Sandoval Signpost

 

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988
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c.Chris Clay Bauman

This photo is by Chris Clay Bauman and is in Bill Dunmire’s new book, New Mexico's Living Landscapes: A Roadside View, coming out in March.

Where in the world is it?

Answer: At more than 9,000 feet elevation, the Organ Mountains tower over present-day Las Cruces. When Oñate first saw them in 1598, he jokingly called them “Sierra de Olvido” (Mountains of Forgetfulness) after a party member’s bad memory. Eighty-four years later, the provincial governor referred to them as “Los Oreganos” —“The Pipe Organs”—the name which stuck. Claret-cup Cactus, a native throughout New Mexico, brightens the foreground of the photo.


SC Treasurer issues corrected Placitas property tax bills

—Sidney Hill, Sandoval County Public Information Officer

Placitas taxpayers who were charged the wrong amount for the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (ESCAFCA) on their initial 2011 property tax bills will soon be receiving corrected bills.

“The issues related to the ESCAFCA mill levy have been resolved, and corrected bills will be mailed to the affected property owners on Monday, December 19,” said Sandoval County Treasurer Lorraine Dominquez.

The confusion 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. Property owners in those areas are no longer responsible for the operational portion of the ESCAFCA mill levy, but they must continue paying debt service on the bonds that were sold to establish the flood control authority.

As tax rolls were adjusted to accommodate the change, roughly 2,000 Placitas property owners had a .66 ESCAFCA mill levy applied to their tax bill, when the proper charge should have been a .50 mill levy. In dollar terms, the overcharge amounted to 16 cents for every $1,000 of net taxable value on a piece of property.

Another miscalculation—also tied to the ESCAFCA issue—resulted in roughly two hundred property owners not being charged the Sandoval County portion of their property taxes. Those property owners also will receive new bills on December 16, but instead of small decreases, those property owners will see bills that are comparable to their 2010 bills.

Property tax bills for 2011 were initially mailed to all Sandoval County residents on November 1. Only those taxpayers who were not billed correctly will receive new bills. However, because of the confusion caused by the ESCAFCA issue, all Placitas residents—even those who received the correct tax bills in November—will have until January 27 to pay the first installment of their 2011 property taxes without being subject to penalties or interest, said Dominquez.

She also noted that any affected property owners who have their taxes paid by a mortgage company will see either an adjustment to the amount due on the second half of their 2011 taxes or a prepayment on 2012 taxes reflected in their escrow accounts.

Most property owners who had the incorrect mill levy imposed will see adjustments or prepayments ranging from one cent to fifty dollars.

Property owners who pay their taxes directly will see any adjustments or prepayments of less than fifty dollars reflected on future tax bills. Taxpayers in this group with adjustments or prepayments of more than fifty dollars will receive a refund check.

“The staff in the treasurer’s office will be available to address any other questions or concerns taxpayers may have,” Dominquez said.

Taxpayers can contact the treasurer’s office at 505-867-7581 for more information.


Bernalillo Youth Conservation Corps awarded $300,000 grant

Signpost staff

Last month, the state Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) awarded the YCC program of the Town of Bernalillo a $300,000 grant. The funds are designated to pay wages of the youthful employees who have been restoring several historic buildings.

The money will help the YCC complete ongoing projects including the Graber House which is being retrofit as a residence for the adjacent town of Bernalillo Fire Department.

The Graber House project began in February of 2009 and is scheduled for completion by May of 2012.

Longtime carpenter, adobe builder, and restoration specialist, Rick Catanach, has hands-on control of the YCC projects in Bernalillo. He works with local youth who are paid for their hours working and training in the program. Those who have not graduated from high school are required to complete a GED (Graduate Equivalency Diploma).

The YCC has rebuilt the wine museum at Loretto Park and is currently restoring the ruins of the two-story adobe mill next to the downtown Rail Runner station. They have also built fourteen adobe and hand-carved signs around town and six pergolas (shade covers). They use the wine museum as a workshop to build rustic furniture from wood discarded from the barn at El Zócalo that was discarded during a renovation.


Thirteenth Judicial District Attorney’s Office Sandoval County has moved

The Thirteenth Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Sandoval County has moved to the old courthouse in Bernalillo. The new physical address is 711 Camino Del Pueblo S., Bernalillo, NM 87004. Mail must be sent to The Thirteenth Judicial District Attorney Sandoval County Office (P.O. Box 1750 Bernalillo, NM 87004). To reach the office, call (505) 771-7400 or fax to (505) 867- 3265. Office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (open through the lunch hour), Monday through Friday.


USFS expands hours for the Capulin Snow Play Area

Signpost staff

On December 16, U. S. Forest Service Sandia Ranger District announced that Capulin Snow Play Area will be open for expanded hours during the holiday season, weather and conditions permitting. Starting on January 7, the area will be open from noon to 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The area will stay open until the area closes for the season in March when the snow melts.

