Local leaders discuss upcoming challenges

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson Col. Stephen Clark, commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon Air Force Base, talks about base housing during Monday’s city/county luncheon at the Clovis-Carver Public Library.

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Not too long into Monday’s city/county luncheon, County Commissioner Bobby Sandoval spoke of what kind of help Curry County could count on with the Legislature working on a budget shortfall.

“I think their words were, ‘Don’t expect squat,’” Sandoval said.

And with that, the tone had been set for the luncheon, which gathered numerous local entities to discuss accomplishments of 2009 and what to look forward to for the coming year.

Cannon Air Force Base Wing Commander Col. Stephen Clark spoke a little further out than 2010, including a personnel buildup at Cannon through 2015. The buildup could stretch base population to 5,500 or more — an increase of nearly 1,500.

Housing privatization on base, which Cannon is working on along with four other bases in a cooperative, is expected in the summer of 2011. Clark said construction would likely start as soon as 2012 in the Chavez West section of base housing.

Bases normally try to let the community handle most of their housing needs, and Lt. Raymond Gobberg of Cannon’s Public Affairs Office said officials are trying to participate in a local housing task force as part of that commitment.

“It’s a free information flow,” Gobberg said, “in terms of how many airmen are coming, here’s when they’re coming, here’s what they make, here’s what they can afford.”

The base also is standing up the 20th Special Operations Squadron, which flies the CV-22 Osprey, in a Friday ceremony. A standup for the 523rd Special Operations Squadron, which flies the MC-130J, is set for 2011, Gobberg said.

Also at the luncheon:

• Clovis Community College President John Niebling said the college is seeing enrollment increases due to low national employment.

But he’s afraid the Legislature may request a 15 percent tuition hike. That would mean an extra $180 of expense to students for a 36-credit-hour year.

• Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm said she fears cuts of between 3 percent and 10 percent for the upcoming school year.

“We will do everything we can to work through it,” Seidenwurm said. “It will be public, and there won’t be easy answers.”

• Curry County Manager Lance Pyle said the Curry County Special Events Center has been chosen to host the New Mexico High School Finals Rodeo for the second straight year.

• Chase Gentry, executive director of the Clovis Industrial Development Corporation, said he hoped he could soon make an announcement about a new renewable energy company coming to the area, and said bond money granted to Southwest Cheese has helped in adding 40,000 square feet to the plant.

• Robyne Beaubien of Clovis MainStreet said 2009 brought eight new businesses and 27 new jobs to the Main Street area.

• Ray Mondragon, an appointee to the state’s budget and balancing task force, said the group has been working with Gov. Bill Richardson on how to make cuts and increase revenue in the upcoming year.

Mondragon said he’s in favor of cutting and consolidating cabinet positions. He also supports letting retired state employees come back to work while collecting pension because their experience and background are worth the cost, he said.