there have been four instances that a community’s Gross Receipts check was $1 million or more short in a month,” Mayor Phillip Burch told the council Tuesday. “The very first one was the community of Eunice, Farmington has had one, and two (have been in) the City of Artesia.

“It’s a frustrating situation, especially for the City of Artesia. Obviously, it’s a real hit when you get less than half of the money you’re anticipating.”

Burch said that each time Artesia’s payment has been below the projected amount, City Clerk Aubrey Hobson has contacted the Taxation and Revenue Department to ask why.

“Their answer has always been, ‘We can’t tell you that,’” said the mayor.

Burch told the council legislation was finally enacted last year that requires Taxation and Revenue to provide some sort of notice regarding a GRT payment that has been adjusted, as well as to allow review of their records in order to determine why the adjustment was made.

Hobson subsequently made the trip to Santa Fe to review last month’s shortage, as well as previous adjustments.

“Aubrey started at 9:30 today at Tax and Rev, and I’m really anxious to hear the result of his visit,” Burch said Tuesday. “He didn’t expect a welcome party, and so he will give us a report as soon as he gets back.”

In other business Tuesday, the council heard reports regarding various construction projects around the city.

Community Development Director Jim McGuire said construction on the Roselawn Manor Apartments affordable housing project at the former Artesia General Hospital site is ahead of schedule and on pace for a September completion.

McGuire said the developers are not yet taking applications for tenants but that a list is being compiled of interested parties who wish to be notified once the application period begins. McGuire said the developers’ contact information can be obtained by contacting him at 746-2122.

Councilor Luis Florez raised concerns constituents living in the area have voiced regarding water and mud flow into the street around the construction site, and McGuire assured him the contractor is planning to address that.

Infrastructure Director Byron Landfair told the council water from the site will be redirected to storm drains on Park Avenue and that to facilitate that redirection and prevent pooling, the contractor plans to reconstruct Fourth Street from Bullock Avenue to Park.

Landfair also indicated the current phase of the 13th Street Reconstruction Project is on pace for an early June completion and that the new portion of the Eagle Draw walking path south of Main Street has been completed and signed off on by the state.

Councilor Nora Sanchez inquired about the installation of lighting along the unlit portions of the Draw walking trail, and Landfair said no money was available in the current budget for their construction.

“That’s one of the things that we’ll consider in the budget starting next month,” said Burch.

Burch also provided the council with an update regarding the passage of House Bill 174 during the recently-concluded legislative session.

The council approved a resolution opposing the bill – which sought to combine all elections below the county level, including city, school board, hospital board, soil and water conservation board, etc., as well as any bond or tax issues those entities wished to go before the voters, into a single election to be conducted by the county on a date set by the state – at its Feb. 28 meeting.

The mayor said a key amendment that allows municipalities to opt out of that arrangement allowed the bill to pass with the support of local legislators.

“The first election that this will impact is in 2019, so there are a couple of years that it’s not going to affect anyone anyway,” said Burch, “but I think at that point we may see a great many of the municipalities opt out and continue to run their own elections.”

The council also passed six resolutions pertaining to the annual adoption of required Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) policies.

The council heard from one visitor Tuesday, who informed them the bathrooms at the John R. Gray Girls’ Fastpitch Complex at Jaycee Park had not been open for use. The council clarified that, during active youth league seasons, the leagues themselves are in charge of opening and maintaining facilities, but said they would contact the Artesia Girls’ Softball Association to make sure they were aware of the problem.

Councilor Raul Rodriguez reported the City of Artesia’s youth basketball league had recently wrapped up its 2016-17 season, with the caveat that the gym facility at the Artesia Center, where the games are held, is becoming a tight squeeze for the amount of fans attending.

Mayor Pro Tem Terry Hill told the council the Infrastructure Committee is continuing to meet regularly regarding the city’s proposed water rate increase. A public hearing on that issue has been set for the April 25 council meeting.

Sanchez also informed the council she had heard from citizens regarding the city’s continued lack of a swimming pool, as well as the fact the city does not operate a recycling program.

Rodriguez closed the meeting with discussion of the recent turnaround at Navajo Refining Co., which brought a large number of temporary workers into the community.

“We do want to thank the current businesses,” Rodriguez said. “Everywhere we went during the Navajo turnaround, boy, it was packed. I hope that the businesses took advantage of this, and I hope they were treated with good customer service.

“We want to thank Navajo, Holly Energy, and all those that were involved in this turnaround.”

“One of the guys that worked with me, on his last night, made the comment – he said, ‘I just have to tell you that of all the towns and cities that we go to, I have never been treated as good as I have in this city,’” said Councilor Jeff Youtsey.

The mayor said he had been asked about the economic impact of the turnaround but that the city will not have an exact picture of that until next month.

“Gross Receipts for February will arrive in April, and so we do anticipate seeing the result of having 1,200 to 1,500 additional people eating lunches and dinners, and being in hotel rooms, and those sorts of things,” Burch said.

The council also approved Tuesday the hiring of Aaron Marquez as an Equipment Operator II with the Solid Waste Department at a pay rate of $2,406 per month; Brenda Meek as an Equipment Operator I with the Cemetery Department at a rate of $2,234; Sarah Jones as a Librarian II (teen librarian), $2,951; and Marcella Sanchez as a certified police officer, $3,849.

Anthony Urban of the Solid Waste Department was promoted to the position of Equipment Operator I at a pay rate of $2,234 per month.

As part of its consent agenda, the council granted permission for:

• one police employee to attend the Law Enforcement Coordinators’ Symposium in Albuquerque.

• one fire employee to attend a paramedic refresher course in Ruidoso.

• one police employee to attend pepperball instructor/armorer training in Artesia.

• 11 fire employees to attend the Fire Academy Burns and Written Exam in Socorro.

• the use of Woodbine Cemetery by First United Methodist Church from 6-6:45 a.m. Sunday, April 16, for an Easter Sunrise Service.

• the use of Baish Veterans’ Memorial Park by the Pecos Valley Baptist Association from 12:15-12:45 p.m. Thursday, May 4, for the 2017 National Day of Prayer.

• the ratification of Mayor Burch’s approval for a standby ambulance March 25-26 at the New Mexico High School and Junior High Rodeo Associations’ event at the Artesia Horse Council Arena.