Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front

Charlie Gardner studies the controls of a New Mexico State Police motorcycle during Cops in the Park in Bernalillo. Guiding him is Officer George Ortega III of the Albuquerque-based District 5 Motors Team.
See story, in Around Town, this Signpost.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Santa Ana Governor Myron Armijo

Santa Ana Pueblo buys ranch to preserve cultural heritage

—Bill Diven

For the people of Santa Ana Pueblo, walking on the King family’s Alamo Ranch is walking in the footsteps of their ancestors. That cultural significance is largely what drove the pueblo leadership to buy about sixty thousand acres of the sprawling ranch west of Rio Rancho and south of San Ysidro. The property borders both Zia and Laguna pueblos and, at its nearest, is ten miles from Santa Ana.

“As we came from Chaco Canyon to this area, that was part of the path,” Santa Ana Gov. Myron Armijo told the Signpost. “Our people will be able to carry on their cultural traditions.

The pueblo announced the purchase from the King family on July 1, paying close to the listing price of $33 million dollars.

Armijo said the pueblo has enjoyed a long relationship with the King family and moved quickly, early this year, when it learned that this part of the ranch was on the market. After receiving approval from the tribal council to research the purchase, a team that included financial staff and the Natural Resources and Historic Preservation department, went to work.

Then the council was approached a second time with details of the research and the negotiations with the Kings and their broker. With consensus from the council, the pueblo followed through with the purchase offer, which was accepted.

Tribal leaders had toured the ranch as recently as 2012 and recognized it as a potential addition to tribal lands.

“We worked with the King family, and they couldn’t have been more gracious,” Armijo continued. “Once they found out it was us, they were happy because they wanted someone who would maintain the land.”

The area is described as high desert woodland, shrub land, and grasslands, providing habitat for mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, Barbary sheep, and other species. It also is part of a wildlife corridor connecting the Jemez Mountains on the north and the San Mateo Mountains and 11,301-foot Mount Taylor on the south.

“This land will be a place of prosperity, serenity, prayers, and for the elders and tribal members to teach our younger and future generations the traditional ways of the Tamayame,” Armijo said, invoking a traditional name for the people during the July 1 ceremony that announced the purchase. “We will keep it in its natural state and use it for what has been called upon us to do.”

The purchase, however, is only the first step in a process. Externally, Santa Ana will be working with the Department of the Interior to have the ranchland converted to tribal trust land before President Barack Obama leaves office in January.

Internally, the pueblo is working on a management plan for the land. While Armijo declined to discuss details of what might be in the plan, Santa Ana already is known for the wildlife-restoration program that has restored turkey and pronghorns to the pueblo.

In mid-July, Santa Ana announced that it will be adding a hotel to its Santa Ana Star Casino on U.S. Highway 550 between Bernalillo and Rio Rancho. The fifty million dollar project, which includes a steakhouse and other amenities, is expected to take two years to complete.

Tribal enterprises already include one hotel—the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort located about three miles north of the casino. While the resort is aimed more at conventions and those seeking a resort experience, the new hotel will focus more on gamers visiting the casino and other travelers.

County hospital tax up for renewal

Signpost Staff

A property tax that helps support Sandoval County’s two hospitals is on track for the November election when voters will be asked to renew it.

During a late July work session, county commissioners directed staff to prepare the ballot language that would maintain the tax at its current level. Commissioners are scheduled to take formal action placing the question on the ballot at their August 4 meeting which will allow for public comment.

The tax, first approved by voters in 2008 to last eight years, contributed to the opening of both UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center and Presbyterian Rust Medical Center.

“This is probably one of the greatest things to happen to Sandoval County since I’ve been here,” Commissioner Don Chapman said. “The fact the county didn’t have a hospital before 2011 is dumbfounding.”

At the time Sandoval County was described as the largest county in the country without a hospital. Sandoval Regional is located off Paseo del Volcán in northern Rio Rancho while Rust is in the southeastern part of the city where it draws a substantial portion of its patients from nearby Albuquerque.

The tax will generate about $13 million this year and, since its inception, has raised $67 million dollars for services but not construction, split between the two hospitals. The tax rate is set 4.25 mills, which works out to $425 dollars per one hundred thousand dollars of taxable property value.

