Policy-makers walk a mile in poverty
A handful of politicians met the human face of poverty in Sandoval County by being teamed for a month with residents who depend on public assistance.
Yet Ginger Decker, who with her husband and four children relies on public housing and food stamps, isn’t sure everyone got the message.
“One senator kept saying there’s poor and there’s broke,” Decker, thirty-eight, told the Signpost. “I’m not poor or broke but paycheck to paycheck and can’t get ahead.
“It’s not just all the poor and that’s it.”
The Decker family was teamed with state senator Kent Cravens, who said he already had a pretty good idea what low income meant before he agreed to participate in the Walk A Mile Project.
“I’m from a similar background, a family that never had a lot of money,” Cravens said. “Where the Deckers are now, I’ve been there.
“It doesn’t seem that long ago.”
While Decker said she worries most taxpayers label low-income people as welfare cheats, Cravens said he found a family motivated by dreams and ambitions. Cravens said he spent several hours with the Deckers, accompanied them to a meeting about raising their public-housing rent, and discussed their prospects for getting ahead and off welfare.
“They have a really progressive attitude,” said the Republican who represents Bernalillo, Placitas, and part of Bernalillo County. “I don’t feel like their lot in life is permanent.”
Despite that optimism, Decker says it’s tough to get ahead on her part-time $7-an-hour day-care job and her husband’s job as a management trainee. Transportation and child care always are issues complicated by new federal regulations requiring assistance recipients to work, go to school, or do community service work, she said.
This first of what is expected to be annual Walk A Mile projects paired fourteen state and county policy makers with fourteen low-income people and families, according to Sally Moore, executive director of the nonprofit Sandoval County Economic Opportunity Corporation. The program is underway in about thirty-three states and this year also included four elected officials in Las Cruces and four cabinet secretaries in Santa Fe, she said.
“That was really the primary goal, to make sure when they talk about poverty in our state, we put a human face on their circumstances and to build relationships,” Moore said. “One thing we learned is that some policy makers had their own challenges early in life, but they seem to understand it’s harder now.”
Moore also said the program was somewhat rushed this year and will start earlier next year. One goal was for policy makers’ families to eat on a food-stamp budget for the month, but Cravens said his work situation made that impractical.
Decker and Cravens also agreed to meet in January for the legislative session, and Cravens said he feels Decker has the skills and voice to be an advocate, particularly on domestic violence.
“I came out of a violent relationship; that’s one of the things that put me in this position,” Decker said. “I’m not afraid to talk about it.
“I’ve been dealing with it for a long time, and I’m still dealing with it now.”
Decker also says she would encourage people and especially the policy makers to look at their low-income neighbors as individuals and not a group to be ignored.
“I sure hope they would look at everybody’s circumstance and not take such a narrow-minded view of it,” she said. “We need to start looking at why this is happening and what we can do about it.”
Upcoming elections on local issues
The Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District may cancel its February 3 election after no challengers appeared to take on two incumbent board members.
That decision, however, must wait until the January 13 deadline for any write-in candidates to declare themselves. The board will then meet on January 15.
At the December 16 filing deadline, only board chairman Nick Mora and member Reuben Montoya had filed for reelection to four-year terms. The law governing district operations allows an election to be canceled if no board positions are contested.
Coronado, one of forty-seven districts in New Mexico, promotes soil and water conservation by encouraging and funding better farming and development practices. The Coronado district covers southeastern Sandoval County from north of Cochiti Pueblo to the western boundaries of Santa Ana pueblo and the town of Bernalillo.
Still scheduled for February 3 are an $11 million bond election for the Bernalillo Public Schools and two tax questions imposing quarter-percent sales taxes to support county fire departments and emergency medical services. Voters within the school district will vote on the bond issues while voters in the unincorporated areas of the county will determine the tax issues.
Group seeks community exercise paths
A meeting of concerned Placitas residents known as the Greater Placitas Exercise Path Committee is planned to discuss strategy for encouraging county and state highway entities to build exercise paths adjacent to some of the local roads. These paths would be created for biking, jogging, and walking. The meeting will be held at 7:00 p.m. on January 29 at the main Placitas Volunteer Fire Station located halfway between Homestead Village Shopping Center and the village of Placitas on Highway 165. Discussion will cover enlisting the help of key politicians, creating a master plan, and surveying affected residents. For more information, call D. Brinkerhoff at 771-0130.
Historical Society presents “Revolution by Rail”
On January 11, the Corrales Historical Society will present “Revolution by Rail,” with speaker Spencer Wilson who will discuss the coming of the AT&SF Railroad. This presentation begins at 7:00 p.m. at the Historic Old San Ysidro Church in Corrales. As part of the Society’s 2003-2004 Speaker’s Series, the program is free and open to the public. The church is fully accessible to persons with disabilities. Refreshments will be served after the program. For further information, call 899-6212.
