A new park to honor Lea County’s veterans has been on the drawing table for more than two years.
Following last Tuesday’s Hobbs City Commission meeting, construction of the park is going to have to wait a little longer.
Citing possible economic woes due to the poor local economy, the commission voted down, by a 4-3 count, to award construction of the Hobbs Veterans Memorial Park to CDR Construction, Inc., for $1,273,121. With the added cost of the state gross receipts tax, the total project was set to total $1,359,852. The park is planned to be built just east of Harry McAdams Park, which originally was where a portion of the World War II Hobbs Army Airfield originally stood.
Through a role call vote, commissioners Don Gerth, Joe Calderon, Larron Fields and Marshall Newman voted down the measure, while commissioners Dwayne Pennick, Chris Mills and Mayor Sam Cobb voted to approve. Mills made the motion for the vote and Pennick seconded the motion.
In presentation of the measure, acting City Manager Manny Gomez, a veteran who is on the park project’s committee, said there are more than 8,000 veterans in Lea County and another 5,000 actively serving in the community. He said the committee’s goal for the park was to “provide Lea County a place of honor and healing.”
Before the vote, commissioners were given an opportunity to speak. Newman mentioned he received comments from some constituents regarding the city paying for this project. He said because city revenues are down due to a lackluster economy and local businesses are struggling to stay open, he thought it was a bad time for the city commission to spend $1.3 million on the project.
“But I don’t want it to go away,” said Newman, who mentioned he is a veteran, “but I don’t think this is a good time to do that.”
Pennick, who has been one of the leaders of the project, said he has been working with this project since its inception in 2018 and drew up the park’s original plans. He said most of the money is already allocated for the project and only an additional $100,000 was being asked.
Had the measure passed, Resolution 7022, which was another action item on Tuesday’s agenda, was a possible adoption of a city budgetary adjustment that would have covered the additional expenses.
During his presentation, Gomez said the additional $100,000 was not going to be new money needed by the city. It would come from a reclassification of city money from the City’s General Services department, which scrapped a project for canopies at its building.
Despite voting down on the park, the commission unanimously approved the budget adjustment.
During his comments to the commission Pennick, who is a veteran, felt Lea County’s veterans deserve this memorial to reflect on the sacrifice they gave to their country.
“I don’t believe we ask the men and women of this country what their circumstances are when we take them to war,” he said. “We send them to war to be away from their families, to be away from their children and their loved ones. I think it is high time we show our veterans our support.
“We’ve had families who had veterans who have lost their lives. We’ve had veterans who have lost arms and legs, who have come back mentally incapable of holding down a job. And as a fellow veteran, I have seen some of these things. They need a place to reflect. A place for us to honor the service they have given to this country. This has been in the works and people have asked for this for 20-plus years to be in this community. We have put a lot of work behind this and I personally back my veterans in a time where we need to show that we support them and appreciate their sacrifice to this country. I think it is time to move forward with this.”
Fields, who is not a veteran, echoed Newman’s thoughts in wanting to have a veterans memorial park, but felt now is not the time.
“I am not a veteran, but my heart goes out to every serviceman in every branch that ever served in this country,” said Fields. “But I have been on the board for approximately 10 months and I am very observant in turning a financial services of the city. I understand that due to this coronavirus that put us in some type of a situation where we have to be cautious and cognizant about our spending. I do want to concur with Commissioner Newman in not letting this go by the way side. I want to make it perfectly clear, I do not want this to go away. I would like to see the building memorial to come to pass. But at this juncture in time as far as our financial status and uncertain to what the future is going to bring, I feel we need to table this and come back to it at another time.”
Gerth, who mentioned while he is not a veteran, his father and his eight uncles were all veterans, also moved to the side of fiscal caution with the project.
“I too believe we have done so well, since this coronavirus has started, with being responsible with our funds or what we do,” Gerth said. “I too agree with Commissioner Newman. (The memorial park) is something that I have backed 100 percent, I just believe if we could push it back three months or less, this is going to be something that we are going to do regardless. And I will be one of the first ones to buy a memorial brick, not only for my dad, but for my uncles also. This has weighed heavy on me since we learned of it earlier. I wish this was 11 months ago. We need this.”
Mills said he was “extremely disappointed that (the vote) went the way it did” and hoped the vote was just a “temporary setback” for the project as the city’s financial picture becomes more clear.
Because the measure was voted down, City Attorney Efren Cortez read the rules of procedure in what has to take place for the measure to come back on the commission’s agenda. One item that has to happen is the measure has to be brought forth to the commission by a commissioner who originally voted down the measure. Meaning either Newman, Gerth, Calderon or Fields would have do this. City Finance Director Toby Fields added before that happens, the project would have to be sent out for bidding again. Meaning the original bid city staff chose to be voted upon at Tuesday’s meeting would be scrapped.
During their closing comments on Tuesday, both Fields and Gerth said they would bring back the measure to be voted on by the commission when they feel the city’s economic standing was more stable.
In May 2019, the City hired MRWM Landscape Architects for the project to create a landscape concept. The park was listed as one of five capital outlay projects in the city’s Infrastructure Community Improvement Plan (ICIP), which was presented to Legislators in October 2019 for a potential funding of $1.2 million from the 2020 Legislature.