Economic development changes approved

Mike Linn

Confusion, questions and some minor feuding regarding the amending of two ordinances relating to economic development littered the Portales City Hall on Tuesday night.
But after an hour of intense discussion the city council approved both ordinances, one of which will allow several different types of business to receive financial assistance from taxpayer dollars. The other which will increase the size of a committee that will review where those taxpayer dollars are spent.
Ordinance 646 — which will allow other businesses besides manufacturing industries to apply for city funds — passed after 15 minutes of discussion. The original ordinance (612) only highlighted industry as an option for receiving city funds.
Ordinance 647 brought with it more confusion, and a motion and a second to table the ordinance hit a wall after city attorney Stephen Doerr told the council an application for city assistance has already been filled out.
After Doerr’s statement, council member Robert De Los Santos rescinded his second to table the motion and the council approved the ordinance by a 4-1 vote with Dianne Parker dissenting.
“Our goal is to get the best return from this money for our community,” Mayor Orlando Ortega said. “Every job this funding will create for our community is a step forward.”
Ortega said two business owners have come to him seeking assistance, one from a hotel developer who has already applied for funding and another from a developer looking to purchase the old Portales Inn.
Had the ordinance not passed, a committee could not review the hotel developer’s application for assistance.
Three Portales residents including Kim Huffman, chairman of the Roosevelt County Community Development Corporation, expressed concern over what they described as a confusing ordinance.
“It seems there has been a lot of work on an ordinance that was already pretty good to start with and was rewritten without appropriate coordination and input with involved people,” Huffman said.
Huffman expressed that allowing various forms of small business to be eligible for funding may not be in line with the state’s definition of economic development.
But to that end Doerr said the new review committee would use judgment when making recommendations to the city council about financial allocations.
“They (business owners) can’t come with some California methodology (and get assistance) that’s going to make the city millions of dollars,” Doerr said.
Parker decided to vote against Ordinance 647 after Huffman noted his concerns.
John Pugh, Portales resident and business owner, and Jerry Partin, general manager of Roosevelt County Electric Cooperative, also expressed concern. Both wanted specifics about where the money would be spent.
The city’s economic development fund comes from a 1/8 percent gross receipts tax registered voters approved 1 1/2 years ago. The tax has created a fund of roughly $110,000, Doerr said, and the money must go toward viable economic development ventures.
The review committee will make suggestions to the city council about which businesses and industries deserve the city’s financial support.
The committee includes: three members of the executive committee of the Portales Development Corporation, one member of the Portales Mainstreet Board of Directors (an addition to the current committee), one member of the city council, the city manager or her designee, a lay person appointed by mayor Orlando Ortega and one member of the Portales/Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce.
A special meeting to approve the committee will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.