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Mayor Turner Addresses Rumors about Police Changes

Hannah Dean revisits a few key moments from the March 12th Village of Cloudcroft Regular Council Meeting.

Days before the Village of Cloudcroft's March 12th Council meeting, an anonymous letter with no postage appeared in the Village P.O. Boxes, upsetting more than a few people.

The unsigned letter alleged that our “Village [Council] is secretly taking steps to eliminate the Cloudcroft Police Department [P.D.] and pass your safety and welfare to the [Otero County] Sheriff’s Office,” amongst other claims.

The mayor’s office responded with an official letter, but based on this unsigned postal pot-stirring, Tuesday night’s council meeting was slated to be a political firestorm. However, cooler heads prevailed for mostly polite, orderly—even if passionate—discussions.

Every seat was filled ten minutes before the meeting (and a few folks stood in the back.) The official agenda included 6 Action Items for police matters and eight impromptu speakers who signed up for the open discussion portion of the meeting.

Citizen Marty Mills spoke in support of P.D. raises, which Village Trustees voted to delay discussion until their April budget retreat. Mills also acknowledged the mysterious P.O. Box letter: “I don’t love any document where people don’t have the strength of convictions to put their name on it.” However, she went on to ask if the portion of the document that stated that newly-appointed Chief of Police Mike Testa got a promotion with a pay cut was actual. “Is he paid exactly what was on his W2 [from last year]–not less?” To which Mayor Turner replied, “Yes and no.” Mills also addressed the council: “Does the village have a Chief of Police [salary] in the budget from previous years?” (The answer is “yes.”) The implied question is—why wait?

With apparent transparency, Turner elaborated that he had asked the trustees to approve a 26% percent raise when Testa was promoted to chief and a 12% raise for the newly-appointed Deputy Chief of Police. The previous chief, Kevin Summers, had received numerous raises in the cost of living and other raises in the past years, which amounted to an annual salary of $92,000 (plus overtime). The raise Turner requested approval for would put Testa’s salary at $78,000. When the trustees voted to table, the discussion of P.D. raised until, after the budget retreat, the mayor and council decided to keep Testa’s pay at his previous W2 rate. However, a raise Testa received mid-year decreases his pay by around $2,000 for the year if no raises are approved at the April budget meeting.

Turner assured the public that if and when raises are agreed upon, he will support retroactive pay at the new rate. Testa advocated on behalf of the P.D., once again requesting pay raises. He also invited the public to see the new P.D. building near the maintenance yard. Issues of the police work schedule against budgetary concerns were discussed by Trustee Tabitha Foster, newly-appointed officer and former Otero County Sheriff’s Department Officer Calib Bruce, and former Village Trustee George Mitchell. Officer Bruce gave an impassioned speech, stating, “the job description, whether you’re in a town of 800 people or not, doesn’t change.”

“Our police department's going nowhere, folks.

We're not going to entrust the safety of the village to the Sheriff's Department.

We're going to keep our police department.”

—Mayor Turner, March 12, 2024 Council meeting

Water and Waste Water infrastructure was also discussed, along with funding for the village to have a program for “cellular meter reads.” Village Water & Waste Water Management Supervisor Joe John Carrizal explained that the cellular reads could potentially save property owners significant expenses in the event of a leak, especially seasonal visitors. At the time being, meters are monitored monthly, and the new tech would allow for at least four daily readings, with an alert system, in the event of a leak. Villagers could also access the cellular reads from an app on their phone.

New technology was also discussed concerning the Lodger’s Tax, with a proposed program allowing short-term rental owners to make trackable, easy online tax payments.

Several Village Office raises were approved for the removal of probationary periods and obtaining certifications. Instead of searching for and hiring a new person, a six-month trial period of outsourcing the village’s accounting and bookkeeping to Mountaintop Accounting (at around $15,000) was approved. Turner asserted that the money for Mountaintop engagement was less than the anticipated cost of a new hire for the same period. The council also voted to approve the costs of a new generator plus installation (a turn-key project) for the waste-water plant. (If the plant currently experiences power outages, it can cost up to $8,000 to get back online.)

Regarding the budgetary concerns involving the P.D., water, scheduled raises, new tech, and more, Trustee James Maynard said, “Last year, we finished the budget at a $250,000 deficit. We just couldn’t close the gap. We are trying not to do that this year. How do we make one of these important issues superior to another? It’s a difficult position.”

Mayor Turner pointed out that budget retreats have occurred offsite in the past. This year, he plans to host an open budget meeting at the village office and “invites y’all to attend.” Turner said the village is currently working on acquiring 14 new grants.

Village Project Coordinator Vyanca Vega presented on current grants, including $1.3 million for “Capital Outlay Projects,” an extremely broad-use grant for New Mexico to improve infrastructure. The village has also received over $17,000 in an Outdoor Marketing Recreation grant for the Village of Cloudcroft Chamber of Commerce and an extension for the Quality of Life Grant through June 30, 2027.

Parks and Recreation committee chair Matt Willett submitted the newly-formed committee’s mission statement for the council’s approval and presented ongoing projects like the ice rink and village “ball field” (located near the disc golf course, new police station, and maintenance yard.) For the ice rink, the Parks and Rec. committee is trying to create shovel-ready projects to seek grant funding, with the costs and efforts of conceptual drawings and design plans accounted for. Trustee Foster pointed out that the council wants to “host and schedule a Parks and Rec. workshop that would give [them] the foundation for grant-writing and procurement.”

Willett discussed the ball field, with Parks and Rec. wanting to preserve its current uses of mountain biking, hiking, ball play, and disc golf and protect the large flat area from ATV use through a designated parking area and a more secure and marked perimeter.

Mayor Turner suggested immediately planting grass on the fields and giving the field a name. Willett agreed wholeheartedly and mentioned that he and his family had seeded the fields years ago. It has since been destroyed by being driven on, so he would “seek advice from the [Lodge] Golf Course guys” on how to get the grass to flourish. Willett says they hope to finish the backstop soon for Little League and T-ball.

Last but certainly not least, the new Pickleball Court construction project resumes this month.

That’s all for now. See you at the next meeting—April 10 at 6:00 PM.