City officials push Legislature for solar lighing in Chihuahuita

February 2, 2011 • Local News, News

New solar light poles may line the streets of Chihuahuita, a no[auth] toriously rough neighborhood in east Roswell, after several years of delay.

Various city officials separately trekked to the state Roundhouse in Santa Fe this past week to press legislators to fund the $150,000 clean energy project. Mayor Del Jurney had previously requested that amount in the city’s capital outlay application in November.

“It’s a priority,” Jurney said, adding that the added street lights could help crime prevention. “It’s to try to bring light to those dark areas where kids are tempted and where bad things take place.”

City Councilor and Executive Director of MainStreet Roswell Dusty Huckabee has advocated for new street lights and sidewalks, as well as a police substation and medical clinic, in Roswell’s oldest neighborhood for the past three or four years.

Huckabee estimates that there is about one street light every four or five blocks in the area, which spans from Garden to Atkinson avenues, east to west, and from Second to Bland streets, north to south. The rest, he says, have either been shot out or no longer work and haven’t been replaced.

“It’s appalling every other area of Roswell has streetlights and that one has very, very, very few,” Huckabee said.“It doesn’t say a whole lot about Roswell when you let a(n) (impoverished) community like that deteriorate.”

City Planner Michael Vickers estimates that each light pole would cost $5,000 to install, operate and maintain. He says it would save the city money to use solar power by not having to connect the lights to the city’s power grid, though they could always be plugged into the power grid in the future if need be.

“This is kind of a pilot project, and it’s probably not for the whole city,” Vickers said. “But it’s a great start and a step towards some kind of green technology in power.”

Mike McLeod, regional manager for Xcel Energy, said these would be the first solar powered light poles in the city, if funded. He said he will pick out specific locations for the light posts later in the week with Vickers.

But despite enthusiasm from community leaders, funding for the project is far from being secured.

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, a top Democrat legislative leader, said the city might have to find another way to fund the project instead of asking the state, which faces up to a $450 million shortfall.

“We needs lights over there,” Jennings said. “But we might not have enough capital outlay, so (it) might have to be on the city to find a grant to fund it.”

Capital outlay funding for projects such as this comes from one of three pools of money: the state general fund, which faces a deficit; general obligation bonds, which voters must pass (and only in even numbered years); and severance tax revenue, which is limited.

Hubert Quintana, executive director of the Southeastern New Mexico Economic Development District, says that although the severance tax revenue currently yields about $230 to $250 million, most of that money will likely address other needs, such as state highways, hospitals and buildings.

“It’s really unclear at this point whether or not there’s going to be any money for capital projects that come in from local government and other eligible entities,” Quintana said.

Mayor Jurney said the city is already looking at alternative sources of funding, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grants, should the state deny the request in place. The CDBG application process begins eight months from now in October.

“Somewhere in there over the next 18 months we’d really like to see some significant improvement to that neighborhood,” Jurney said.

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