“We’re really pleased that we’ve been able to expand the hours so people can come out and enjoy winter activities on the Sandia Ranger District,” said District Ranger Cid Morgan. “In addition to the Capulin Snow Play Area, we have a variety of other winter activities on the District, including snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails,” she added. Because conditions on the mountain change often, there may be days that the area will closed because of bad weather or poor snow conditions. The District is working on getting a phone line dedicated to providing information about conditions and closures at Capulin as they arise.

The expansion of hours came after several days of front-page headlines in the Albuquerque Journal, documenting the contraction of hours that were announced earlier in December. Due to budgetary restraints and a hiring freeze, the play area was to be open only from noon to 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson put heat on Sandia Ranger District officials, pointing out the big draw of Capulin, the economic impact, and the $1.5 million that USFS had spent on renovations to the area over the last three years.

Before 2009, the Capulin Snow Play Area was open to sledders without direct Forest Service supervision. An accident that left an Albuquerque boy paralyzed in December of that year, and the resulting lawsuit, prompted the service to close the area unless officers were there to enforce safety rules. With officers present, the frequency of injuries decreased.

Sledding is an inherently dangerous, and out-of-control, pastime, which is, of course, why it is so much fun—especially for people (mostly kids) who enjoy that sort of thing. More prudent and experienced recreationalists like to ski and snowboard, sports that provide even more speed but technology that offers more control. Sleds are hard to steer and stop, but they provide cheap thrills—until the big crash. In past years, ambulances were sometimes called to Capulin three or four times a day.

District Information Officer Karen Takai told the Signpost that it is difficult to keep the area completely safe. The most they can do is monitor the number of people on the slope and icy conditions. She said that the USFS operates Capulin and staffs the area for safety for the benefit of the public.

USFS offers the following tips for enjoying the Capulin Snow Play Area. Visitors need to bring their own inner tubes or soft sliding devices that have no metal or wood components. 

The following activities are not allowed:

  • Use of skis, sleds (with wood, metal or other hard materials) or snowboards
  • Being careless, reckless sliding, creating jumps, or altering any sliding area
  • Have more than two persons per sliding device or linking sliding devices
  • Consuming alcoholic beverages in the area
  • Bringing any glass or metal containers to the area

Rangers can write tickets and impose fines for violations of the rules. If the situation gets out of hand, other law enforcement agencies can be called in. There are other areas on the mountain open for sledding, but trespassers in Capulin when it’s closed are subject to a fine of up to $5,000 and a jail term of up to six months.

For additional information, contact the Sandia Ranger District at 505-281-3304.


Sandoval County Sheriff Wood’s ex-wife seeks restraining order; Wood denies allegations

—Ty Belknap

Headlines on page one of the December 20 Albuquerque Journal read: “Sandoval County Sheriff’s Ex-Wife Claims Threats.” The article reported that Sheriff Doug Wood’s ex-wife claimed that Wood made threats to “stab and kill” anyone she dates, and that she fears for her safety, according to a petition for a restraining order she filed Thursday in state District Court in Albuquerque. A temporary restraining order was granted, and a hearing to weigh the merits of the petition was scheduled for December 21.

Chavez filed a report with New Mexico State Police on December 13 alleging Wood’s “possible stalking and harassment.” The report states that Chavez did not feel comfortable reporting her predicament to law enforcement in Sandoval County.

Wood denies her claims. In an emailed statement sent to the Journal on December 19, Wood said, “Regretfully, and upon the advice of my attorney, I am unable to respond to the recent shocking and baseless allegations that have been made against me. Until this recent development, it had been my hope and prayer that reconciliation was possible and that my family could be reunited.”

The couple divorced earlier this year. Sheriff Wood also took office earlier this year.

In an emailed statement to the Signpost on December 21, Wood wrote, “A hearing was held on Tuesday, December 20, to address the temporary order of protection filed against me. Due to the hearing being a closed hearing, most of the details are confidential; however, I can say that a permanent restraining order was not granted. Ms. Chavez and I are working to maintain an amicable relationship in the best interest of our daughter. That said, I will be returning my focus to my professional responsibilities as your Sheriff to ensure that the residents of Sandoval County continue to receive efficient service from me and my staff. Thank you for your understanding and support during this unfortunate situation.”


Breakfast event commemorates the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Monday, January 16, Grant Chapel A.M.E. Church will celebrate the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a commemorative breakfast open to the public at the Marriott Pyramid North Hotel, 5151 San Francisco Rd., NE, in the Journal Center area. The event will start at 8:00 a.m. The breakfast’s theme “Keeping the dream alive: A day on, not a day off!” will urge participants to dedicate themselves to continuing the quest for a fair, equitable, and inclusive society.

