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I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the great job you do with the Signpost. I take at least three hours every month when it arrives to read from front to back. And use it constantly for the ads and keeping up with my community. Lucy Noyes writes my favorite articles! Keep up the splendid work.
Last month’s Signpost included “The Two Antonio Gurulés of the Sanchez y Valdez Family of Bernalillo,” the amazing story of two Antonio Gurulés, one Spanish and one Indian, who were members of one of the first families in Bernalillo and Placitas. The author welcomed feedback from New Mexico residents who might recognize any of the family names in the story, but included an incorrect e-mail address. The correct address is email@example.com. Further information about the Sanchez and Gurulé family histories can be found at www.gurulefamily.org. You can read the story by clicking on the Back Issues button on the menu on the left side of the page. —Ed.
We attended a delightful tea party honoring Peggy Cavette Walden and her late husband, Jerry Walden, who provided a generous gift. Peggy is a very charming lady who donated land in Placitas where children of the community would have a place to play. It was nice to see such a community turnout to honor her as we listened to Peggy tell of historical events of her and her husband first falling in love with Placitas and their dream of creating a special place for the children where they could play, swim, and learn. Thanks to Peggy and her late husband for their generous donation and thinking of the children who are growing up in the Placitas community.
The momentum to create a Placitas County continues to build. We have been in consultation with Research and Polling, Inc., the premier New Mexico polling company, and have set the framework for a scientific sampling of public opinion about the question of creating a Placitas County. At this point all we are lacking is some additional funding before we sign the contract. Anyone willing to contribute to this very important project is encouraged to call me at (505) 867-1712.
The first draft of a detailed proposal to create Placitas County, including a revenue-neutral budget and a tentative bill for the legislature, is now complete. Copies are being widely distributed and anyone who wants a copy can pick one up at Placitas Realty on Highway 165. This document is meant to increase discussion and debate on this issue and to prove that we have a sufficient economic base to support our own county. One of the most impressive facts that we have found is that Placitas County already has a valuation (tax base) that is higher than thirteen existing counties in New Mexico. If we cannot afford a county, how is it that these existing counties, some with much higher populations, have remained economically viable for decades?
I am more than happy to give a presentation and/or answer questions for any group, association, family, or individual about this effort to create Placitas County. Also, see our Web site at www.placitascounty.com.
—Charles Mellon, M.D.
re: shortage is in brain usage, not building permits
All this concern for water conservation, low-flow double flush toilets, home owners with grass, Elephant Butte and Rio Grande water levels?
Really had me worried, and for nothing. How can there be such a shortage of water when city officials, along with planning and zoning, continue to issue building permits and allow variances to developers? If there is so little water, how come golf courses spring up on building plans for hotel resorts? Why is there water running down the gutter due to lousy city-owned sprinkler systems?
The only shortage around here is in brain usage, or just plain common sense. Rio Rancho's mayor wants expansion on a grandiose scale. Enchanted Hills is growing hot and heavy. Water shortage? Gimme a break!
If there is really concern for present and future water, I don't see where it is addressed. Surely not in the expansion program being entertained by our city planners.
Drought? Nah! Just a word to scare children. Right?
[The following letters to the editor were written by residents of the Ranchos de Placitas subdivision in Placitas and refer to an article in the January 2004 Signpost entitled “Local builder at odds with water district.” The article reported on an ongoing battle between property owners who want additional water connections and the district water board whose rules limit new connections. The letters are of interest in that they provide insight into the problem of water supply availability versus growth, and offer suggestions of ways it can be managed. The letters have been edited for length and repetition, and are grouped by similar opinion.]
The [Ranchos de Placitas] board members have done a good job in upgrading our system and providing good clean water to most of us. On a day-to-day basis our system seems as well run as any around.
There are some major problems that have arisen or will arise concerning the past and the future. In these areas our water board is being guided by attorney Stevan Schoen.
Under his guidance our water board has ignored such important topics as prior contracts, taxation without representation, standby rates that were never approved by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, and refusal to supply water to all legally subdivided properties within the District boundaries, as was the expressed and written intention of the developer. These topics and a few more could have major financial and legal impact on our water system as we approach build-out.
Under Mr. Schoen’s system the only real beneficiaries are the attorneys. We should seriously consider a change in our legal guidance.
In view of the growing concern over water conservation, I am writing to discuss the North Ranchos De Placitas Water and Sanitation District billing procedure.
Instead of basing the bill primarily on usage, which would encourage conservation, the District levies a monthly charge of $14.95 and a ridiculously low usage rate amounting to about 28 cents per hundred gallons of water. For example, a recent bill was for the base rate plus $5.86 for 2,070 gallons of water for a total of $21.91. Any meaningful financial incentive to conserve water is missing. Increasing my water usage five-fold to ten thousand gallons would only double my bill to about $43.
