Sandoval Signpost
An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988
  Up Front


PHOTO CREDIT: —Ty Belknap
Protesters occupy Bernalillo on November 17

Occupy Wall Street comes to Bernalillo

—Signpost Staff

Placitas activist Dan Gipps organized a local protest on November 1—a national day of action by Occupy Wall Street, Rebuild the American Dream, and Move on.org. Protesters were encouraged to join neighbors to peacefully line the sidewalk in front of Wells Fargo Bank in Bernalillo. The call to action read, “Our elected politicians continue to allow Wall Street and the Big Banks to wreck the global economy and throw millions of families out of work, out of their homes and into poverty . . . we will have banners and signs, but make your own if you want. Bring drums, trumpets, trombones, musical instruments (even if you can’t play so good!). Change is coming! Start celebrating!”

About a dozen protesters, one reporter, and no police showed up at Wells Fargo Bank during Friday rush hour. They prompted the beeping of horns, and got lots of thumbs up (as well as a few middle fingers). Signs encourage people to pull their assets from big banks like Wells Fargo.

When asked why protest Wall Street here, Gipps said, “Because I live here.”


c. Rudi Klimpert


Changes to flood control district creates glitches in Placitas tax bills

—Sidney Hill, SC Public Information Officer

On November 23, the Placitas area’s exit from the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (ESCAFCA) caused confusion with 2011 property tax bills.

A total of 2,664 Placitas-area property owners have received erroneous tax bills, with the errors stemming from the county’s efforts to account for those properties being removed from ESCAFCA, according to Ed Olona, the county’s Chief Assessment Officer.

Staff members in the Sandoval County County Assessor’s and Treasurer’s offices were working to correct the problem, and all affected property owners will receive new bills soon.

The original bills were mailed November 1. Payment for those bills is due December 10, but property owners affected by this issue will have thirty days from the time their new bills are mailed to submit payment.

The vast majority of the affected property owners—2,423 to be precise—received tax bills that are slightly higher than they should have been. The overcharge amounts to sixteen cents for every $1,000 of assessed valuation on a piece of property. For a home with a taxable value of $300,000, the overcharge would be roughly $48.

The remaining 241 property owners affected by the error will see increases that could range from $150 to $500 in their new tax bills, because they were not assessed for the debt portion of the ESCAFCA mill levy that was not scheduled to come off their bills this year.

This issue stems from a law passed by the State Legislature last year—at the urging of Placitas residents—that removed Placitas from ESCAFCA, an agency created in 2007 to provide flood control in Bernalillo, Algodones, and Placitas.

The 2011 law, HB 306, removed all of Placitas, as well the portion of Algodones located east of Interstate 25, from the flood control authority.

Homeowners in those areas will see property taxes related to the ESCAFCA operational levy fall off their tax bills in the future. These same property owners will still be responsible for the debt portion of the ESCAFCA levy.

The miscalculation stemmed from the different methods that the Legislature and the county use to identify the areas that have been removed from ESCAFCA.

In the law, the Legislature identified the areas by voting precincts. The county uses legal descriptions of land parcels to identify individual pieces of property. When county personnel identified properties using the voting precinct information, not all of the properties were recognized by the county’s software system. The end result was 2,664 erroneous tax bills.

“We were using a mapping system that couldn’t extract the necessary data to identify parcels accurately,” Olona explains. “We have since adopted a new system.”

New bills were calculated based on data entered into the new system.

Property owners with questions about this issue can contact the County Assessor’s office at 505-867-7562 or the County Treasurer’s office at 505-867-7581.


PHOTOCREDIT: —Courtesy of Sandoval County
Phil Rios, Sandoval County Manager

 

Rios in charge

—Ty Belknap

On October 20, 2011, the Sandoval County Commission approved Phil Rios as the County Manager. Rios had found bipartisan favor with the commission as the interim county manager and Director of Public Works, a position he has held since former County Manager Juan Vigil was fired in February, 2011, when he fell into disfavor with the commissioners from Rio Rancho. Rios was awarded an annual salary of $135,000 plus benefits through June 2013.

In a recent interview with the Signpost, Rios discussed his experience in public administration and his role as County Manager. Originally from West Texas, Rios spent twelve years in the U.S. Air Force after graduating from college. He says that his management experience started while working as an air controller—doing air traffic control from the air. He got his MBA while in the Air Force, then moved to New Mexico and went to work as Treasurer, then Administrator, for the Village of Corrales. In 1999, Rios took a job as Sandoval County Community Services Director. His experience in coordinating different functions of county government expanded in 2004 when he became Director of Public Works.

Rios consented to do the Signpost interview, even though he is a very busy man. He hired Public Information Officer Sidney Hill to interact with the media. Rios said (very quickly), “My job is to have ultimate responsibly for all the county staff and to coordinate with all elected officials. I work for the County Commission, and it is my responsibility, along with the County Attorney, to inform the commissioners about county business and make sure everything is legal, and that we do what is needed by the citizens of Sandoval County.”

The County Manager’s priorities include coordinating with public services, fire and emergency medical services, and law enforcement. He is charged with balancing the budget and finding funds for opportunities as they arise.

