Published: 3:17 pm, Wed. May. 24th, 2017Updated: 3:14 pm
The Artesia City Council elected to restore all city employees to full pay and also approved the promotion of the community’s new police chief at Tuesday’s regularly-scheduled meeting.
Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Bill Rogers made the announcement regarding the elimination of the 10-percent pay cut the council implemented in August 2016 in response to its severe budget shortage.
In late September 2016, a local foundation extended a grant to the city that restored full pay to certified police officers, firefighters and EMTs, as well as two librarians.
In the months since, city employees had regularly attended council meetings on their and their colleagues’ behalf, urging the council to reinstate their pay, particularly that of workers whose compensation came via enterprise funds rather than the general fund.
In an April 30 letter to the editor, Solid Waste Department employee Dave Davies petitioned the council once again to restore wages, stating a quarter of the city’s workforce had been forced to leave since the pay cut.
At its May 9 meeting, Rogers indicated the cut’s elimination was included in preliminary figures for the city’s next fiscal year budget – which begins July 1 – and that preliminary budget was approved by the council Tuesday, along with a little more.
Rogers told the council the committee was recommending not only the restoration of full pay to all employees effective with the June 1 payroll but a 2-percent increase in pay across the board, as well.
Those actions were approved.
Rogers did point out no new capital outlay expenditures had been approved in the preliminary budget due to continued funding shortages.
“We’re still looking at a $2 million shortfall for the next year just to operate the city,” Rogers said, stating a substantial Gross Receipts Tax (GRT) check from the state last week had helped the city significantly but that it will still be “running behind” as the oil and gas industry continues to recover from its devastating downturn.
“But don’t think that the capital requests are just going away,” Rogers assured. “That’s not what we intend to do. What we intend to do is consider them in mid-year. Just give us a little more time to see if we’re still headed in the right direction.”
Mayor Phillip Burch thanked the Budget and Finance Committee – which also includes Mayor Pro-Tem Terry Hill and Councilor Jeff Youtsey – for their efforts.
“I think that it’s going to serve us well,” said the mayor. “We don’t know some things that we need to know before the final budget is approved at the retreat, and some of that has to do with activities that will start on Thursday.
“The state legislature meets again, and we don’t know what may be forthcoming there, but as you know, the county commission has a meeting also on Thursday, and we’re not quite sure what’s going to be forthcoming there, either. But both of those entities could still impact what we’re looking at in the next fiscal year. So stay tuned.”
The council also approved the hiring of Artesia’s new chief of police Tuesday.
Sgt. Kirk Roberts, head of the APD Professional Standards Unit, was approved at a pay rate of $7,000 per month and sworn in by Municipal Judge Kaye Kiper. Following that ceremony, Roberts was pinned by retiring Chief Don Raley, whose departure takes effect June 30.
“We’re a fortunate city tonight – we have two police chiefs,” Burch joked. “Kirk, we look forward to working with you, and as much as we enjoyed working with Chief Raley for 11-plus years, we look forward to a long stay with you, and we know you will serve the post well.”
The council additionally approved its 2015-16 audit presented by JJ Griego of Griego Professional Services.
Griego told the council the city “did an excellent job once again this year” and had a “very good and positive report.”
The councilors also gave School Resource Officer (SRO) Cpl. Tony Baca, chairman of the Artesia Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee (JJAC), permission to move forward with the committee’s plans to involve Artesia in a state program that annually funds prevention or intervention programs for at-risk youth.
“As of right now, our youth just go to the juvenile probation officer, and they get so many hours of community service, and then they’re out the door,” said Baca. “What this will do is it will bring different types of programs like Teen Court or different types of family counseling, some types of drug and alcohol first-offender programs, to our youth.”
Once JJAC representatives have visited other communities to research the programs that work best for them and the costs associated with each, they will be requesting the city serve as fiscal agent for the funds received from the state; fiscal agents receive 5 percent of the funding.
Burch asked Baca how the program would differ from what is being done now at the 7024U Youth Outreach Center, and Baca stated the programs would enhance and complement 7024U’s work.
Councilor Nora Sanchez also pointed out that the community has had first-offender and Teen Court programs in the past that fell by the wayside due to lack of funding. Baca assured that, through the state program, the money requested by the city would be guaranteed, “as long as we show the state that the programs are working for our youth and it is making a difference.”
In other business Tuesday, the council:
• approved a waiver of fees for a standby ambulance for the June 9-11 High Plains Junior Rodeo Association rodeo at the Artesia Horse Council Arena;
• approved the correction of a pair of stated street width vacation distances on file in the Eddy County Clerk’s Office for Third Street from Main Street to Richardson Avenue;
• approved the hiring of Jonathon Bannister as a Streets Department Equipment Operator II at a pay rate of $2,406 per month, and of Jarrod Davis as a Parks Department Equipment Operator II at $2,406 per month;
• granted permission for the hiring of summer recreation aides at pay rates of $7.50 per hour;
• granted permission to advertise and fill the positions of community service officer, teen services librarian, firefighter and police sergeant;
• and approved a resolution supporting a public-private economic development MainStreet project and approval of the Biennial Memorandum of Understanding between New Mexico MainStreet and the Economic Development Department.
As part of its consent agenda, the Artesia City Council approved:
• the resignation of Cecil Kimberlin, community service officer, effective April 24.
• the resignation of Sarah Jones, teen services librarian, effective May 24.
• the resignation of Joshua Rodriguez, firefighter, effective May 11.
• permission to set a public hearing for June 13 for consideration of an ordinance for the vacation of 40 feet of the 100 feet of public right-of-way in the 600 block of West Chisum Avenue, requested by the Pecos Valley Baptist Association, Luis and Aida Flores, Jess and Connie Holmes, Celeste Alaniz, EII-L1-L3, LLC, Margaret Aguilar and Joe Baca.
• permission to set a public hearing for June 13 for consideration of an ordinance amending penalty assessment misdemeanors.
• permission for one fire employee to attend a Command and Control NFA course in Emmitsburg, Md.
• permission for one fire employee to attend Executive Analysis of Fire Service Operations in Emergency Management in Emmitsburg, Md.
• permission for three police employees to attend the National Association of School Resource Officers Conference in Washington, D.C.
• permission for one police employee to attend pepperball instructor training in Artesia.
• permission for one police employee to attend a basic criminal investigator class in Artesia.
• permission for two fire employees to attend the BNSF Hazmat training in College Station, Texas.
• permission for one police employee to attend SFST Instructor Update training in Roswell.
• a request by DOES No. 45 (Elks Lodge) and the Chamber of Commerce for permission for the use of Main Street from Bulldog Bowl to Second Street from 7:30-10:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 4, for the annual Fourth of July parade.
• a request by the Artesia Chamber of Commerce for the use of Jaycee Park from 8 a.m. – 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 4, for the annual Fourth of July celebration and fireworks display.
• approval of a Lodgers’ Tax request for a National Artesia promotional piece (15-, 30- and 60-second spots) to be aired on PBS stations around the country for two years ($37,500).
• approval of Artesia Police Department firearms accessories trade-ins.