In the past I have written letters to the District expressing my concerns over minimizing usage. Oral responses indicated that they were required by law to bill as they do.
I find this incomprehensible. Are there not other local water districts that base their bills on usage, and in fact, levy surcharges for high water usage? Are there others in the District who would like to see their water bill based on their own usage instead of subsidizing high users? Even if individual costs didn't change much, water conservation would be encouraged.
When I was living in Marin County, California, a number of years ago a drought resulted in empty reservoirs and water had to be piped in from Contra Costa County. Water rates went up to reflect higher expenses and to encourage conservation. Big surprise—water usage decreased and rates had to be increased again to provide enough revenue to meet expenses. So be it. Water conservation was accomplished.
An issue (fact) that was not brought up in [last month’s Signpost article] is that I am being taxed for water and not receiving it. The NRPW&SD collects taxes (Statute 73-21-17 Water and Sanitation Districts), which is within its authority; but it seems that the district has decided to refuse a water hookup to my property while continuing to tax me for this same right to water. I have been taxed for this hookup since the district bought the water system from the previous owner and will continue to tax me into the foreseeable future.
I have recently requested a water hookup from the district and been refused in a very unofficial way; to paraphrase their refusal, “you don’t need a hookup.” If the district is taking in tax monies from my property taxes, it should be controlled by law, not by capricious whim or imperialistic arrogance.
The existence of ample water rights at the time of the sale of the water system to the current district is on record with the state. The district revising the availability of water rights for the landowners after the fact seems quite unlawful and could be construed as fraudulent. My assumption has been if I am to be taxed to receive a benefit (water right), I should receive it—that is assuming I am still being ruled by law and not by men.
The restrictive covenants of Units 4, 5, 6, and 7 were drawn up by the original developer and filed with the state of New Mexico. These covenants dictate to what extent any lot can be subdivided and how many times it can be subdivided. This legal document controls the growth in those units.
The property owners of the back units of Ranchos de Placitas purchased the water company in 1990 from the developer and have made monumental improvements in the system and its ability to supply great water without constant interruptions in service. There were approximately 252 lots within the boundaries of the units when we purchased the water company. It has since grown to approximately 263 lots within the same subdivision boundaries. Now the water board states that there are only 241 water rights.
There never has been a specific number of water-service rights—the original developer purchased water rights in terms of acre-feet of water and stated the water company's obligation to provide water at the meter to all legally subdivided lots. When did the number of lots in the subdivision suddenly become a number of water rights available and a number of water rights not to be exceeded? In a letter dated September 24, 2003, from the NRPW&SD to its water customers, the board wrote, “These water service rights have economic value to you as property owners as long as water can be supplied within the approved rights granted by the State Engineer.”
As an owner of the water company and a water customer, I do not ever remember being given the opportunity of voting to arbitrarily tie a “number of lots” to a “number of water rights”; nor was I provided any information that this was taking place.
Since when did it become the job of the water company to do anything but provide water to all lots legally subdivided in our community? If the property owners in Ranchos want to limit growth and development, then they should take it upon themselves to change the restrictive covenants. The “economic value” of my home is my responsibility. The “economic value” of someone’s lot being diminished because the water board wants to deny water to that property owner in turn diminished the “economic value” of my lot and home.
—Regina L. Harris
In the past ten years we have paid thousands of dollars in taxes to the North Ranchos de Placitas Water and Sanitation District. Our money helped to pay the debt that the water district incurred from the purchase of the original water company.
We have three legally subdivided lots and have been told by the board that we cannot have water for two of them.
The water district can tax properties within their boundaries, but they should not be able to tax these properties and then deny them the benefits of the taxation. These board members must be persuaded that by continuing to adhere to policies that might be illegal they can only hurt a quality water system.
In 1970 we purchased fifty-two acres in Ranchos de Placitas, Unit 7, from Karl Kortemeier, the original developer, knowing he was going to build a water system for the back units. Kortemeier signed contracts to this effect and did build a water system.
My purchase allows up to 4,600,000 gallons of water a year. I have no real intention of ever using that much water; however, I do have a legally binding contact for it!
In 1990 the NRPW&SD purchased the water company with all of its assets and liabilities. Sometime shortly after this, the five-member board decided that they would not grant any further water-service rights to any legally subdivided properties. According to the board, I own one five-acre lot to which water service is not available. This is, of course, nonsense.
Mike Neas is by no means alone in his quest to right the policies arbitrarily set and held by these five members of our district.
In December 2003 the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission voted unanimously to docket a complaint against North Ranchos de Placitas Water and Sanitation District.
As a twenty-seven-year resident of Unit 5, I remember the serious water-system problems we experienced before the district was formed and appreciate the well-maintained system we now enjoy.
