Ute Water Project comes under heated debate

By Jack King

The Clovis City Commission gave first approval Thursday to an ordinance authorizing a one quarter of a percent increase in the city’s gross receipts tax to fund city infrastructure improvements and Clovis’ participation in the Ute Water Project — but not without some sharp debate.
The ordinance must receive final approval in December before it can be placed on a March 2004 ballot for election.
During discussion of the ordinance, Commissioner Kevin Duncan proposed that it be divided into four different sections, each covering a different spending need with a specific amount of the tax increase dedicated to it.
“Some voters may be in favor of the Ute Water Project, some may not. Some may be in favor of infrastructure improvements, some may not. But this way at least some of the money will pass,” he said.
Commissioner Robert Sandoval told Duncan that “dedicating” the parts of tax money to specific city projects would take away the city’s flexibility in handling the money. If the increase is presented as a single amount allocated to infrastructure improvements, the city will be able to move money between projects as needed, he said.
Duncan said he was concerned because he has seen tax increase proposals fail before.
“I know there are people who aren’t in favor of the Ute Water pipeline, but they know the city needs infrastructure and roads and police cars,” he said.
Mayor David Lansford said tax increases fail because of people don’t trust their legislators.
“We can’t put to the voters every issue that comes along. In three years we may not need the Ute Water pipeline and we might need to move that money to another project. If (the tax increase) fails, I would have to believe it’s because the voters don’t trust us,” he said.
Duncan said after the meeting he did not present his proposal because he has heard opposition to the Ute Water pipeline could sink the rest of the tax proposal.
“I don’t know that you could single that out. I do hear opposition to it, quite a bit. But, I also hear support for it, and it’s often true that the ones who oppose something are the most vocal. What I am hearing is that people don’t know what the usages (of the tax increase) will be,” he said.
During discussion of a city financial report, city Public Works Director Harry Wang noted that while the city has $2.8 million in its drainage fund, it needs $9 to $10 million to complete its top priority drainage projects. The city has $375,000 in its street repair fund, but would need $600,000 a year for 10 years to catch up with its backlog of street repair work, he said.
In other business:
n The commission awarded a golf professional contract at the municipal golf course to James L. Lumley by a narrow vote of 4 in favor, 3 against and 1 abstention. Commissioners Catherine Haynes, Gordon Smith, Gloria Wicker and Lunell Winton voted “yes.” Commissioners Duncan, Sandoval and Juan Garza voted “no,” and Commissioner Isidro Garcia abstained. Those against the contract argued the contract bid’s criteria were too limited and that price played too important a role.
n The commission also approved new operating standards for the municipal airport, with a limited exception for Blue Sky Aviation, Inc., stating the company does not have to keep personnel at the airport on Sundays, so long as it can answer service calls in 30 minutes or less.