Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front

Placitas roads make Sandoval County funding list

~Signpost Staff

Four road projects in Placitas are in line for state funding later this year, assuming sufficient funding comes through and no emergency issues come up elsewhere.

Sandoval County commissioners approved the projects that are part of a cooperative agreement with the New Mexico Department of Transportation. However, it's not yet known how much money will be available, and the list can change if other priorities arise.

The work mostly involves repairing existing pavement on connecting roads to add four or five years to the roadways.

"Some of these roads have been on the list before," Public Works Director Tommy Mora said. "These projects, if we wait any longer, will cost the county a lot more money."

Making the cut were:

  • Camino de las Piedras, including a short stretch of Camino de las Estrellas
  • Vista Montana Loop, Vista Sandia, Desert Mountain and Sky Mountain
  • Homesteads, Calle del Sol, and Calle del Norte
  • Overlook Drive

During the current budget year the state program provided $506,000 plus a county match of $169,000. The county is responsible for maintaining 1,516 miles of paved and unpaved roads outside municipalities.

Manager candidates meet county commissioners in private

~Signpost Staff

The process of replacing retiring County Manager Phil Rios is well underway with at least 13 candidates scheduled for closed-door interviews.

"I think we're attracting quality talent," Sandoval County Commission Chairman Don Chapman said. "If nobody else comes forward, we may be done."

Chapman said commissioners are interviewing every candidate who applied. All are from New Mexico, and all are men, he added.

By Signpost deadline, the tentative plan was to winnow the list to finalists by March 27 and make one an offer to begin contract negotiations around April 1. The goal is to have someone on board to work with Rios before he retires at the end of May.

"When you look at the candidates, it will be tough to replace Phil," Commissioner James Dominguez said. "Phil has done a really good job. Those are big shoes to fill."

Rios has worked for the county since 1999 and has been county manager since April, 2011. He previously served nine years as village administrator in Corrales.

There is no application deadline for the job, and commissioners can keep looking if necessary. The interviews have been held in private under an exemption in the state Open Meetings Act for "limited personnel matters" that includes discussion of hiring.

Applications sought for Rio Rancho Planning and Zoning Board

The City of Rio Rancho is seeking applicants to fill City Council District 2, 5, 6, and at large seats on the Planning and Zoning Board. The term length is three years and would expire May 31, 2020.

The board has several responsibilities, including promoting a comprehensive planning process with the general purpose of guiding and accomplishing a coordinated, adjusted, aesthetically appealing, and harmonious development of the City. Board meetings take place on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall, 3200 Civic Center Circle.

Individuals interested in applying and serving as a volunteer on the Board for a term must submit an application form and resume to the Office of the City Clerk. Applications can be obtained by visiting the Clerk’s office inside City Hall or by utilizing the City’s website— Those interested in applying to serve on the Commission are encouraged to do so before April 24. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled.

For additional information, such as to confirm City Council District residency, contact the Clerk’s office at 891-5004.

The Bernalillo High School boys basketball team poses with town councilors who recognized the team for winning the district championship. Coaches and team member present were (left to right) Coach Gerred Prairie, Coach Raymond Aragon, Corvin Fragua, Noah Leyba, Solomon Fragua, Alex Douglas, Davin Deuel, Aaron Parra, Fernando Villegas, Coach Terry Darnell, Luis Villegas, Tyrese Coriz, Reyes Herrera and Coach Paul Aragon joined by councilors Dale Prairie and Tina Dominguez, Mayor Jack Torres, and Councilor Marian Jaramillo. 
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Bernalillo reaffirms support for diverse community

~Bill Diven

Bernalillo has joined a growing list of municipalities declaring themselves as welcoming diversity in their communities and leaving enforcement of immigration laws to federal agencies.

The action comes in the wake of tough talk on immigration from the new administration in Washington and a spate of high-profile roundups of alleged undocumented immigrants by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"I've gotten a number of calls," Mayor Jack Torres said. "There's obviously fear in communities all over. We think it's a human-rights issue."

