Local bond questions spark contention

Sharna Johnson

Whether to build a new judicial complex and jail may prove to be the most contentious local questions voters are asked to answer Nov. 2.

The first phase of the proposed project is expected to cost $33 million, split between a .25 percent gross receipts tax increase and a general obligation bond raising property taxes.

County leaders have said the complex is the best solution to address deficiencies and overcrowding at the jail, growth and security concerns at the courthouse and outdated facilities.

Each tax increase will be addressed by a separate bond question.

Community leaders within Curry County have expressed support for the project, including Clovis, Melrose, Grady and Texico, as well as several community organizations.

District judges and county commissioners have also joined in support of the project, taking part in community presentations to educate the public on projects and explain why they believe the facilities are needed.

Kim Runyan, president of the High Plains Patriots, a non-partisan political group, said opinions are mixed among the group’s 350 members.

Runyan said the group has heard presentations from judges and county administration and members have been encouraged to educate themselves on the issue.

“Most of our members are in support of the jail,” Runyan said, explaining a recent straw poll showed 60 percent support for the jail and 40 percent in support of a new courthouse.

On a personal level however, Runyan said she is opposed to both issues.

With the possibility of a state cap-and-trade tax and not knowing what the federal government will do in January after failing to pass a budget, “I personally feel like this is a bad time for any new taxes,” Runyan said.

“(But) I have told our members that they need to completely explore (the issues).”

For local general contractor J.W. Graham, there is no doubt.

“My concern is the people of Clovis that are property owners cannot afford this,” he said.

“I’m against it. It’s going to work a hardship on Clovis.”

Graham said he has attended meetings to vocalize his disagreement, written letters and is circulating fliers to people.

“I’m hoping I can get a lot of people to vote no,” he said. “A lot of people (are) asleep and this one’s going to be on us for 15 (to) 25 years … this is going to cost the good old taxpayers around $100 million dollars (if additional phases are approved in future elections); that’s a lot of money. … I hope it stops and I pray it stops.”

According to statute, through the bond question dealing with the tax increase, Curry County could use the $16.5 million generated for design, construction, improvement or acquisition of public property for:

• Wastewater facilities

• County jail

• Juvenile detention center

• Roads

• Airport facilities

• To pay gross receipt tax revenue bonds.

Officials have said the purpose of the tax increase is to contribute $16.5 million to build a jail and improve facilities.

County Manager Lance Pyle said the bond will take 25 years to repay, at which time the county commission can vote to end the GRT increase or can let it continue.

The GRT tax is also expected to provide $800,000 annually toward operation expenses of the proposed new facilities, Pyle said.

The question of general obligation bonds will center around the purchase of land, design and construction of a new courthouse.

The completed cost of the first phase of the project — which would pay for a new, two-story jail and courthouse — is $33 million, officials have said.

Additional phases, which would involve renovation and construction of about a dozen buildings, could run the costs to $90 million, architects have said. County officials have said they’re not considering the additional phases now and would bring them to voters years from now if they’re needed.