Local projects possibly on governor’s freeze list

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks A $100,000 grant from the state for improvements to the Clovis Wellness Center, which includes the city’s aquatic center, is part of a list of projects that might be frozen until the Jan. 2010 legislative session.

By Eric Butler: Freedom New Mexico

A press release from the governor’s office late Monday had local entities scrambling Tuesday, trying to find out which of their own state-funded projects might be delayed due to a freeze called by Gov. Bill Richardson.

Richardson announced a freeze on capital outlay projects, with the stated goal of realizing as much as $150 million in savings. In a news release, the governor said “pork projects should be the first to be cut before we take any action that affects people.”

State Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-District 27, took exception with local projects being insinuated as frivolous.

“I don’t think so at all,” said Ingle, who represents parts of Clovis and Portales. “The thing is, we’ve got a special session in a couple of months and the money will still be there.”

The next Legislative session is scheduled for January. Richardson, according to the press release, is “directing agencies to cancel all grant agreements for capital outlay. Only those projects that already have third-party agreements will be honored as of Oct. 23.”

Local government agencies were seeking answers in the wake of the release.

“I don’t think anybody knows. The way it was written, it says third-party contracts. What is that?” said Joe Thomas, Clovis city manager. “We’re trying to get answers and find out which projects are impacted.”

On the top of Thomas’ list for inquiry was the status of funding for the estimated $6 million Hull Street overpass project.

Chase Gentry, executive director of the Clovis Industrial Development Corporation, listed a $920,000 water reuse project in Clovis as a point of concern. The project would take treated fluid from the wastewater treatment plant and reuse it as water for city parks.

Also on Gentry’s mind was a $5 million allocation from 2006 to purchase land for Cannon Air Force Base to expand the Melrose Bombing Range.

“I think the biggest one on our list was Cannon Air Force Base. We want to be viable — when we say we’ll do something, we do it,” Gentry said. “The way I read that, unless you have a contract by Oct. 23, everything is frozen until the end of the next session.

“We’ve been on the phone with the state trying to figure out what’s going on,” he added.

Tom Howell, city manager for Portales, said the biggest current projects for his city are ones that can withstand the freeze — if it’s temporary. Both a $400,000 appropriation to buy water rights and a $250,000 allotment from the state to help build affordable housing have mitigating circumstances, Howell said, that would have delayed implementation.

“We could use every cent that we can get our hands on, but it shouldn’t affect us too much as long as the freeze is only until January,” Howell said.

According to Ingle, Clovis and Portales administrators might make do, but the current course of action by the governor’s office isn’t ideal for them.

“They’re certainly not very thrilled about it,” Ingle said.