From one end of the county to the other, Lea County communities support each other.
While county commissioners helped buy the Town of Tatum a new fire truck, the City of Jal donated two police vehicles to the town — all within 24 hours.
At opposite ends of the 100-mile-long county, Jal in the south and Tatum in the north are about 90 miles apart, and the smallest in population of the county’s five incorporated municipalities.
“It was a Godsend,” Tatum Police Chief Kevin Gutierrez told the News-Sun. “It was a huge blessing to receive those units and very generous of the City of Jal to donate them to the Town of Tatum. It was like an early Christmas.”
Jal Police Chief Mauricio Valeriano, whose city council approved the donation in a recent meeting, said he thought it just logical to keep the cars in the county.
“I think the city is in a good position financially,” Valeriano said. “We got six new units this past year, so we had some spares available. We wanted to help anybody we could, keeping it in state and what’s better than keeping it in county? We saw the need that Tatum had and we were able to help them out.”
The New Mexico Constitution’s anti-donation clause prevents government entities from giving directly to private individuals or corporations, but transferring property to another government entity is permitted.
According to the 2020 U.S. Census, Jal’s population is 2,202 while Tatum’s is 706 residents.
Sitting at the gateway to southeastern New Mexico’s portion the Permian Basin oilfield, Jal’s gross receipts tax revenue has averaged $1.8 million per month so far this calendar year, compared to Tatum’s $36,000. That’s about $800 per capita in Jal and $50 per capita in Tatum.
Communities throughout New Mexico depend on their GRT revenue for operations that include safety and local infrastructure.
Between Jal and Tatum are the thriving metropolises of Lovington, Hobbs and Eunice, north to south, relatively speaking.
“In Tatum, we have some very low GRTs,” Gutierrez said. “We have limited resources. (The gift) was so needed and it’s going to be very vital to us.”
The Tatum police chief already has plans for the two units, both of which are four-wheel drive Ford Expeditions, one a 2015 model, the other a 2018 model.
“One will be going to a patrol officer and one will be going to a school resource officer,” Gutierrez said. “Not only will that unit benefit the Town of Tatum’s police department but it will also benefit the Tatum schools.”
Valeriano added, “They both are low-mileage vehicles equipped with emergency lights, radios and all that stuff. So, there’s not much modification Tatum will have to do to get them on the street.”
Gutierrez said the town already has plans for how to make the new police units Tatum-specific.
The Tatum police chief added his appreciation, not only for the Jal City Council’s approval, but to the Jal officials involved in the transfer, including Chief Valeriano, City Manager Matt White, Jal Mayor Steve Aldridge and City Clerk Molly Sanchez.
Valeriano could place no actual cost on the vehicles because they are used, but said police departments normally consider an additional unit quite valuable.
Meanwhile, County Commission Chairman Dean Jackson asked fellow commissioners on Thursday to approve expenditure of part of his discretionary funds to buy a brush fire truck for Tatum. Jackson resides in Lovington, owns a business in Hobbs and represents the county’s District 1.
“It’s a very worthy project to spend money on,” Jackson said. “It’ll speed up the response time instead of waiting for Maljamar, Dora, Milnesand or Lovington to respond.”
Tatum Fire Chief Curry Pruit provided descriptive details about and uses for the proposed purchase.
“It’s going to be a combination that can go on grass fires,” Pruit said, “but we’ll have equipment on there for car wrecks and can supplement on a structure fire. Eighty percent of our runs are out in the county, on major highways … and grass fires, so we wanted something that could serve all those needs.”