City commission votes to support judicial complex

Kevin Wilson

Curry County staff met some resistance Thursday night, but received a nod of support from Clovis’ City Commission on its desire to upgrade the county courthouse and detention center.

On a 7-1 vote, the commission approved a resolution in support of a pair of ballot questions in November’s general election that would provide $33 million for the first phase of the Curry County Criminal Justice Complex.

Commission Randy Crowder, citing cost concerns, was the dissenting vote.

City commissioners viewed a video on the ballot issues to upgrade the county’s courthouse and detention center before discussion and a vote on the resolution supporting them.

The video was the same as shown during a Monday public forum at the library. The county has a second public forum scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, also at the library’s north annex.

Ballot Question 1 would issue $16.5 million in general obligation bonds — an approximate $35 annual property tax increase on a $100,000 home — to make improvements and upgrades to the courthouse.

Ballot Question 2 would impose a 0.25 percent gross receipts tax increase — an extra quarter per $100 in goods purchased in the county — to provide $16.5 million to remodel the existing detention center, add 120 beds and develop an underground tunnel for secure transport of prisoners to and from the courthouse.

“The bottom line,” Judge Ted Hartley said, “is that both the courthouse and detention center are inadequate as to size and safety. This is not an advancement. This is a catch-up.”

County officials have said the 74-year-old courthouse was not built to house its current needs, and the result is less safety for all participants in the justice system and standards far below standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The jail, according to a study done following the 2008 escape of eight inmates, revealed structural problems county officials say cannot be fixed through policy.

Warden Keith Norwood said the county is currently required to house 315 inmates, but space concerns mean about one-sixth are being shipped to out-of-county facilities. County Manager Lance Pyle said that has cost the county $5.3 million over the last eight years, not including transportation or medical costs.

Also, Commissioner Bobby Sandoval said those facilities can choose which inmates they want, and they take the lowest-risk inmates they can get. That means the county detention center has a higher percentage of maximum-security inmates.

Crowder asked how many additional staff a new jail would require. Norwood said he currently has a request for six additional staff at the detention center as is, but wasn’t sure on specifics for the new facility.

Pyle said the gross receipts tax increase would provide approximately $1.85 million, $800,000 of which could pay for additional operating costs.

Crowder responded he’d feel more comfortable with a smaller tax rate and less money beyond the debt service for renovating the jail.

“I do believe we need a new jail, I believe we need a new courthouse. I think this is the wrong time, at the wrong price tag.”

Mayor Gayla Brumfield, who only votes to break ties, spoke in favor of the resolution. She said during the 2008 escape of eight inmates, she received numerous calls from the public and from media, and she answered questions even though the technical answer is that it’s a county issue.

“We’re all in this together,” Brumfield said. “Grady, Melrose and Texico have (supported this). It’s time we step up and support it.”

The Clovis City Commission met Thursday at the north annex of the Clovis-Carver Public Library.

• The commission granted a street closure for a Bank of Clovis open house. The bank first opened its doors Oct. 16, 2000, but due to that day being a Saturday, the bank will honor the anniversary Oct. 15 with an 11 a.m.-1 p.m. celebration. A street closure was granted from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the block of Grand Avenue between Main and Mitchell streets.

• The staff of the city wastewater treatment plant was presented an award from the New Mexico Water and Wasterwater Association. The good housekeeping award was given following a site tour. Plant Director Durwood Billington said the credit went to his staff.

• The commission gave a plaque recognizing 25 years of service at the library to Marilyn Belcher. City Manager Joe Thomas said Belcher, who spent her last nine years as the library director, was the director throughout all of his time at his current post.

“I didn’t worry about what was going on here, as long as Marilyn was here,” Thomas said.