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Dome

The dome on Toad Road in Placitas Photo credit: Clea G. Hall

Can you picture Placitas?

—Judy Gajkowski

Remember when the Placitas Community Library celebrated the grand opening of the new building in May, 2010? A centerpiece of that celebration was “Picture Placitas.” Everyone in the community was invited to share his or her vision of Placitas through photos, paintings, collages, poems, or prose. Over 150 images were displayed showing the many facets of this community. To mark its tenth birthday coming up, the Placitas Community Library is again hosting “Picture Placitas.”

The exhibit will open on May 4, 2013, at the annual “Library Birthday Bash.” Everyone who lives or lived in Placitas is encouraged to submit their artwork in an 8-by-10-inch format by March 1, 2013. Older photos may be submitted as long as they are of people or places in Placitas, or sights seen from Placitas. The library will take care of mounting all the works on foam core and hanging them for display. The art will become the property of the library and will be for sale to the public with proceeds going to the library’s operating fund.

Rules and entry forms are available in a brochure at the library, on the library’s website (placitaslibrary.com), and in various spots around town. Start thinking about your Placitas vision—this exhibit is for and about the residents of Placitas, all ages, all backgrounds. This is a chance to express and share with others some of the sights and words that make this beautiful community special.


c. Rudi Klimpert


Local government wish list for 2013 legislative session

Signpost Staff

Last January, the Signpost published a long article about Sandoval County’s legislative priorities for the upcoming session. It may have been dull reading—January is usually a slow news month—but it is a good way to learn about the workings of local government. This year, we have included the requests of the Town of Bernalillo and Bernalillo Public Schools for the 2013 legislative session.

Two out of three of the items in the 2012 capital outlay budget, a fraction of the amounts sought, were labeled as pork projects and vetoed by Governor Susana Martinez. These included $175,000 for El Zócalo Historic Renovation and the $640,000 for the regional dispatch center.

The only capital outlay approved by the governor was $240,000 for the Torreon Road Rehabilitation.

Last month, local officials presented 2013 legislative priorities to a group of state legislators at a breakfast meeting held at Roosevelt Elementary School. It never hurts to ask. Maybe they will have better luck this year. The legislature has more money to allocate in the 2013 session.

The following is a list of Sandoval County legislative priorities:

  • Detention Center—retrofit cell doors—$276,000
    Need to retrofit cell doors in two sections of the detention that were built in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Parts for these doors are now difficult to find, and because of that a number of cells in these areas are inoperable, meaning prisoners cannot be housed in them. Retrofitting these doors to accommodate new technology would increase bed space at the jail, which is a public safety issue. It also would put the county in a position to offset the cost of housing Sandoval County inmates by contracting to house inmates from other jurisdictions.
  • Sandoval County Fairgrounds—event building, kitchen, bathrooms—$742,000
    This would turn a building that currently is under construction into a multi-use facility. The county had funds to construct the building shell, but not amenities such as a commercial kitchen and full bathrooms. These amenities would allow for renting the building for public events. That would be of service to the fairly isolated Cuba region in addition to providing revenue to offsite maintenance of the fairgrounds.
  • Magistrate Court—reroof—$220,000
    The roof of the magistrate court is more than twenty years old and already has experienced leaks that resulted in repairs costing more than $20,000. Additional wear and tear on this roof will inevitably lead to further leaks that could result in the court having to shutdown during repairs.
  • Old Courthouse—roof and HVAC upgrade—$1,175,000
    The old courthouse in Bernalillo houses the Sandoval County District Attorney’s office and the county’s DWI Prevention Program. The roof and HVAC system in this building are 18 and 13 years old, respectively. The cost of maintaining both climbs each year. Replacing them would greatly reduce that cost. In addition, upgrading the HVAC systems would save on energy bills, as more energy-efficient equipment would be installed.
  • County Road 11—Bridge 3202—$500,000
    Bridge 1787 was constructed and placed into services in 1937 and has outlived its design life cycle of service. Continued use of this bridge is a safety hazard to the general public.
  • El Zócalo Historic Renovation—Sena Building Rehabilitation—$750,000
    A refurbished Sena Building would allow the county to broaden its economic development efforts by attracting more and different types of businesses to the El Zócalo complex. Currently, more than 52 people are employed by small businesses leasing space on the 3.5-acre property.
  • Bernalillo Senior Center—$1,110,000
    The current Bernalillo Senior Center is in a building that is nearly one-hundred-years old. Maintenance repair costs for that building are becoming prohibitive. A recent squirrel infestation caused the building to be shut down for two months while roofing and wiring were replaced at a cost of more than $20,000. The Town of Bernalillo owns the land where a new senior center would be built. The county is seeking funds for its construction.
  • City of Rio Rancho Fire Station 1—upgrade facility—$1,200,000
    This is a City of Rio Rancho project that the county supports. Fire Station 1 was built in the early 1980s as a volunteer station. Age has rendered it unable to adequately meet the needs of a 21st Century Fire Department. Ironically, parts of the station no longer meet current fire codes. The county supports this request partly because this station is the home of first responders to calls in portions of the county.
  • Fire Department—two ambulances—$600,000
    The county fire department requires multi-function ambulances because of the large and diverse area that it covers. Our vehicles must have a full complement of vehicle extrication equipment and a fire suppression system, in addition to emergency medical equipment. We currently only have one ambulance capable of carrying all of this equipment, and the vehicle that can carry the full complement of equipment is deteriorating due to age.