The county budget has been limited by economic hard times. Rios said that the county is very conservative about spending taxpayer dollars, but when the economy improves they can get more aggressive with development issues. Before the bubble burst in 2008, Sandoval County was involved in several projects that have lost traction when it transformed from one of the twenty fastest-growing counties in the country to one with the highest rates of foreclosure. He said that he has no special agenda or pet project, but supports economic development to attract business, bring in jobs, and bolster county revenues.

Sandoval Broadband is going nowhere. The Signpost reported in December 2006 that County Commissioner Jack Thomas was so impressed by what he heard during the ninety-minute presentation by Sandoval Broadband, that he gushed, “With this program, its jobs, its health care, it’s everything we need to be one of the greatest states in the union overnight.” Unfortunately, Sandoval County ended up failing to bring high-speed internet to rural areas and got scammed out of about three million dollars in the process. Rios said that he does not see an immediate benefit in spending more money on the project, and that the county is still in litigation to recover some of the funds.

A proposed desalination plant to treat brackish water from a huge reservoir west of Rio Rancho is another project that is also in limbo, along with 2006-approved plans for a 3,300-acre industrial development complex, a general aviation airport in the Rio Puerco Valley, and the proposed eighty-thousand-resident planned community, Rio West. In 2004, the Sandoval County Commission earmarked six million dollars for the desalination project from proceeds from billions of bonds issued for Intel Corporation. Rios said that funding the water project and repaying funds to Sandoval County are now the responsibility of Rio West developer Recorp Partners of Scottsdale, Arizona.

Rios said that the ninety-million-dollar Intel bond proceeds are “spent or are being spent.” He did not characterize the high dollar projects as mistakes and still views economic development along the proposed Northwest Loop between US 550 and I-40 as beneficial. “Progress has slowed, but we haven’t given up,” he said. “We are still seeking federal and state funding for the road, a landfill, and industrial park. We are working on a master plan for development.” He said that the Sandoval County Public Works department is currently doing some preliminary rough grading on the first two miles. Rios feels that an industrial base in unincorporated areas of Sandoval County would provide jobs and save commuters from the traffic gridlock on U.S. 550 through Bernalillo. He foresees no alternative routes that might be built in the near future to relieve this gridlock.

When asked about a northeast loop road—a much-rumored source of dread to many Placitas residents—Rios said with a laugh, “What northeast loop? The Public Works Department has never done any planning and has no funding for a northeast loop. We won’t be tackling that.” He said that Hagan Road through San Felipe Pueblo provides a route to eastern Sandoval County, although it tends to wash out during monsoon season.

Rios admits that it is a challenge to work for all the commissioners who are often split according to political party and district. “I was hired by all five of them,” he said, “I’m not involved in partisan issues. I am here to help Sandoval County move forward and to provide what is needed by our citizens.”


Board of County Commissioners pass resolution

—Board of County Commissioners of Sandoval County

A resolution establishing the legislative policy and capital/ funding priorities for the county of Sandoval for the fifty-first legislature, first session, of the State of New Mexico:

Legislative Policy

  1. Oppose any legislation that: {a) proposes any revenue reductions, {b) adversely affects funding sources, or {c) diminishes the County’s regulatory authority.
  2. Amend NMSA 33-3-25 Local Government Corrections Fund to enable Sandoval County to receive one hundred percent of the Corrections Fund distributed by the Administrative Office of the Courts to counties.
  3. Amend existing state law to enable counties to establish franchise agreements with utilities.
  4. Amend statute{s) regarding municipal liens to allow counties the same authority as municipalities.
  5. Monitor any legislation relating to the Tax Lightning issue including the impact to the County’s revenue and bonding authority.
  6. Monitor any proposed changes to the Hold Harmless distribution for the food and medical deduction of gross receipts tax.
  7. Monitor any proposed changes to the Inspection of Public Records Act and the Open Meetings Act and determine if any proposed changes will negatively impact the County.
  8. Monitor any legislation that impacts the tribes and pueblos in Sandoval County, including any proposed changes to the Tribal Infrastructure Fund.
  9. Monitor any legislation affecting Community Health, Senior Services, and DWI and Prevention funding.
  10. Monitor any legislation relating to the Treasurer’s Office including unfunded mandates.

Capital/ funding priorities

  1. Torreon Road Rehabilitation—total project cost $13,000,000.
  2. El Zócalo Historic Renovation—rehabilitation of the Sena building $750,000.
  3. E-911Center—regional dispatch center $2,000,000.
  4. Comprehensive Economic Development Plan for Sandoval County—identify and pursue any funding opportunities for a county-wide comprehensive economic development plan, including grant and loan programs through the NM Finance Authority $100,000.
  5. Reauthorize SAP 09-3808-STB Sandoval County Deep-Aquifer Water Desalination System to Algodones Arsenic Removal Project—total amount $66,464.61. NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, by the Board of County Commissioners, the governing body of the County of Sandoval that the legislative program described herein for the Fifty-first Legislature, First Session, of the State of New Mexico is hereby approved and adopted.
   

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