City councilors approved a $75,000 resolution to break ground on a veterans cemetery Tuesday night, against the advice of its city attorney after she was questioned if the action would violate public notice requirements of the state Open Meetings Act.
The funds will jump-start the project on a small section at South Park Cemetery, including the installation of a water system, electrical and a drive-up area.
Earlier Tuesday, the city’s Finance Committee recommended the funding, approved by committee members and Councilors Jimmy Craig and Art Sandoval.
Mayor Del Jurney questioned whether the council could pass the budget resolution Tuesday night, as the city might not have properly notified the public.
“There’s going to have to be a resolution, but we didn’t advertise it that way,” Jurney said Tuesday morning.
City Attorney Barbara Patterson advised the committee to only make a motion to recommend the funding.
“You can make a motion to recommend up to $75,000,” Patterson said. “Your motion can be: $75,000 out of the appropriate line item as designated by staff. If it has to come out of more than one line item, [auth] you can do that as well.”
Patterson advised Jurney and the committee to advertise the resolution the following week to present it at next week’s regular city council meeting.
“We can have a resolution at a later time,” Patterson said. “For the purposes of what we need, we don’t have to have a resolution.”
Jurney said he and Patterson later looked at the Open Meetings Act and decided the city had followed the requirements. The council approved a resolution drafted that afternoon, Jurney said.
“We looked at that,” Jurney said following the city council meeting.
“We looked at the requirements of the city and how we present an agenda and how we go about presenting the process for this. My understanding is, it does not need to be identified. We followed the requirements of the Open Meetings Act.”
Patterson did not attend the council meeting and was not available for comment.
Jurney said the push for the city to pass the funding was to put the city in a position to be able to submit an application to the state by the end of the month to be considered for the rural veterans cemetery program.
“A lot of the rush is because it’s going to happen anyway,” Jurney said. “We want to put ourselves in a position to submit our application at the end of the month.”
Gov. Susana Martinez announced in July the creation of a State Veterans Cemetery Initiative to establish cemeteries for the state’s rural-area veterans.
A Roswell Veterans Cemetery Committee chaired by Ron McKay has met several times with city officials to create a plan to start developing the 5-acre plot in anticipation of gaining future state approval as one of the approved four sites.
The funding approved Tuesday would allow the city to install a sprinkler system, install a water line and a cul-de-sac.
“What we’re doing on this 1- to 2-acre tract of land ties heavily into our application with the state to make Roswell shine,” said Planning Director Michael Vickers.
“We have such a forward-thinking group of veterans who want to do this. We’re going to handle it on our own. I think that’s really going to strengthen our application.”
The application will be sent to Cabinet Secretary Tim Hale.
“(Hale) knows what they’re looking for,” Vickers said. “I think we have their blessing as far as moving forward.”
The improvements will allow for the cemetery to be uniformly expanded in the future, Vickers said.
The city agreed to provide maintenance at the cemetery in perpetuity, Jurney said. By fronting the cost of the improvements now, the city could help “move this thing along a little quicker to get it ready,” Jurney said.
The cemetery committee plans to take in 60 percent cremations and 40 percent traditional burials, McKay said. He had spoken with several people who expressed immediate interest.
“There are about 80 that we know of right now,” McKay said. “We will draw from probably Artesia and Carlsbad too. I like the plans. We have had input from both sides of the aisle. We’ve been working together as a team. I think we’re on the right step.”
The cemetery might also include a small park with trees and a meeting area, and a helicopter memorial.