Water, roads top election issues

Kevin Wilson

Clovis’ municipal elections are 30 days away, as of Sunday.

Here’s a rundown of five of the top issues candidates have, and will, discuss throughout the next four-plus weeks.

There’s plenty of intersection on some of these issues. For example, the growth of Cannon Air Force Base has led to a demand for quality of life initiatives, and the increased population has put noticed pressure on streets and other infrastructure.

Water: Whether the pipeline runs through the city or through eastern New Mexico, the natural resource is a topic that never gets ignored in debates, forums or town halls.

The heaviest users of water on the High Plains are involved in agriculture, but it doesn’t mean city residents don’t feel any initiative to conserve.

New Mexico American Water, Clovis’ water provider, has often provided incentives for consumers who buy water-efficient appliances. In response to 2011’s months-long drought, the city commission approved changes to its drought management plan — which includes a standing component of scheduled lawn waterings by address.

For inside of Clovis, the city is about to begin the first phase of its effluent water pipeline project. Wastewater — the city produces about 4 million gallons per day — would be treated to a quality below drinking level and be available to water city- and school-owned fields.

The city received approximately $4 million from the state water trust board, which will go towards the first phase of the project. The total project cost is an estimated $12.5 million.

The larger-scale project, at $432 million, is the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System, also known as the Ute Water Project. The pipeline will move reserved water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to authority members in Curry and Roosevelt counties.

Each entity has a share of the estimated $43.2 million local cost (10 percent of the project, compared to 15 percent from the state and 75 percent from the federal government, under the terms of its federal authorization). Clovis is paying about $13 million of its $36 million share by a gross receipts tax of .25 percent, effective Jan. 1. The tax was approved by the commission, and upheld in a special election forced by a petition drive by the High Plains Patriots.

Infrastructure: When commission and mayoral candidates were asked about their top city and district priorities, water and roads ran in a dead heat.

During a candidate forum in late January, incumbent District 1 Commissioner Randy Crowder joked that you took a risk if you held a cup of coffee while driving down 21st Street.

In March of 2010, the city’s public works committee created a priority list with more than a dozen particular stretches of streets. Chairman Len Vohs, also mayor pro tem for the city, said, “I don’t see any roads I’d throw out,” on the list, and said the strategy should be to identify one project to knock out every year instead of chasing several and only getting partial funding to do each.

Incumbent District 4 Commissioner Chris Bryant said roads are his absolute top priority, but he wants to find ways to fund their repair other than a tax increase. His opponent, R.L. “Rube” Render, also has noted roads as one of his top two priorities, water being the other.

Quality of life: Changes are happening in the city’s parks, and Monday is a clear indication. The city is holding a 12:30 p.m. ribbon cutting for its new dog park, which is a short walk away from the city’s next project — a splash pad replacing the Hillcrest Park Pool, long unused.

A citizen’s group has lobbied against the renovation of the old pool, and wants it to return to its original form. Commissioners said contracts had been signed and work had already begun on the splash pad, and the city has a public pool inside the park area at the Clovis Wellness Center.

Numerous walking trails have been created, and upcoming park repurposings include a picnic area, a modified “Par 3” golf course and youth sports fields.

Mayoral candidate David Lansford, who served three terms before Brumfield won election in an open 2008 contest (Lansford opted not to run again), said if the definition of quality of life was recreational projects, he commended Brumfield. He noted that during his tenure, the city added a new public works building and the Clovis Civic Center, which hosts numerous events — including the recent Carlos Mencia stand-up comedy show.

Cannon Air Force Base and city growth: Clovis’ population and economy is closely tied to Cannon, with supporters claiming the base was responsible for one-third of the local economy when it was targeted for closure. The Base Realignment and Closure committee gave Cannon and eastern New Mexico a compromise in 2005 — the Air Force would move out its fighter wing, but Cannon would enter an “enclave” status where it had a window to find a new mission.

That mission became Air Force Special Operations Command, which brought new planes and a new military demographic to the area.

By 2015, the base population is expected to be in the 5,500-6,000 range. Then-commander Col. Stephen Clark told the city it can expect a younger population — many on their first or second assignments.

That means families with young children, and homes in the $150,000-$180,000 range. But in a tight market, the pricing has usually been closer to $200,000 per home.

There has been some debate on how the city and the citizens should handle the housing shortage. The city commission approved an affordable housing plan last May, but a special election was forced by a High Plains Patriots petition drive, and voters overturned the decision by a 55-45 margin. Voters interviewed didn’t believe the government should take an active role in the housing market.

Economic development: The New Mexico constitution has an anti-donation clause, which states that an entity cannot make a financial or in-kind contribution to a citizen or private industry. The two allowable exceptions an entity can create are affordable housing and economic development.

One of Clovis’ biggest industries, Southwest Cheese, is in Clovis due to millions in tax incentives, and has recently undergone a $100 million expansion.

Another industry coming through economic development dollars is Beauty Health and Science Innovations. The cosmetics company, created through a merger of two others, is relocating to Clovis with as much as $3 million in forgiven loans — provided it employs 300 people for 12 consecutive months during its first three years.

Brian Sperber, owner of BHSI, said he aims for 350 jobs during that time period.

Clovis is also the future home of the Tres Amigas power superstation. A July groundbreaking is scheduled for Tres Amigas, which will be located on 14,400 acres northeast of Clovis and join the nation’s three power grids.