However, in reviewing the documentation contained in the complaint, it is clear that many of us are being over-taxed or denied water rights. Some examples follow:
- Some of us pay tax to the district through property-tax bills on extra water rights given back to the district over ten years ago to avoid standby charges. Yet the district specifically agreed to the deletion of the standby charge.
- Some pay monthly standby charges and tax bills on the same lot.
- Some residents who purchased their property before the district was formed were guaranteed water, but are now told they have no rights.
- Some residents who legally subdivided large parcels continue to pay tax to the district on land for which they no longer own water rights.
I’m glad the PRC is going to review the business policies of the district so these inequalities can be corrected.
For several years builder Mike Neas has been trying to force the North Ranchos de Placitas Water and Sanitation District (NRPW&SD), which was established by decree of the 13th Judicial District Court pursuant to New Mexico law, to change well-established water-administration policies in order to accommodate his building and development business interests. To date, the NRPW&SD has reviewed Mr. Neas’s policy change requests. These requested changes would have far-reaching impacts on future water availability for the current NRPW&SD customers and property owners. The major changes which Mr. Neas wants are for the District to award water-service rights to nonqualifying properties and to eliminate standby charges.
While the water-service rights owned by the District are adequate to provide water service to all 241 lots (platted and recorded as of December 17, 1990, when the District bought the water system), when the subdivision is fully developed, assuming that current usage rates per household do not increase significantly, it was deemed prudent by the board that for the foreseeable future no additional water-service rights should be granted beyond the 241 for which it had assumed responsibility at the time of purchase.
A standby charge was adopted in order to allow all properties (home owners and owners of undivided lots platted and recorded as of December 17, 1990 alike) to share the cost of the infrastructure, i.e., tanks, pipelines, wells, so home owners alone would not bear the whole cost and so the cost of water would not have to be raised exorbitantly as the previous owner did. The basic rates have not been changed since May 1991.
Mr. Neas has been trying to force the District to do away with the standby charge policy, which is a common practice among water districts everywhere. For these reasons the District has declined to grant Mr. Neas’s requests.
The directors of the District, elected by registered, qualified electors who are residents of the District, are volunteers who have given many hours of their time and have always worked hard to provide a clean, plentiful supply of water to the properties it agreed to service from the beginning.
Mr. Neas appears to want to be treated differently from all the other NRPW&SD property owners, who have faithfully paid their standby charges and water rates. He is threatening the water you in North Ranchos use and your water board with lawsuits that would cost each and every one of us, including the vacant-property owners.
Currently, Mr. Neas wants to subdivide property that is not serviced by the NRPW&SD and was not platted and recorded as of December 17, 1990. The District has repeatedly warned property owners that if a site is subdivided subsequent to December 17, 1990, they should not assume that water service will automatically be provided to the newly subdivided lots.
We on the board of directors of the NRPW&SD appreciate those of you who have written letters of support and appreciation and made phone calls encouraging us in this matter. We continue to welcome your support and appreciate our property owners and homeowners.
—North Ranchos de Placitas Water and Sanitation District Board
Thirteen years ago the qualified voters of Units 4, 5, 6, and 7 of the Ranchos de Placitas subdivision voted to establish a water district.
At that time Mike Neas, if he was a qualified voter, had the opportunity to participate in setting up the district. The district was established to provide one water-connection right (WCR) to each lot platted at that time. Also at that time, the Office of the State Engineer awarded water rights (not to be confused with WCRs) to supply water to those platted lots. The district and not the individual property owner owns these water rights.
After the district was established, some property owners for various reasons wanted to return their WCRs to the district. At that time, the district made a decision to allow returned WCRs to be awarded to other property owners who wanted to subdivide their property. The award was made on a first-come basis. The total number of WCRs remained constant. This procedure was adopted for the benefit of the property owners. Other water districts extinguish WCRs when they are returned to the districts.
Mr. Neas has benefited from this policy, for he has been awarded more WCRs than any other homeowner.
With respect to Mr. Neas’s desire to obtain more water in the future, he, as an individual property owner, has a right to drill a well under New Mexico law. Water districts do not have this right. All water diversions by water districts are controlled by the state.
I am sure that the water district would be receptive to Mr. Neas buying prior 1907 water rights, fighting the legal battles to transfer such rights, and giving the rights to the water district for the use of his projects.
Given the water problems of the river, the board of directors of the water district should not increase water consumption until all water rights along the Rio Grande are adjudicated.
I am in full support of the water board for the stand they have taken to safeguard our water system. The members work without pay, volunteer untold hours to their community, and deserve the unqualified support of every resident.
As a property owner, I consider this attempt by Mike Neas to alter the guidelines as a potential threat to the viability of my future water supply.
If the water district were to change their regulations at this point, I would consider it a violation of their fiduciary responsibility to me as a property owner. I would hope other property owners will also take note of this potential threat to our rights. It could certainly affect our property values, not to mention our ability to access water in sufficient quantities in the future.