Commissioner Glenn Walters raised the possibility of reducing the rate to 4.0 mills. “I’d be happy with either one but would like to give the taxpayers a little bit of relief and drop it to four,” he said.

Representatives of Rust and Sandoval Regional both said their facilities already are hurting from cuts in Medicaid and other funding sources and would feel the loss.

“It just adds to our dilemma,” Sandoval Regional President and CEO Jamie Silva-Steele said.

In their presentations to the commission, the hospitals cited not just the medical services now available locally but their contributions to economic development. That includes more than 1,300 jobs and a combined payroll of $108 million dollars this year and $328 million dollars since the hospitals opened.

While the public can’t weigh in until August 4, extending the tax drew criticism during the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association annual meeting. One speaker called it start-up funding whose “rationale has now evaporated” especially given the new Affordable Care Act and expanded Medicaid funding.

Sandoval County ponders requiring residential trash pickup

Signpost Staff

As Sandoval County wrestles with landfill space,  illegal dumping, and tight budgets, mandatory trash pickup could be in the future for rural residents.

For now, the idea of franchising trash hauling and making everyone sign up is only percolating within the Public Works Department and a report to county commissioners. Separately, the department is working to expand its landfill in northeastern Rio Rancho.

“This is probably the last large landfill to be permitted in this region,” Public Works Director Tommy Mora said during the July 14 commission meeting, “so we’re going to be it.”

By modifying its state landfill permit, the county would open a fourth section of the existing landfill and allow a new layer of waste on top of the other three sections. It also authorizes future use of another ten acres within the 178-acre site bringing the total disposal area to 123 acres.

The state Environment Department scheduled a public hearing on the permit modification for August 3, at 5:30 p.m., in the county commission chambers.

To help support the landfill, the county sees residential collections as a greater source of future revenue than that from commercial waste. The county reckons there are 15,000 households outside the municipalities without regular trash pickup.

“They either haul their own to one of our transfer centers or to the landfill or it winds up in the arroyo,” Mora said in presenting his report to commissioners. “We have a problem with illegal dumpsites.”

Mora said his research shows the county could benefit by $1.15 million dollars annually in new revenue and cost savings if residential trash collection were made mandatory. That includes four hundred thousand dollars in franchises fees and six hundred thousand dollars in disposal fees paid by the contractor and $150,000 dollars in savings from the contractor taking over the transfer stations in Cuba, Peña Blanca, and Cañon.

Two companies already operate here that could handle the service, he added. Those are Waste Management Inc., a large national company already operating in Rio Rancho, and Road Runner Waste Services Inc. of Bernalillo, which recently won the contract previously held by Waste Management to serve the town of Bernalillo.

Missing from the discussion was Placitas-based New Mexico Rubbish Removal. Owner Wayne Sandoval said he formed the business in 2003 in part to keep Placitas clean after a previous hauler shut down.

“I’m more of a small, local guy,” Dominguez told the Signpost. “It’s worth my while to do the Placitas area, but I would like to get out there a little bit more.”

Dominguez said he’s seen illegal dumping in arroyos elsewhere in the county, and that mandatory collection might help address that. Should the county move toward franchising trash collection, he said he’d be interested in the contract and scaling up his company to handle it.

Placitas resident Bob Gorrell, however, told commissioners he questioned compelling residents to pay for trash collection. He said he and others recycle extensively making infrequent trips to the landfill and also don’t want big trucks running up and down the private roads that residents maintain.

“That’s important to have that choice,” Gorrell said. “Illegal dumping, that is a problem, and mandatory waste collection is not going to fix that. Those are people that really don’t care.”

County Manager Phil Rios said there are lots of questions to answer before the county could move ahead on requiring residents to sign up for trash collection.

“‘Mandatory’ comes with a lot of issues,” he said. That includes how it would be enforced, he added.

The discussion ended without direction from the commission on what to do next, although several options were mentioned. Those included a formal opinion survey of county residents and issuing a nonbinding request for proposal from potential trash contractors to gauge actual costs and benefits.

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