Guest speaker Rev. Dr. Robert Brumfield is an advocate for human, political, and civil rights and will talk about “keeping the dream alive.”

Youth scholarships for selected high school seniors will also be awarded at the breakfast. If your organization or you would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to the scholarship fund, contact Reverend John Hill at 505-293-1300.

For tickets, contact Galvin Brown at 505-293-1300 or grantchabq@qwestoffice.net


c. Rudi Klimpert

Sandoval County outlines legislative priorities at breakfast

—Signpost staff

On December 14, the Sandoval County Commission hosted a legislative breakfast at El Zócalo in Bernalillo to introduce its legislative priorities to its state senators and representatives, as well as to members of the press. On November 17, the Sandoval County Commission had passed a resolution establishing its legislative policy and capital funding priorities for the upcoming legislative session. The resolution appeared in full in the December, 2011, issue of the Signpost. Among other things, the resolution opposes any legislation that proposes any revenue reductions and lists capital funding priorities in the following order:

  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 countywide comprehensive economic development plan, including grant and loan programs through the NM Finance Authority: $100,000
  5. Reauthorize Sandoval County Deep-Aquifer Water Desalination System to Algodones Arsenic Removal Project—total amount: $66,464.61

Several of the senators and representatives in attendance made it clear that requests that had statewide benefit and unified support would be most likely to receive part of the very limited funding that would be available in the upcoming short session. They encouraged the Sandoval County lobbyist and other representatives to present their requests as such.

Sandoval County officials presented its priorities as follows:

First on the wish list was the Torreon Road Rehabilitation. $2,500,000 is requested to rehabilitate two miles of the 11.9 mile-long Torreon Road in northern Sandoval County. Plans and specifications for the project have been completed and a two-mile section of the road has been constructed. The rehabilitation of Torreon Road has been identified through the Mid-Region RTPO process as a roadway preservation project for the region and is included in the prioritized Mid-Region Rural Transportation Improvement Program.

Torreon Road is an arterial roadway that citizens of northwest New Mexico use to access medical care, education, and commerce as they commute to the Albuquerque metro area. It is also a major access point, serving the Navajo Nation’s Chapters of Torreon, Ojo Encino, and Counselor. Portions of Torreon Road are located on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and maintained by the County. This paved road is 11.9 miles with 8.9 miles that need to be reconstructed due to pavement crumbling, which is causing safety concerns due to its heavy use. It is the County’s intention to phase this project. This request is for the worst two miles. Torreon road not only provides commute access to the Tribal Navajo Chapters, it is a transportation route for oil and mining operations, which provide economic development for Sandoval County, the State of New Mexico, and also, revenue for the BLM. This construction project will produce an estimated twenty new jobs, but most importantly, will provide a safe road for the citizens in that area to get to and from work. For the majority of citizens, the improved road will reduce commute time into the Albuquerque Metro Area by 45 minutes to one hour.

The second priority of legislature is funding for El Zócalo renovation. $750,000 is requested for the final phase of the El Zócalo Economic Development Complex in Bernalillo. The funds would be used to refurbish the 5,000 square-foot Sena Building, one of four structures on the property.

Sandoval County acquired the 3.5-acre property in 2003 with a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce for the purpose of creating a small business incubator. To date, three of the four structures have been restored and are supporting the growth and development of small businesses in Bernalillo and Sandoval County.

Currently, 52 people are employed by small businesses leasing space in the two-story Salazar Building. One of these businesses, NetEDGE, LLC, started out as a home-based business and now has six employees and brings in more than $1 million in annual revenue. Over the years, several other businesses have outgrown their offices in the Salazar building and moved to other locations, making room for new startups.

The Sandoval County Economic Development and Tourism Department operates El Zócalo Plaza, and the department’s offices in the plaza double as the Sandoval County Visitor Center. By directing out-of-town visitors to major attractions throughout the county, the department’s staff directly supports tourism, which is the major industry in many smaller communities within the county. A restored barn on the property now serves a business conference center.

A refurbished Sena Building would allow the county to broaden its economic development efforts by attracting different types of businesses to the El Zócalo complex. The county has had discussions with various banks about locating a branch in the complex. Retail shops, restaurants, a performing arts theater, or a light manufacturing company all would be a good fit for this facility.

In addition to the economic benefits, restoring the Sena Building would be the final step in preserving a major part of Bernalillo’s history. El Zócalo Plaza is part of Bernalillo’s Abencio Salazar Historic District, and all four structures on the property are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Third on the wish list is the Sandoval County Regional Emergency Communications Center Infrastructure Capital Improvement Project. In 2003, the Sandoval County Emergency Dispatch Center and the Rio Rancho Emergency Dispatch Center consolidated to form the Sandoval County Regional Emergency Communications (SCRECC). The consolidation was mandated by the State of New Mexico as a cost-saving measure, ultimately reducing the number of funded Public Safety Answering Points throughout the State. The two agencies combined personnel and equipment resources at the Rio Rancho Emergency Dispatch Center. In 2010, the SCRECC was expanded by 880 square feet to accommodate eight additional dispatching positions. SCRECC now has eighteen dispatching positions.