The district has been approved by the Public Regulation Commission and all relevant government agencies. There is no requirement that water be provided to all properties within its borders, and it is not bound by any agreements with the previous owner.
The actions of Neas have cost the district members (home owners) between $5,000 and $6,000 that could have been spent to provide safety features, such as numerous fire hydrants.
If Neas were to prevail, all district members would have to reduce their water usage and we would not have the reserves from the standby fees to help provide safety equipment essential to the well-being of our homes and families and to enable us to conform to government safety requirements and meet future water needs.
Reasonable development is not inhibited by the current policies of our excellent water district, and I hope that this conflict can be quickly resolved for the benefit of our community.
As a former board member and one who actively participated in the district's organization, I will offer some comments.
Mr. Neas has quarrels with two of the district's policies, which are as follows:
- Water service will be provided to any property within the district which was platted and recorded at the time the district purchased the troubled private water company. The necessity for restricting the service was explained in a letter from Ms. Jan Kerr to the Signpost .
- A standby charge of $7.50 per month will be assessed on undeveloped property until it is connected to the water line and begins to pay water-service charges.
These two policies were initiated nearly thirteen years ago when the private water company was purchased, and they have been affirmed by each succeeding board since then.
Only one substantive change has been made, and that allowed property owners to opt out of the standby charges by surrendering their parcel's right to receive water service. That water-service right could then be assigned to another newly created parcel upon payment of standby charges back to when the standby policy was initiated.
It should be noted that the statute governing establishment of the district provides that a property owner may petition the board to be excluded from the district and therefore exempted from property taxes for water service. Owners of lots on which no water-connection right exists—either because they surrendered such rights or because the property is not eligible since it was created subsequent to the purchase of the water company—should petition the board for exclusion, which would probably be granted.
Mr. Neas contends that any lot within the district, whether in existence at initiation of the district or newly created, should be entitled to water service. If this were a regular public utility, he would probably be correct, but it is not. The district's board is granted by statute the responsibility of governing the district, subject only to the PRC's right to oversee rates.
As for standby charges, these were promulgated nearly thirteen years ago, and property owners were notified of the intent to impose the charge. If as many as eight property owners had protested, the PRC would have held a public meeting to review the action. Only a couple of protests were received, possibly because the need for the standby charges had been discussed with property owners before they voted to form the district.
Mr. Neas has threatened to sue the district to change these policies. It is doubtful he will succeed. Even if his case were a good one, it will be difficult to explain why he waited thirteen years to initiate action.
former Ranchos de Placitas resident
In 1984 we purchased a lot in what is now North Ranchos de Placitas. We soon built and were immediately disappointed in the privately owned water system. It was constantly breaking down with no notice to customers as to when it would be up and running again. Thanks to Jay McCall, Royce Anderson, and many who followed on the water board, we now have a well-organized, community-owned system.
During that time we purchased the lot next door and began paying a standby fee to reserve a water right and meter for the future for that lot.
I resent our North Ranchos Water District having to pay out thousands of dollars in legal fees to fight a lawsuit brought on by a building developer. Let's get behind our water board and support them in this suit.
—Martha R. Clift
I made the drive out to the Ojito WSA trailhead you wrote about in the November Signpost (Time Off) to ride my mountain bike. I was disappointed to discover that after your trip there the area was apparently closed to all vehicles, including mountain bikes (a sticker showing a bike with a cross through it has been added to the trailhead sign). According to the sign, closure is needed to “protect natural resource values” ... whatever that means. Just thought I’d let you know. Was the wilderness status granted to the area?
[No wilderness status granted yet. Sorry to hear about the no-biking signs. —Ed.]
Placitas, NM—Thanks to our garbage pick-up services, we now look like a Third-World ghetto. Our fine friends at the largest garbage-service provider in the area, to make pickups easier for themselves, have given (rented?) Placitans who stayed with that service those huge unattractive bins, which cannot be manipulated (particularly if one has a sloped driveway) without concomitant hernias and a litany of muscle-pulling problems. Not only are those garbage bins unwieldy, they are unbelievably unattractive, and people often leave them at the head of their driveways for days at a time until they can find a muscle-bound helper to bring them back to their garages. Add that to the fact that depending on where you live in Placitas, and which service you are using, when one drives through Placitas, there are always cans or boxes or bags strewn in front of our respective driveways. Placitas—beautiful "come to Placitas for the vistas" Placitas—looks like an immense hideous garbage dump at least five days out of every week. Ouch, and double ouch! Yet another plague? You be the judge—but if I were a rodent, particularly one harboring some nice pathogenic viruses—I would definitely hang out in Placitas, where you can get a nice tasty garbage meal almost every day.
(the guy who writes the Ask Uncle Duffy advice column for the Signpost Web site)