Capulin opens for winter snow play
The Capulin Snow Play Area, approximately eight miles up the Sandia Crest National Scenic Byway (Highway 536), is open for the season. Gates will open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. through March 14. Self-issue parking-fee envelopes are available on site. Sandia annual parking passes, valid for twelve months from date of issue, will be honored, and can be purchased for $30 at the Sandia Ranger Station in Tijeras as well as at the Cibola National Forest Supervisor’s Office, REI, Archery Shop, Charlie’s Sporting Goods, Two Wheel Drive, and Wal-Mart sporting goods departments, all in Albuquerque.
Visitors need to bring their own inner tubes or soft sliding devices with no metal or wood components. Rental equipment is not available on site. Gates will be locked at 4:00 p.m. every day.
The following are prohibited at Capulin Snow Play Area: skis, sleds (with wood, metal, or other hard materials), snow boards; careless or reckless sliding; sliding out of the defined area; alcoholic beverages; glass containers. Note: Sliding, sledding, and tubing are prohibited at Tree Springs and 10K and “pit” areas. For further information, contact the Sandia Ranger District at 281-3304.
Trumpet player Ray Flores belts out a mariachi tune with
Los Reyes de Albuquerque during groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Sandoval County Health Commons and Justice Center. Both buildings are going up on a 56-acre former shooting range at NM 528 and Idalia Road.
Sandoval County breaks ground on Health Commons
A theory on how to unify public health services while cutting costs is taking physical form in Sandoval County.
Known as the Health Commons, the new facility at NM 528 and Idalia Road will bring together county medical, dental, mental health, indigent, and family services in a single building. Health Commons includes space for the Bernalillo and Rio Rancho Public Health offices.
A family-wellness pilot program offering multiple and immediate services in a single location has been operating one half day a week in the county courthouse for the last year. The effort is coordinated by the public-private Sandoval County Community Health Alliance with support from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.
“We’ve talked about co-location for a long time,” said Wayne Powell, assistant director of the medical school’s Center for Community Partnership. “Now people have set that aside and are saying, ‘What does that look like, really?’”
“Where Sandoval County is really ahead is in how to get the architecture to work with the services,” added Dr. Dan Derksen, CCP director. The project is supported in part by a Kellogg Foundation grant aimed at improving health care in underserved populations.
Health Commons’ home will be a 10,200-square foot, $1.2 million center expected to open in the fall of 2004. A December 4 groundbreaking officially launched construction of La Plazuela de Sandoval which initially will include the Health Commons and the county Justice Center.
The $7.9 million Justice Center housing the sheriff, district attorney and district court is scheduled to open early in 2005.
County commission chairman Jack Thomas, adopting a reference to horse racing, called the ceremony “the Triple Crown of groundbreakings.” The fifty-six-acre site is a former shooting range recently purchased by the county.
County manager Debbie Hays said the public-health pilot program already is proving its value and cited a family that came in for one problem and a health-care worker recognized another problem with one of the children. Instead of telling the family to schedule another appointment, another provider was called in and within days the child was in a program for children with disabilities.
“That’s what this program is all about, dropping the walls and focusing on the patient,” Hays said. “It is changing lives.”
The program also increases efficiency in a time of reduced funding and increasing costs and demand for services, according to Powell.
The new court complex is designed to handle modern technology and to protect jurors who must “run the gauntlet” of defendants’ friends and family after trials, according to district judge Louis McDonald. “This facility provides the kind of safety and security the citizens of Sandoval County need and deserve,” McDonald said.
While county voters approved bonds for most of the Justice Center construction, number one on the county’s legislative wish list is an additional $200,000 for security enhancements. The courts also are approaching the legislature to equip judicial offices.
A few hours after the groundbreaking, commissioners voted to award the Justice Center contract to Gerald Martin Construction for the second time. Luther Construction had protested the first award saying Luther would have been the low bidder except for a typographical error in an add-on item that listed a $27,000 basement as a $227,000 expense. A court then ordered the commission to reconsider the add-on items, and Martin again won the project.
For pueblo cultural events...
Sandoval County is rich in Indian culture. It is home to nine Native American pueblos. To learn of special pueblo events that are open to the public, you may contact them at the numbers listed below:
- San Felipe—867-3381
- Santa Ana—867-3301
- Santo Domingo—465-2214
- Jicarilla Apache—759-3242
Local builder at odds with water district
Local builder Mike Neas has been trying for several years to get the North Ranchos de Placitas Water and Sanitation District to extend water service to several lots in the Ranchos de Placitas subdivision.
