Officials say base numbers have bottomed out

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

The Local Growth Management Committee learned Wednesday that personnel levels at Cannon Air Force Base have bottomed out and numbers will begin to increase.

Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas said he learned from base officials during a Clovis Chamber of Commerce meeting on Tuesday that the trough in personnel levels that was expected during the base’s transition from a jet fighter base to Air Force Special Operations reached its lowest expected levels this month. He said the Air Force is expecting more arrivals next month and from there the community should see a slow, steady growth.

According to CAFB public affairs, the base’s personnel numbers at the end of March were 1,930 airmen, 530 civilians and 2,986 dependents. The Air Force has said between 4,300 and 5,700 active-duty personnel are expected to be stationed at the base by 2014.

Lonnie Leslie, chairman of a LGMC subcommittee that is charged with working directly on growth management issues connected with the base transition, believes the slow growth is better for eastern New Mexico.

“They’re moving 90,000 people in at Fort Bliss, and it is just decimating the school district there,” Leslie said. “I always think the slow, gradual growth is so much better than what some communities are dealing with after the last round of BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure).”

LGMC members also received a preliminary report from Keystone International of Albuquerque, the consulting company charged with doing a survey of the communities affected directly by Cannon. The company began the $542,775 study in October. The study is expected to take a year.
Leslie reported the study shows that schools, in particular the lower grades, are in good shape and sufficient classroom space is available.

However, recruiting personnel will be the challenge.

“Even though the classrooms are there, it’s going to be a challenge filling them (with teachers),” Leslie said.

Leslie said the area is likely to see the same staffing problem with health care. He said recruiting specialty doctors and behavioral health professionals is identified as a key for the communities.

Curry County Commissioner Tim Ashley said he has concerns about the emergency rooms at the local hospitals, in particular the wait time.

Portales City Councilor Mike Miller said while the wait time at the ERs needs to be addressed, the area EMT staffs have excellent triage protocols and are able to get patients in serious condition to the proper care quickly.

Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield agreed with Miller, that there are a lot of positives about local hospitals.

“The Air Force was pleased with the equipment here,” Brumfield said. “They indicated it was better than in Florida (Hurlburt Air Force Base area). The military was very happy with what they saw at both facilities.”

Brumfield said that as a Realtor, she’s been able to assess the attitudes of Air Force families that have recently relocated to Cannon. She said they have been negative at first about housing availability but pleased with the schools and the community after they arrive.

“This is some of the best information we can have,” Brumfield said of the survey. “It shows our deficiencies but it also lets us know what we do well.”