By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
There was never a good time for the Hull Street Overpass to be closed.
But there could have been a better time than right now, ahead of a legislative session where capital outlay may be hard to come by for replacement of the now demolished bridge.
“There are always projects that need doing and need immediate attention and funding,” said Claire Burroughes, Clovis’ legislative director. “There’s never a good time for these things to happen, but we’ll do what we can.”
When the Legislature starts today, early orders will be to manage a $450 million deficit and possibly recoup capital outlay money for projects that haven’t started.
What’s left for capital spending will have to survive the debate process in the House and Senate, and the line-item veto power of Gov. Bill Richardson.
“Everybody’s kind of nervous,” Portales City Manager Debi Lee said. “My attitude, honestly, and I guess I agree with (city councilor) Mike Miller. We remember the days when the Legislature only had a few hundred thousand dollars.”
Lee said Portales requested $2.71 million, and is guessing each house of the Legislature will get $30 million in capital outlay money.
But even Lee’s optimistic figure is $60 million divided between 112 representatives and senators — and only seven of them represent eastern New Mexico.
Incoming District 67 Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Tucumcari, said he wants capital outlay money awarded on a basis of needs, like construction funds are given through the Public School Stability Authority.
That would benefit rural areas, which fill the six counties making up his district.
“Sometimes the money has gone where the votes are,” Roch said. “We’re having county courthouses and courtrooms and hospitals (in smaller towns) competing for the same dollars as a baseball field in Rio Rancho.
“You can’t take politics out of it completely, but you can minimize the impact.”
Roch’s process would benefit the Hull Street Overpass. Its absence is leaving south Clovis businesses and families isolated.
“My lunch hour, I can’t really go eat anywhere because I don’t have time to go anywhere,” said Austin Hale, a salesman at One-Stop Feed. “It takes longer to go anywhere and get back within my hour.”
Mitch Jones, also a One-Stop Feed salesman, said when he takes his kids to school at Sandia, he has to get to Martin Luther King Boulevard before 7:20 a.m. If not, he’s either waiting 30 minutes for the trains or taking an extra 10 to 15 minutes to go to overpasses on Prince Street or N.M. 467.
“When gas was $4,” Jones said, “it was really hurting to have to make the extra (trip).”
When the bridge was shut down for safety reasons in July, it became the top legislative priority for the city. Other priorities include wellness center funds, money to work on city roads (most notably Martin Luther King Boulevard) and a communications facility.
Richardson has pledged $1 million out of his share of capital spending. Claire Burroughes, legislative director for Clovis, said the amount covers about 15 percent of the $8.5 million she estimates it will take to replace the bridge. Burroughes is staying optimistic because she understands $4.2 million is coming to Tucumcari for its Main Street renovation project.
Jones is less optimistic. He hasn’t seen the push he thinks necessary to get the overpass finished before the end of 2010. Each day it costs him and his coworkers.
“Our sales are down by 50 percent on dog food,” Jones said. “People (who) live on the other side of Hull Street are just going to Wal-Mart or wherever instead of trying to get over the tracks.”
• Curry County officials, meanwhile, are hoping to get money for finishing touches to the special events center. County Manager Lance Pyle has asked for $7 million between five priorities, including $1.5 million for the special events center. The money, he said, would go toward chairs, a floor and a stage, along with a storage building for those amenities, and covers for horse stalls. The other priorities include:
• Road construction, $1 million
• Road equipment, $2 million
• Safety improvements for the Curry County Adult Detention Center, $1 million
• Curry County Courthouse renovations, including a new cooling system and roof improvements, $1.5 million.
Pyle is also keeping his eye on House Bill 48, which deals with indigent care funds. Pyle, the county’s indigent health care administrator, said a clause in the bill gives University of New Mexico hospitals first priority on indigent funds and feels that is not in the best interest of counties served by other hospitals.
• Roosevelt County Administrator Charlene Hardin said the good news is none of the county’s capital outlay projects are on the target list for cuts. The bad news is that she’s doubtful about getting capital outlay this year for county roads, courthouse improvements and new multi-purpose buildings at the Roosevelt County Fairgrounds.
“We’re not anticipating seeing any,” Hardin said, “but we can always hope.”
• Regarding Portales’ needs, Lee said the city is hoping for $500,000 for its city pool. The money would be used for new bathhouses.
The bathhouse addition was part of the pool’s master plan, Lee said, but it was in the third stage.
“Had we known it was going to be an issue, we would have done it the second phase instead of the third phase.”
Instead, the second phase included renovations for a wading pool so parents could bring small children to the pool.
The other requests are for railroad crossing improvements ($600,000), street work ($500,000), a new ambulance ($110,000) and $1 million toward a continued effort to transition city-owned agricultural wells at Blackwater Farms for commercial and municipal use.