NRPW&SD is a governmental agency that was established in 1990 when the water system was purchased from the subdivision developer. Neas says that the NRPW&SD is contractually bound by agreements with the previous owner to provide water to all the properties within the borders of the district.
J. Jan Kerr, president of the board of directors of the NRPW&SD, writes, “Mr. Neas wants the district to award award water service rights to non-qualifying properties and to eliminate standby charges. These requested changes would have far-reaching impacts on future water availability for the current NRPW&SD customers and property owners. . . . A standby charge was adopted in in order to allow all properties to share the cost of the infrastructure, i.e., tanks, pipelines, and wells, so homeowners 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 1991. . . .The district has repeatedly warned property owners that if a site is subdivided subsequent to 1990 that they should not assume that water service will automatically be provided to the newly subdivided lots.”
Neas writes, “The NRPW&SD has 35 acre feet of water rights with a return flow credit of 61.5 percent, approved by the state engineer’s office in 1990. This allows 90.91 acre feet to be pumped from the ground each year. Currently the NRPW&SD averages about .25 acre feet per household per year. At total build out, this would mean about 61 acre feet of water being pumped. . . .The problem is with those lots which exist or could exist not being given any right to district water. Some of these lots are already paying taxes to the District. Some have contractual obligations dating back to the early 1970s which guarantees water, and yet the five-member board of directors says ‘drill a well.’. . .The OSE allows up to 3 acre feet to be pumped with every domestic well permit. These wells increase possibilities for contamination of the aquifer and cannot be monitored, controlled, or charged for the water they use.”
Neas says that the NRPW&SD is arbitrarily trying to control growth in the subdivision, an allegation that Kerr denies. Kerr says that return-flow credits can be taken away by the OSE at any time, and that extending service to more lots could result in rationing of water to current users.
Neas says that he has recently purchased enough water rights for his lots from an individual who owned rights from the NRPW&SD. He says that the NRPW&SD board of directors then arbitrarily imposed standby charges retroactively for over ten years on those rights. He plans to sue the NRPW&SD for over $40,000 in legal fees and other expenses and seeks the elimination of those standby charges. The lawsuit awaits a decision by the state Public Regulatory Commission on whether the NRPW&SD has acted properly. Both sides say they expect a decision in their favor.
Each side also views its position as the “high road” and questions the motives of the other side.
The issue points out weaknesses in the state regulatory system. If there is a shortage of water rights or dwindling resources, it would make sense to curtail development. Growth should be tied directly to water resources. The current policy of protecting property rights by not regulating domestic wells is one of the things addressed in the new statewide water plan. Finding a realistic solution that is politically, economically, and legally acceptable is a challenge that faces the state legislature.
Placitas library stacks up
Placitas Community Library, Inc., is a grassroots organization determined to establish a library. The plan is to grow, to serve, and to meet the needs of its members for access to books and library materials without buying 'em. Our efforts are directed towards steadfast growth and dependability.
Our first event, the The White Elephant Book Swap, was a success. Everyone brought a gift-wrapped book and placed it on the "lending table." As a result we now have twenty books donated to the library and loaned out all at the same time! This is a good thing, so let's do this some more. Join us at the general meeting on January 14 starting at 6:30 p.m.at the Placitas Community Center. Bring a book and borrow a book.
Books ready for shelving then need to go back home with the original donor and kept until we have the space. If you are interested in donating books, please contact us so when we're ready to house your donations we can call you.
The difference between the Placitas Community Library and a public library is that we receive no funds from state library bonds. We must operate solely on memberships and donations. The Placitas Community Library is open to anyone interested with their promise to return all borrowed books or send in equal compensation.
We want the old Placitas Café—it's up for lease, you know—but not until we find funding. Our objective is to continue building a financial foundation without accumulating debt. We're on a shoestring budget. However, ads placed in the membership handbook covered all of the copy and mailing costs. Thank you, advertisers!
This leads us to call for anyone who can spare a little time for fundraising and in particular, who can volunteer to write an application for a grant. This is how most unincorporated community libraries get their funding. Another great help is for people to check out what funding sources there are, request an application, and contact us with the information. We can then work together in getting this funding. Just think, if five people took one source each and followed it through, we could be setting up in a matter of months. A possible motto for our group: We are limited only by how much we try.
Our Web site is up and running. We want to thank Gary Priester (www.gwpriester.com) for setting it up and designing our logo and to Larry White (On Site Solutions www.onsitecorp.com) for hosting it. To find out more about our organization, go to the website at www.placitaslibrary.com. and check it out. Let me know what you think.
For further information, contact me at J24kachina@msn.com or 867-0026.