Q&A: County manager talks Legislature, Curry tax rates

Editor’s note: Lance Pyle has worked as Curry County manager since December 2007. This is the first of a two-part Q&A in which we asked him about county issues. The second part will be published Tuesday.
Question: Now that the New Mexico Legislature has begun meeting in Santa Fe, this year’s 60-day session will allow for more legislation to be considered. What are the top priorities for Curry County during this legislative session?
Pyle: The county will be actively watching the 60-day session and making sure legislation is not passed that causes additional, unfunded mandates to the county or impact the county residents.
The County Commission has passed a resolution requesting the state Legislature lower the speed limits on county roads. Currently, the speed limit on county roads is 75 mph unless posted. Sen. Pat Woods and Rep. Dennis Roch have drafted and will be sponsoring a bill regarding.
As always, the county’s top priorities are capital outlay funding. This year with the price of oil, funding will be even harder to come by, but these important funds are much needed to do road improvements as well as other infrastructure projects in the county.

Q: One of the major issues facing  eastern New Mexico is the water supply. How do you and the Curry County commissioners feel about the status of the current Ute Reservoir regional water project and the project’s ability to serve the region?
Pyle: The Board of Curry County Commission is very supportive of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority. The county has 240 acre feet reserve and at the same time is looking for immediate needs to assist the county residents.
Later this month Commissioner Chet Spear, Commissioner Tim Ashley and Commissioner Wendell Bostwick will be in Washington, D.C., and one of the items they will meet with the federal delegation on is our water needs and the funds for a continued water supply.
One of our top five capital outlay projects for the county is to plan and design conveyance of water for Curry County residents. This is a result of several rural residents whose wells are going dry and are experiencing low water levels.
The county has looked and continues to look for grants to assist these residents, support ENMRWA and hopefully this year we are successful with some capital outlay dollars to go toward water projects.

Q: One of the proposals to address the region’s water situation involves the idea of buying water rights from area farmers and/or encouraging area farmers to use less water for irrigation. What is your opinion of the viability of that proposal and have you heard any responses from other area farmers?
Pyle: The county has not been part of the proposal, but supports and encourages water conservation.
Q: Do you believe the citizens of Curry County will have to face tax increases in order to continue financing water needs in this region? Please explain your answer, including the possible timeline and the amount of tax increases that may be needed.
Pyle: For the county to continue to grow and prosper, we must have a water source. The Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority as well as local leaders are working hard to obtain the funding and financing in place to provide the water needs for our region. I hope that can be done without a tax increase. Curry County has 240 acre foot reserved, which is a very small piece and as long as the projections stay as planned, for at least the next five years, Curry County will have the funds to cover our reserve requirement.

Q: Are Curry County commissioners planning to consider any other tax increases this year? If so, why and do you expect those tax increases to go before voters or be enacted directly by the Curry County Commission?
Pyle: The Curry County Commission has not discussed nor are there any plans for a tax increase in 2015. In August, the county paid off a General Obligation Bond (property tax) and residents saw a decrease in their property taxes. In September 2014, the Board of Curry County Commission enacted a 1/4th percent tax increase and in November they borrowed against that for 22 1/2 years. That generated $14,158,567.44 which will be used for capital improvements; 417 Gidding renovation, courthouse renovation and detention center.

Q: What is the current tax rate for Curry County and what specific areas are the most recent tax increases funding? What is the status of those projects?
Pyle: The current tax rate for Curry County is 6.125 percent. Out of that tax rate, 1 percent comes back to the county and the other 5.125 percent goes to the state.
From the 1/4th percent increase in the county’s Gross Receipts Tax Revenue Bond, approximately $4 million will be put toward the renovation and improvements at 417 Gidding for county administrative offices. The abatement and demolition work will be completed the first part of February and we are currently working with United States Postal Service on relocating in downtown.
Once a decision has been made on the post office, the architect will continue with the schematic designs of the building. At that time, the Commission will hold public meetings to show the designs and obtain feedback from the community before construction begins.
There will be a contract before the Board of County Commission for the courthouse renovation remodel/renovation project at its Feb. 5 Commission meeting. This contract will be contracting with an architect firm to work with the Commission, judges, as well as the public in preparing conceptual plans for the redesign/renovation once county administration offices are relocated to 417 Gidding.
The proposed contract calls to have the conceptual plans completed and presented to the Commission on April 7. If the Commission accepts the conceptual plans, then management will request the Commission’s authorization to proceed with going out for architectural services and construction manager for that project.
The third item is the county detention center. The County Commission has studied several different options/concepts over the past several years.
Concepts have ranged from building a new women’s unit out in the county to doing an addition on to the existing detention facility. The detention center will be studied in more detail later this year and we encourage and request the public input as well as seek detention field experts on the design and what needs to be done to operate a cost effective and efficient manner to manage/house the inmate population.

— Compiled by Janet Lyn Bresenham, correspondent