Bernalillo and Mexico have three hundred years of shared culture and economic ties, he added.

One audience member questioned whether criminals would simply be let loose. The man, who said he was a former federal agent and had received death threats, declined to give the Signpost his full name. "If this makes us a sanctuary city, and the president does what he says he's going to do, how is the town prepared to deal with withholding federal money?" he said.

Bernalillo Police Chief Tom Romero said anyone arrested for a crime would be taken to the Sandoval County Detention Center, which has its own policy allowing outside agencies to check a prisoner's immigration status. "I have to make sure anybody in this community can feel comfortable calling the police and reporting a crime," Romero said. "We're going to treat everybody as human beings, fairly and equally."

Or, as Torres put it, "We don't go around arresting people for the IRS. I don't think we should do that for ICE as well."

The resolution, which passed without opposition, also affirms the civil rights of all town residents regardless of ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual identity, or refugee status.

Santa Fe declared itself a sanctuary city in 1999. Albuquerque and Bernalillo County recently passed immigrant-friendly resolutions, although the Corrales Village Council rejected one on March 14. Officials there said it was unnecessary since village police don't ask about citizenship when interacting with residents and visitors.

In other council actions since the last Signpost:

Bernalillo Public Schools Superintendent Allan Tapia presented the council with a plaque, recognizing the successful working relationship between the two entities. In particular he cited the town's school-supply and coat drives, support for a police officer working in the schools, and using the message board in front of town hall to promote school events and elections.

In turn, the district, beyond providing education, brings people to town as it did in early March for the first two rounds of the girls and boys Class 1A state basketball tournament held at Bernalillo High School. The BHS Spartans won the boys Class 4A district title and the first round of the state tourney before falling to No. 1 seeded Hope Christian in the second round 71-40.

At the March 13 meeting, the town presented certificates of appreciation to team members and coaches. Councilors also accepted the annual audit of town accounts through June 30 and noted longstanding issues are still there although presumably not for long. The town, working with its outside auditor, is near the end of the second year of what is hoped to be a three-year trek of a clean audit.

In 2010, when Mayor Jack Torres took office, the town was three years behind in audits, had dozens of unexplained bank accounts, and was in danger of being ineligible for state grant funds. "I'm obviously not happy with this either, but we can honestly say there is light at the end of the tunnel," he said adding praise for the work of auditor Daniel Trujillo of the accounting firm Kubiak Melton and Associates.

At the next meeting, Treasurer Lupita De Herrera won approval to split out special funding sources into their own accounts resolving those issues. One big issue remaining is an inventory of all capital assets—vehicles, buildings and equipment—worth more than five thousand dollars and assigning values to them.

Bernalillo Police Chief Tom Romero presented annual crime statistics that included a near doubling of stolen vehicles to 65.

"While it seems we have a problem in Bernalillo, it's actually statewide and nationwide," he said. "Most of them make a beeline to I-25 and head south."

Assaults are down, there was one more robbery during the 2016 budget year than in 2015, and burglaries spiked although that was mostly due to vehicle break-ins, Romero added.

Budget fracas continues after Legislature adjourns

~Bill Diven

It's not over till it's over, and New Mexico Legislature is apparently coming back into session despite adjourning on March 18.

When that will happen is not clear after Republican Gov. Susana Martinez called budget measures passed by the House and Senate reckless and irresponsible. Democrats in control of both houses labeled the $6.1 billion budget an effort to meet the governor in the middle without again relying on cuts to education and other government services.

At the center of the standoff is the Legislature balancing the budget, in part, through a separate bill, raising $350 million in new revenue. Those include a range of tax increases from a boost in the gas tax to taxing online shopping and delaying a corporate tax cut.

Martinez's proposed budget featured additional cuts to public education, colleges, and state payments to some local governments, while sticking by her pledge to never raise taxes. At a post-session news conference she said she would veto the revenue bill, forcing a special session, to avoid a government shutdown on July 1.

