By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
Support for the U.S. Senate’s Farm Bill, compromise concerning eastern New Mexico water projects and continued legislative support for rural medical facilities were topics discussed by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Monday in Tucumcari.
Udall said last week the House took up a Farm Bill, which collapsed and the country continues to operate under an extension of the previous farm bill. Udall called the situaiton simply not acceptable.
He said officals in the county, city and residents need to speak up and urge the Speaker of the House to take up the Senate’s Farm Bill.
“I have told the House if they can not come up with a bill of their own, they need to take up our bill and we have to work together to get it signed into law,” Udall said.
Udall said the Senate’s Farm Bill which passed with bipartisan support (66-27 votes) works with changes in farm policies, which will result in a $24 billion cut from the deficit. He said this cut is achieved changing from direct payments to farmers to issuing insurance for crops.
Udall said the Senate’s Farm Bill includes a retroactive livestock disaster assistance program for those who had to reduce or sold off their cattle due to drought. He said this will allow ranchers and farmers to apply for assistance to help them with their loss suffered before this bill.
Tucumcari City Commissioner Robert Lumpkin relayed the city’s and Quay County’s shared concern about the lack of compromise from the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority concerning their Ute Water Project at Ute Lake Reservoir near Logan.
Currently, the first phase of the project, a $20 million intake structure is being built on the south shore of Ute Lake. The Authority received the money from the state’s Water Trust Board and began construction in April that has included controlled blasting at the site.
Once completed, the project would pump water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to the member entities of Clovis, Portales, Elida, Texico, Grady, Melrose and Curry and Roosevelt counties. However, the estimated cost of the project is over $500 million, 75 percent of which the Authority will be seeking from the federal government.
Lumpkin said they city and entities of Quay County support any project that would generate jobs and gross receipts tax for the region. However, he said there has been a growing concern over the water authority’s continued construction despite pending litigation concerning the completion of an Environmental Impact Statement and their unwillingness to set a minimum pool level.
Lumpkin said Quay entities also have little input into the drought management plan being developed for the project. He said they also have concerns with the Interstate Streams Commissions requiring them to use the authority’s intake structure once it’s operational despite a $6 million projected cost to the residents.
Udall said there must be compromise between all of the parties involved, which must begin with communication and a willingness to work towards the greater good.
He said this compromise must be worked out by the local and state agencies including the Office of the State Engineer, Interstate Streams Commission and the Governor’s Office. He said legislation continues to secure funding for water projects across the nation. He said $650,000 to fund the Ute Water Project is included in an appropriation bill with an additional $25 million for water projects across the country.
“Each entity will have to compete with other projects across the country to receive a portion of this funding,” Udall said. “Though we continue to fight to keep funding for these type of projects in the appropriation bill.”
Udall’s visit included a tour of Dan C. Trigg Memorial Hospital, currently being operated by Presbyterian Healthcare Services.
Udall said in a frontier community like Tucumcari, the medical services offered at Dan C. Trigg Memorial Hospital are vital to not only the community, but also the county and those traveling on I-40 and U.S. 54. He said the hospital board and county officials have done an outstanding job to keep the doors of this hospital open providing those in need with vital medical services.
County Commissioner Brad Bryant said one of the issues they face is the difficulty to recruit a doctor to the area. He said if they do recruit a doctor, that person would have a large workload.
Along with recruiting an emergency room physician, a major concern is Medicare’s critical access regulations that require a physician sign off on the charts of a nurse practitioners when the admit a patient to the hospital, said Lance Labine, hospital administrator.
Labine said the sole community provider fund along with a county approved gross receipts tax is the facility’s lifeblood.
The SCPF is funded by the federal and county governments and administered by the Human Services Department and Medical Assistance Division. The county provides the state share in order for HSD/MAD to draw down the federal funds. The payments made to the hospitals are the sum of the federal funds and county/local contributions. The federal share is determined by the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP).
Labine said a new change in the SCPF funding formula would drastically reduce the money the hospital receives for current operations and maintenance.
Udall said he would work to see that the sole community provider fund continues to help balance the cost of operation, repair and future remodeling and construction at Dan C. Trigg Memorial Hospital.