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In addition to approving resolutions affirming the restructuring of an existing New Mexico Finance Authority loan, and minor name revisions for a previous New Mexico Environment Department grant agreement, Elephant Butte City Councilors attended to several internal structural and procedural matters during the board’s January 20 regular meeting. 

Once again, in compliance with current health restrictions, the council’s regular session was conducted electronically and coordinated through the city’s administrative offices.

 

P&Z REDUCTION

Mayor Edna Trager opened discussion and possible action, relating to a previously expressed desire of the council to consider reducing the membership of the city’s planning and zoning commission (P&Z). The mayor noted a suggestion to reduce the alternate members from two to one, and indicated councilors needed to decide to make this move or to leave the membership numbers as they stood.

P&Z chairman Nathan LaFont was attending and told the council he felt the present five-member, one alternate, arrangement was working well. He emphasized the P&Z’s past challenges have had more to do with conflicting administrative directions, lingering legal questions and outside contractor issues, than board attendance, or functionality concerns. In this regard, LaFont said the P&Z might better benefit from the hiring of a full-time professional, or the contracting a consistent firm, to aid the city in drafting codes and resolving related legal concerns.

Aside from six months of meetings in 2020 being cancelled out of respect for COVID-19 health restrictions, LaFont said the P&Z has experienced no issues with attendance. Later, he noted the board has cancelled only one meeting for the lack of a quorum in the past nine years.

Councilor Travis Atwell stated his idea was that reducing the P&Z to three members and one alternate might help with an apparent lag in action city authorities frequently perceive. To this point, LaFont said he didn’t feel reducing member numbers would realize a quicker result. He told councilors the five member board actually aided progress, by allowing the often necessary research and leg work to be delegated among more individuals. LaFont explained how such efforts can often be very time-consuming and suggested placing such loads on a three-member board might not yield a quicker process.

As discussion continued, councilor Michael Williams said he felt a three-member P&Z, with one alternate would be effective and was a good idea. In this regard, he also noted the receipt of a letter of resignation, apparently from a sitting P&Z member. 

While stating he would support a three-member board if the chairman felt it could be functional, councilor Gerald LaFont said otherwise his view was if the board was working, the council should leave it alone. 

With these points noted, Trager confirmed the administration’s desire to hire a qualified professional to assist the city with code drafting and related processes. The mayor told board members she would consult with city manger Vicki Ballinger in this regard to assure the city’s budget was sufficient before recommending any related action.

Following this statement, councilor Williams entered a motion to initiate an amendment to Ordinance No.155.006-8-2 reducing the P&Z to three members and one alternate, and upon advice from city attorney Ben Young, to move the measure to a public hearing for initial consideration. Councilor Atwell seconded the motion and board members joined in unanimous approval of the motion.

 

HOOKING UP CEDAR COVE

City manager Ballinger introduced a proposal by local businessman Steve Bell, which sought to connect his development of  a 110 space RV park (Cedar Cove Too) to the city’s sewer system. In this regard, contracted city engineer David Shields summarized that Bell’s plan would seek to install a lift station, cross piping beneath Warm Springs Boulevard in the municipality’s right-of-way (ROW) and then extend a connection to the city’s existing gravity lines at Balboa Avenue. Shields expressed no knowledge of a permitting process relating to the city’s ROW, but said the plan would deliver only a minimal impact to the city’s wastewater system and confirmed Bell would assume all responsibility for the system up to its connection with the city’s gravity lines. 

After councilors were assured the project would not interfere with planned upgrades to Warm Springs Boulevard, members and the city manager engaged in an extended discussion pertaining to whether permitting processes were in place somewhere in city codes, were actually required, and how to best move the proposed project forward in a timely manner.

As discussion centered on a potential month delay and the potential need of a special meeting, councilor Williams said the city did have a permitting process in place in code No.150.53. Elephant Butte Fire Chief Toby Boone was also participating in the meeting and joined the discussion to affirm William’s assertion. Boone said a permitting process for public utilities in the city’s ROWs was a standard procedure and told the board he would be happy to work with Mr. Bell through the process. 

With this acknowledged and Bell indicating he would contact Boone to begin the permitting process, councilors unanimously approved a motion to thus move the proposal forward, as well as to convene for a special meeting to expedite matters if needed.

 

COUNCIL ACTION AND REPORTS

•Attending to a measure submitted by councilor Williams, council members approved a revision of the city’s code of ethics. Williams noted the current code only includes city councilors and said his request sought to include appointed board members and city staff to this obligation. With the council expressing agreement, mayor Trager accepted a motion from Williams restating his request, which gained full support.

•After acknowledging the measure was recommended by Department of Finance Administration officials and pertained to the elimination of a former audit finding, councilors unanimously approved the adoption of a fixed assets policy for the city.

•Among several items mayor Trager shared in her regular report, was an effort by New Mexico State Parks to gather public input for a renewing five-year statewide plan. She encouraged community residents to participate and said a link in this regard would be placed on the city’s website (www.cityofelephantbutte.com).

•In a similar call for community input, city manager Ballinger reminded councilors and citizens listening-in of the municipality’s efforts complete a new comprehensive plan. She said by the end of the week a campaign to collect resident comments would begin, noting a statement would be included on the next utility bill, and related postings would be made on the city website and social media. 

•Ballinger also reported the city had received full payment on two Cares Act funding requests. She said two deposits totaling $44,458.90 were made and noted a majority of the revenue would be directed to the city’s volunteer fire department.

•The city manager further acknowledged the Sierra County Commission’s January 19 approval of an agreement with the city for flood director services, and said she was still awaiting a response from the City of T-or-C regarding animal control service revisions.

•City clerk/treasurer Rani Bush reported she was presently focused on completing the municipality’s second quarter report for an end of month deadline, and among other items noted the city’s gross receipt tax revenue (GRT) for January exceeded the past three years tally for the same month, with approximately $38,800 received. Later in the session, Ballinger noted the city’s annual GRT income was trending near 13-percent above last year’s totals, and was presently projecting an overall revenue increase of near $70,000.

 

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