Portales officials talk stipend grant for police officers

Mar. 18—In their regular meeting Tuesday, the Portales City Council discussed a grant that would provide a stipend for officers in the Portales Police Department.

This would help keep officers in Portales longer and combat staffing shortages. City Manager Sarah Austin presented a resolution that would accept the grant fund total of $525,000. She said Portales Police Chief Christopher Williams and other police chiefs in the state were able to get this funding from Santa Fe for their departments for the retention and recruitment of officers. The council approved this resolution.

Austin then presented several stipend payout options but recommended the first option. That would disperse the total grant money of $525,000 in $8,000 sign-on bonuses for a 3-year contract. Ultimately, the council decided to go with this option.

"Let's keep them around awhile," Mayor Ronald Jackson said. Williams had discussed staffing shortages at the previous city council meeting on Feb. 28. In that meeting, he said, "We can't compete with anybody else around the state to try and recruit," and "Young officers don't want to come here because we don't have K-9's, we don't have motorcycles, we don't have SWAT teams. They want to go do all the flashy fun stuff."

The grant money would be dispersed over the next three years, with the first lump being $300,000 for the current fiscal year, then $150,000 for the next, and $75,000 for the third year.

Public Infrastructure Director Steve Chavez presented three resolutions, all discussing street drainage and street improvements. The first would be the approval of an application for the Local Government Road Fund (LGRF). This would design a street drainage infrastructure permit for the concrete intersections of Kilgore and 18th Streets, Jackson Avenue on 18th Street, and the intersection of South Avenue B and 18th Street. The council approved this resolution.

The next resolution he presented would design a street drainage infrastructure permit at the intersection of Avenue O and 18th Street. Chavez said this intersection has a lot of traffic, which is is why it was important to take care of. The council also approved this resolution.

The last resolution Chavez presented was a resolution of sponsorship for a Transportation Project Fund (TPF).

This would provide improvements from Avenue K through Highway 70, and Second Street to 14th Street, Chavez explained. Austin said, "What they (the transportation department) do is they look at our street budget compared to the grant amount we're asking and that's how they make the determination." The council approved this resolution also.

A presentation on PFAS water contamination was given by Group Delta and Singleton Schreiber. They described PFAS as "the forever chemical." In their presentation, the groups explained how toxic PFAS can be for humans. It can have reproductive effects, can cause different cancers, affect the immune system and hormones, and can even increase cholesterol.

The more problematic areas in New Mexico, according to their presentation, would be air force bases, fire training areas, agriculture-heavy areas, refineries, and waste-water treatment plants. In 2020, EPCOR found PFAS in Texico, Portales, and multiple dairies in Eastern New Mexico. In addition, 3,000-plus cattle had to be euthanized because of PFAS in the blood, meat, and milk.

Glenn Burks, the Director of Environmental Services for Group Delta, said they would hope to come in and test the water in Portales, see if they find any of those PFAS chemicals, and then would price out what the remediation measures would be. He said the testing can cost anywhere from a couple thousand dollars to more, depending on the volume of testing.

In other items of business:

— Mayor Jackson proclaimed March 15 National Small Business Development Center Day. This encourages people to support small local businesses every day of the year.

— Fire Chief T.J. Cathey recognized an EMT, Johnathan Ortega, who had received a letter of gratitude from an elderly woman for his help during the windstorms in late February.

— Carla Weems was appointed Deputy City Clerk.

— A new home for City Hall at 1028 W Community Way was discussed. Austin said the goal is to move in by May. She said this was made possible by American Recovery Act Funds and was no cost to the city.

— An agreement between the city and the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority (ENMWUA) was approved, allowing the association to close roads and streets with plenty of notice, should they need to perform work or repairs if needed.

— A renewal for the loan agreement with the National Museum of the Air Force for F-111 (jet) display was approved by the council to restore any damages and upgrade the paint job as needed. It is renewed every four years. While the council would have some fiscal responsibility, Austin said she is pleased to see the community has put on some fundraisers for this.

— The council decided to go with Sourcewell Cooperative to start the design phase of the city's new skate park.