Eighteen month old Xander Victor watches Susan Lea, a patients advocate at La Casa Family Health Center, as she checks his heart rate Tuesday afternoon. (Staff writer: Sharna Johnson)
By David Irvin and Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writers
Four days after a regional Base Realignment and Closure committee hearing in Clovis, eastern New Mexico is still on the mind of BRAC Commissioner James T. Hill.
Hill, who was in Charlotte, N.C. for another regional hearing Tuesday, told reporters that the thousands who lined the streets Friday in Clovis impacted him. He said he realized the economic impact a closure could have on the Clovis area.
“That is not lost on us,” he said. “That can’t help but affect you. You think about giving the death knell to some town, I don’t make those decisions lightly.”
Could Cannon’s closure be the “death knell” for Clovis? The impact won’t be known unless Cannon closes, but the communty would certainly see a change.
Here is a list of some of the principal entities in the area that will be affected by the base closure and estimates about the impact.
Clovis Municipal Schools
If Cannon Air Force Base were to shutter, about 1,250 military students would disappear from the halls of the Clovis Municipal Schools. Their exodus would significantly impact the district in a reduction in jobs and federal funding, officials said.
“It would be hard to recover from,” said Federal Programs Director David Briseno. “But like everyone else, we would do our best.”
Briseno estimates the district could lose 10 percent of its funding. Briseno said the greatest cut would be in Title 1 funding, a federal K-12 program intended to improve the quality of education in high-poverty schools. The district also receives more than $800,000 annually in Title 8 funding for the express purpose of accommodating children of the military. Twenty-five percent of that sum is funneled into school maintenance, Briseno said.
Losing the money might stall improvement projects, such as the scheduled installation of new sports and playground equipment.
Chad Lydick of the Committee of Fifty reported 163 school staff members would be cut upon a base closure. Dozens of military volunteers staff school programs, so if the base closed that resource would be lost, too.
Some of Briseno’s biggest concerns, however, are not monetary. The base also brings intangibles — increased diversity and culturally enriched classrooms, Briseno said.
Clovis Community College
David Caffey works with statistics — he is a strategic planner, a grant developer, the vice president of the Clovis Community College office for institutional effectiveness. A Cannon closure wouldn’t cripple CCC, the vice president said, but it would slow it down.
“The issue is most relevant in terms of head count. The impact would be severe — and we just hope we can avoid it,” Caffey said.
If Cannon shuts its doors, the college projects a 17 to 23 percent decrease in student population, measured at 4,300 last fall. When assessing the impact of a closure, Caffey zeroes in on full-time equivalency, a measure of enrollment that looks at the number of credit hours pumped out at the campus. That number, Caffey said, directly correlates to the amount of state funding the college receives. The college could lose about 22 to 27 percent of its current state funding at some point, he said.
“Most obviously, we would have to look at how the pattern of service might change. You would have to fit your expenses to a new level of income,” Caffey said.
Gross receipts taxes — applied to the purchase of a variety of goods and services in New Mexico — are a much needed source of funding indigent health care.
If the base closes, Curry County Indigent Health Care Administrator Lance Pyle said he would have to cut services for a program that provides aid to low-income families.
County Manager Dick Smith said a closure would have far-reaching consequences for the county budget, a budget he describes as “already tight enough.”
“I think we might see a 10-20 percent decrease in gross tax receipts and property taxes,” Smith said. “That would significantly impact our budget and all of our services.”
Smith said county staff might face down-sizing and some public service programs would be impacted negatively.
“It will have a dual affect. At the time there is the greatest need for services, revenue will be decreased,” Smith said.
City of Clovis
Non-essential public services provided by the city would face the greatest impact if Cannon closes, city officials said.
City management said the reduction in gross receipts tax has been estimated at 20 percent, and that would have an “extreme” impact on the city’s ability to maintain services at the current level.
“We would hope it doesn’t come to that,” said City Manager Joe Thomas. “(It is) not known what the final impact is going to be, so it’s going to have to be handled as it arises.”
Additionally, some departments might have to be scaled back through attrition methods — retirements and resignations. However, he said the primary public safety and public works services would be the last to be affected if budget cuts have to be made.
Plains Regional Medical Center would have to re-evaluate construction projects planned for future years if Cannon closes.
At this time, the $10 million first phase of a three-year, $31 million project continues to go forward, according to Wesley White, chief operating and financial officer for the hospital.
“We would need to project the impact on the hospital’s utilization levels, as a result of changes in populations,” White said. “Based upon the new population in the community we would re-evaluate the scope of those projects.”
No decisions have been made yet about the fate of future expansion projects, he said.
If the base closed, the hospital would have to reduce staff by approximately 60 people over the course of the closure, White said. Any changes in staff would be managed through attrition, White said. They arrived at that number by surveying the departments to find how many employees were directly related to the base — either as spouses of active military, retirees or spouses of retirees.
Additionally, a base closure would lead to an $84 million financial loss over the next five years for the hospital. This would be a result of population decline in the area decreasing the utilization of the hospital, which would lead to decreased revenues.
Chief Bill Carey of the Clovis Police Department worries about losing military dependents who work at the department if the base closes.
“We don’t want it to close, the military people are good citizens,” Carey said. “(Military dependents) make excellent workers because most of them have the training and the background for jobs like that.”
In all, about half of the employees of the police department have military ties of some kind or another, officials said. Of the 80 currently employed at the department, two are dependents of active military, one is a retired military dependent, 11 are retired military, 21 have prior military service and five are currently active reservists.
As a general rule, towns with a higher unemployment rate do tend to have higher crime rates, Carey said.
“When you sit down and look at it, the base leaving would actually decrease jobs and when you have less people working, your crime rate normally goes up,” Carey said.
Chase Gentry of the Clovis Industrial Development Corp. said the loss of Cannon would mean somewhere around 6,800 jobs lost in the area. In the short term, the construction business and housing markets would be affected most, he said. In the long term, car dealerships might get hit with some of the fallout.
“I can’t imagine any business that wouldn’t be affected in some way,” Gentry said.
Local builders have said in recent weeks that the threat of the closure has already decreased demand for new homes.
In the presentation to BRAC commissioners on Friday, local businessman Chad Lydick said the closure would flat-line home building for 26 years. He said 2,000 houses are directly tied to the military.
Barry Smith of Freedom Newspapers in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.