SCRECC is the second largest public emergency dispatching center in the state and processes over 400,000 calls per year of which 59,568 are 911 calls. SCRECC dispatches the follow agencies throughout Sandoval County:

Rio Rancho Police Department, Sandoval County Fire Dept., La Madera VFD, Ponderosa VFD, Zia VFD, Corrales Police Department, Town of Bernalillo Fire Dept., Jemez Pueblo Police, San Ysidro Marshal, Cuba Police Department, Pueblo of Sandia Police, Rio Rancho Fire Dept., Rio Rancho Animal Control, Algodones VFD, La Cueva VFD, Pena Blanca VFD, Placitas VFD, Regina VFD, Torreon VFD, Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office, Sandoval County Animal Control, Village of Corrales Fire Dept., Town of Bernalillo Police Dept., Santa Ana Police Dept., Santo Domingo EMS, Jemez Pueblo EMS, Cochiti Lake Fire and EMS, Village of Jemez Springs Fire Dept., Village of Jemez Springs Marshal’s Office, Cuba Fire Dept., and Navajo Nation EMS.

Based on current projections, the SCRECC will outgrow its current facility by 2018. However, Rio Rancho is one of the fasting growing cities in the nation, and there may be need for a new Center if the economy turns around. The current location is not conducive to additional expansion, and the Center needs to be relocated to an area with better line of sight to our radio towers located in Rio Rancho and Sandoval County.

It is going to be imperative to start the planning and design process as well as to acquire the land in the very near future. Overall costs of this project, including land acquisition, infrastructure, construction, furniture, and equipment (radio, CAD, consoles, etc.) could be $5,000,000 to $8,000,000.

$100,000 is requested to update and develop an Economic Development Strategic Plan for Sandoval County. The Strategic Plan will be a document that helps the County direct its efforts and resources toward a clearly defined vision for its future. The goal is to include all communities, Pueblos, and other government agencies within Sandoval County to develop or include the strategies for economic development. The Strategic Planning process and final document should provide a plan with five, ten, and twenty-year horizons to address the following:

  • Conduct Market Analysis and Research to set the strategic direction for targeted business recruitment activities within the County.
  • Expand the County’s tax base through business retention and recruitment strategies that ensure diversification.
  • Maintain a comprehensive database on the County’s socioeconomic base, labor force characteristics, and economic climate.
  • Conduct ongoing analysis to identify opportunities and threats relevant to economic diversification and growth industries.
  • Assess incentives, policies, ordinances, and regulations to determine the effect on economic growth.
  • Identify tax and financial incentives for business recruitment or retention.
  • Focus marketing and recruitment efforts on industries that are compatible with the County’s infrastructure, labor force, and business needs.

The County requests permission to allocate the remaining $66,646.61 into an account that will fund the planning phase of its Deep Aquifer water desalination system to support development of a new water system for the community of Algodones. Arsenic levels are above standards for drinking water (maximum contaminant level (MCL) is ten parts per billion (ppb); water in the system is nineteen ppb).

New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has served the system with an Administrative Compliance Order (dated September 22, 2011) directing them to resolve the arsenic problem and achieve compliance by November, 2015, or they may be assessed penalties (first deadlines are earlier for steps to be taken along the way).

New Mexico Finance Authority (NMFA) has granted funding in the amount of $37,500.00 for the Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) to craft a design for treatment of arsenic level remediation in the water system, and Sandoval County will provide $12,500 for this portion of the project. The PER is a critical document for obtaining funding from agencies or sources to do the design and construction work.

Once the PER is complete, the $66,646.61 from this request would be used toward completion of any planning, design, or construction costs identified in the PER that will assist in resolving the arsenic issue and bring the water system into compliance.

The $66,646.61 is the remaining balance from an allocation of $786,000 that Sandoval County received from the General Fund (08-3918) during the 2008 legislative session for the planning phase of the Deep Aquifer Water Desalination System. The project has been completed and the PER has been approved by the State Engineer’s office. Sandoval County is requesting these funds be redirected to support planning/design/construction for the Community of Algodones’ Water System.

Commissioner Don Chapman’s impromptu “food-for-thought” presentation of his concept of a toll road that would be routed from US 550 through Paseo de Vulcan and on to I-40 west of Albuquerque was met with little enthusiasm. Commissioner Donny Leonard said that the County already has right-of-way for a Northwest Loop and had already looked into and discarded the idea of a toll road. Both plans lack two critical elements—funding and an alternative to routing the major transportation artery through Bernalillo on US 550.
 
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