The dust was still settling at Signpost deadline, and Martinez has until April 7 to sign or veto bills approved by both houses. The Signpost will have more on local legislation and reaction in May.

Of the four bills, and one House memorial, with implications for the free-roaming horses of Placitas, only one, an amendment to animal-cruelty law sponsored by Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, made it to the governor's desk. It would give registered rescue and retirement organizations first rights to buy at nominal cost any unclaimed equines impounded the New Mexico Livestock Board.

If no group stepped forward, sealed bids would be sought for the animals, and any still unclaimed would be humanely euthanized. This would end the NMLB practice of auctioning horses to the highest bidder, which horse advocates say can lead to the horses being taken to Mexico and butchered.

A House Joint Memorial directing the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to undertake a study of wild and free-roaming horses in the state never got a hearing. It directed the department to complete the study with potential habitat and management policies by the end of the year, something the department said would cost about four million dollars and require additional staff.

Two Senate bills related to trespassing wild horses and the definition of livestock also died on adjournment. Those aimed squarely at issues raised in Placitas when the Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) sued the NMLB over rounding up loose horses and treating them as stray livestock, sending them to auction if left unclaimed.

The lawsuit led to the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruling the NMLB no longer had responsibility for un-owned, undomesticated horses trespassing on private land. Instead, the landowners can take ownership and keep or dispose of the horses as they saw fit.

A second dismissal of the WHOA suit is currently on appeal.

Spring beat the calendar to Placitas as near-record temperatures and blossoming fruit trees like this purple leaf plum sent winter into an early retreat.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Pleasant weather brings concerns about water, fire danger

~Signpost Staff

Winter whimpered away this year leaving in its place record warmth as fire season arrived before spring.

While the mild weather kept heating bills and driving hazards down, it left farmers and rafters wondering how much mountain snowpack warm winds would evaporate before it could run off. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which provides irrigation water for seventy thousands acres of cropland from Cochiti Dam into Socorro County 150 miles downstream, remained optimistic about snow conditions particularly in Colorado.

"The winter has been good to us," the agency posted on its website as irrigation season began March 1. "The Rio Chama in particular is expected to produce a lot of water through May, June, and even well into July… As usual we have to caution that it's only March, and conditions can change, but at present this appears to be the best set of spring conditions we have seen since at least 2005."

Snow proved skimpy in Placitas, however, as a National Weather Service spotter in the Sandia Mountains foothills recorded 5.8 inches after January 1 but only two days of measurable precipitation after January 24.

On March 19, the last day of winter, the National Weather Service forecasted high temperatures 15 to twenty degrees above average in central and western New Mexico. Eastern counties expected 25-30 degrees above normal with winds gusting to forty mph.

On March 18, Albuquerque recorded a low temperature of 51, the highest low for the date since 1908. Meanwhile February was the fifth warmest in the city since recordkeeping began in 1893 breaking a 101-year-old record with a high of 75 on February 17, which also broke the 2016 record for the earliest day Albuquerque reached 75.

The weather service reports New Mexico is not in drought, but lists as abnormally dry the northeast quarter, two areas on the Texas border in the southeast, and one in far western Catron County. Moderate drought is reported on portions of rangeland in east-central and northeastern counties.

Bernalillo Fire Chief Mike Carroll was among those warning residents about clearing their properties of combustible materials that could draw wildfires to buildings. The town requires burning permits but declares no-burn days based on the weather service forecast winds to reach at least 15 mph, he said.

Numerous brush fires have been reported in Sandoval County although none with significant damage. At last report, the county fire marshal was issuing permits for small-scale burns of yard and agricultural waste under numerous restrictions and winds not exceeding seven mph.

Larger burns were being considered on a case-by-case basis. As fire seasons worsened in past years, total bans on open burning have been imposed lasting until the monsoon arrives usually in early July.

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