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Placitas is severed from ESCAFCA

—Orin Safier
On March 17 the State Senate passed House Bill 306, sponsored by Representative Jim Smith. It was previously passed by the State House. When this bill is signed into law by the Governor it will immediately sever all areas east of Highway I-25, including all of Placitas and the part of Algodones east of I-25, from the East Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (ESCAFCA).  ESCAFCA was formed by legislative act in 2007, and has since had a contentious history. Many protested the taxes first levied in 2009, which were about 75% higher than what ESCAFCA had advertised prior to the bond election of 2008. Protests were also made with the Attorney General and Secretary of State regarding the administration of ESCAFCA.

HB306 originally would have required an opt-out vote for each of the 3 areas in ESCAFCA: Placitas, Bernalillo and Algodones. It also would have obligated the opted-out areas to pay off only the $3 million of bonds that have already been borrowed. Lack of votes for this version of HB306 prompted Representative Smith to table the bill. SB121, sponsored by Senator Sapien, would have divided ESCAFCA into 5 single-director districts. It was tabled by Senator Sapien.  Representative Madalena’s HB239 was the same as SB121, and was defeated on the House floor. A compromise was eventually reached by all the parties which resulted in HB306 combining provisions of both legislations, with modifications. This consensus bill passed unanimously in the House, and with only one Nay vote in the Senate.

HB306 mandates the following:

  1. Immediately upon signature, Placitas and the east part of Algodones are excluded from ESCAFCA. At that point ESCAFCA will no longer have regulatory authority over the excluded areas. No further bond elections for ESCAFCA will apply to the excluded areas.
  2. The excluded areas will however be responsible for their portion (approximately 70%) of the $6 million bond debt voted in the 2008 election. This is consistent with law, which obligates all properties owners in an entire area to a bond debt even if a portion of that area no longer benefits directly from the bond funds. At present ESCAFCA has borrowed $3 million of the $6 million voted upon. The present tax levy on that bond debt is slightly under 2.5 mill. It remains to be seen what the levy will be in subsequent years. Once that debt is paid off, the excluded areas will be responsible for no more ESCAFCA taxes.
  3. Property owners in the excluded areas will pay a one-time 0.5 mill levy for ESCAFCA operating expenses. This comes to approximately $16 per $100,000 assessed value. This levy will appear on the tax bills at the end of 2011. It will not appear on subsequent tax bills. This is significantly less than the up to 2.0 mill levy that ESCAFCA is allowed to tax without voter approval.
  4. The two directors elected in the 2010 election, JoAnn English and Doris Faust, will effectively resign upon signature of HB306. The remaining 3 directors will subsequently be elected by single-director districts, to be drawn later this year.
  5. All work on projects in the excluded areas, such as a road drainage project along Tecolote Road in Placitas, will be handed over to Sandoval County. Thus far only design work has been done on these projects. ESCAFCA also received a $50,000 grant to study pipeline safety along Las Huertas Creek in Placitas. According to Executive Engineer Larry Blair at the March 22 ESCAFCA board meeting, ESCAFCA will finish out this grant. He hopes it will result in the pipeline companies placing some protective covering over pipes running through the creek. There will be a public meeting regarding this study on April 7, at the Placitas Community Center.

Further information on ESCAFCA can be found on www.esonevoice.com.


Town of Bernalillo files Complaint against NM Gas Company, Inc.

On Monday, March 14, attorney James P. Lyle filed this action in the Thirteenth Judicial District Court in Sandoval County on behalf of the Town of Bernalillo and all other New Mexico municipalities, counties, and governmental agencies to recover damages caused by the February 3, shut off of natural gas service to numerous communities.

The complaint contends that New Mexico Gas Company, Inc. intentionally and deliberately shut off all natural gas service during extremely cold weather without reasonable warning, and that New Mexico Gas Company, Inc. failed to provide for sufficient supply and or necessary back-up supply under the harsh weather circumstances. The complaint also lists failures of New Mexico Gas Company, Inc. to provide an adequate delivery system, timely restoration of service, and sufficient personnel to restore service.

The Town suffered and is seeking damages related, but not limited to, lost wages and overtime paid to employees, lost revenue from taxpayers and business visitors, loss of equipment time, maintenance and upkeep, repair and associated expenses, emergency services to citizens, and other incidental and consequential damages.

In this action, the Town also requests that the Court certify this case as a class action and seeks to certify one class consisting of all New Mexico municipalities and governmental entities who have suffered damages as a result of the natural gas shut off.

“It is unfortunate that the Town has had to take this action”, states Mayor Jack Torres, “but, unfortunately, the New Mexico Gas Company has been unresponsive to our requests for information and restitution relating to this incident.  We see this as the only course of action we can take at this time”, he said.

     

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