Chief: Fire caused by electrical problem

By Argen Duncan: PNT Senior Writer

Inspectors have determined that electrical problems started the fire that consumed Dollar General Store and a hardware warehouse March 27.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting in City Hall, Portales Fire Chief John Bridges said the insurance company inspector and investigator completed the final inspection for a preliminary report that day.

Bridges said a disconnect inside the breaker box in the adjoining room between the store and the Trader Horn’s True Value Hardware Store warehouse created a short that moved through the electrical system and started the fire.

The property has been released to owner Max Merrick, Bridges said. He said Merrick plans to have the standing wall of Dollar General demolished by Wednesday morning and all debris removed within two weeks.

In another matter, the council approved a banking services contract with First Community Bank with Mayor Orlando Ortega breaking a tied vote.

Councilors Dianne Parker, Ronald Jackson and Shawn Watson voted against the measure, and Councilors Antonio Salguero, Gary Watkins and Robert De Los Santos voted for it. Councilors Alfred Bachicha and Michael Miller were absent.

After the meeting, Parker said she had nothing against First Community Bank, but the city needed to keep the local bank as a priority. First Community Bank is based in Bluefield, Va.

Banks come and go, Parker said, and she preferred the consistent track record of a local bank.

“We need that solid foundation,” she said.

Watkins said the city put out a request for proposals, and the review committee rated First Community Bank the highest.

“They were the ones with the lower fees and came in on top,” he said.

During the meeting, city Finance Director Marilyn Rapp said evaluation criteria included available services, fees, technology and length of time before deposits could be used.

Rapp said the contract was good for a year and could be renewed for up to four years with the approval of both parties. City attorney Stephen Doerr said the council would consider renewal on the contract yearly.

In other business, the council:

• heard from Community Affair Coordinator Nicole Wilkening that the city is holding a flag design contest open to anyone. The design must represent the culture, past, present and future of the city and would be announced on May 11, she said. Entrants must submit a narrative explaining the symbolism of their design and enter only one design each.

• voted to buy the municipal court building.

• authorized Ortega to execute an amendment to a grant the state decreased to $13,900 from $15,000. The money is to go to construction of a concrete pad with grease traps and a steam cleaner to wash trash containers.

• annexed land on the corner of N.M. 206 and 22nd Street, and changed the zoning of the property to be a multi-family residential area.

• approved an agreement that allows Roosevelt County Little League to use Rotary Park for games.

• awarded bids for a wood chipper and a machine that allows installation of valves in water pipes without shutting off the water.