The Town of Bernalillo policy requests:

  • Protect municipal revenues, any restructuring of available revenue sources by the state or federal government should not result in the loss of actual revenue to any municipality. At present, several state-levied taxes are shared with municipalities. Any change in the base for taxes should not reduce present or future revenues. The state should not take any action to impair municipal bonds.
  • The Town opposes federal and state legislation that preempts local taxing authority in certain transactions. Preemption of local taxing authority deprives local government of the ability to raise revenue to provide service to their constituents.

Town of Bernalillo capital project requests:

  • Athena Pond Park—intended to be used as a regional park—$750,000. The park surrounds the ESCAFCA flood runoff holding pond of Hill Road, which is currently under construction.
  • NM 313 (Camino del Pueblo) ongoing Streetscape improvements—$785,000
  • Drinking water system improvements—$1,250,000
  • Acquisition of historic properties—$1,500,000
  • Reauthorization of Rail Runner Avenue construction request from 2012—$195,000

The Town also supports Sandoval County’s request to upgrade the fifty-year-old Bernalillo Senior Center for which the Town has dedicated land.

Below are the top five Bernalillo Public School District requests in order of priority:

  • Bernalillo Public Schools is opposed to any reduction in funding. In 2008-2009, the State Equalization Guarantee was $2.432 billion. Since that time, public schools have experienced budget reductions on average by ten percent. The District requests that funding return to the 2008-2009 funding level. This will require an additional $142 million. According to a Legislature’s Public Schools Funding Taskforce, this addition would still be $350 million below constitutionally required sufficiency. The legislature must begin moving toward constitutionally required sufficient funding for our schools.

    Bernalillo Public Schools have not provided a raise for employees for over four years. The District fully supports providing cost of living raises to all public school employees. Due to an increased cost in insurance premiums, employees of the District have realized a steady reduction in take-home pay over the past four years.
  • The District, in partnership with the New Mexico Coalition of School Administrators, requests that $50 million in additional monies be allocated to school districts to add two days of professional development for staff.
  • Children up to five years-of-age must have appropriate early childhood preschool experiences, and parental support to prepare them for kindergarten. The research clearly indicates that expanding pre-K opportunities for children increases reading proficiency rates and will continue to close the achievement gap for minority children.
  • Bernalillo Public Schools supports literacy development at all levels and further supports legislation that promotes early identification and intervention for struggling readers. New Mexico is currently ranked forty-ninth in fourth-grade reading proficiency with eighty percent of fourth-grade students unable to demonstrate reading proficiency. Students who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma.
  • Bernalillo Public Schools believes that all education employees should be afforded the full benefits of retirement, without offsets for other pension plans. The New Mexico retirement plan must remain a fully defined benefit plan. The District supports the consensus plan put forward by the Educational Retirement Board which includes the legislature providing funds to hold those employees making less than $20,000 per year harmless from employee increases.

Bingaman, Udall oppose REAL ID

On December 19, U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall asked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide New Mexicans with immediate assurances that their travel plans early in the new year will not be disrupted by a federal law governing drivers’ licenses.

While the senators support strengthening the standards governing IDs, they were concerned that as many as 38 states—including New Mexico—would not be able to meet the January 15, 2013, deadline to comply with the law. DHS has previously told the senators that New Mexico driver’s license holders will still be able to travel domestically and enter federal buildings using the state licenses, but they have not made a public announcement of any plan regarding REAL ID implementation.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the senators said that enforcing the January 15 deadline could cause a significant disruption in air travel. In their letter, the senators urged DHS to quickly clarify its plans regarding the implementation of the REAL ID Act:

“The lack of guidance by the Department of Homeland Security is causing a great deal of anxiety for our constituents, who are seeing news reports that they may need a passport in order to fly on domestic flights after January 15. We have been expecting an announcement that your Department will extend the deadline or delay enforcement of the Act, but to date there has been no statement either way. Such delays mean that many people may alter or cancel their travel plans or bear the expense of obtaining a passport they do not need,” Bingaman and Udall wrote.

In 2005, Congress passed legislation—called the REAL ID Act—requiring states to tighten requirements related the issuance of drivers’ licenses because they are used as a standard form of identification for a variety of federal purposes, including air travel. In 2009, DHS extended the REAL ID Act compliance deadline until January 15, 2013.

On December 20, the Department of Homeland Security granted temporary deferment for states not in compliance with the REAL ID Act, and promised to work with the states and their stakeholders to develop a schedule for its enforcement:

“I am pleased the Department of Homeland Security has responded to our request for immediate clarity on the REAL ID Act compliance. While the announcement should have come some time ago, New Mexicans can now feel confident in going about their business—using their drivers’ licenses—whether it is for use in holiday travel, entering federal buildings, or other activity where proper identification is required,” said Udall.

“The REAL ID Act was an unworkable national policy from the start, which is why I voted against it as a member of the House of Representatives. Now that it’s law, we need to find a way to resolve the issues it presents for good.”


Town of Bernalillo meeting notes—December 20, 2012

—Karen Lermuseaux

All town councilors were present for the meeting, but public attendance was sparse—hopefully only because of the holidays. Major issues seemed to be about the Affordable Housing project, skirting requirements for mobile homes, and public concerns about relocating residents should a project require it.

Meeting notes:

  • The council unanimously approved the zoning change for Jacob Olivas, #267, from an R-R to C-1 This allows for the business Stone Initiatives to be located on Hwy 528.
  • Maria Rinaldi and Phyllis Taylor (Site SW) presented background information on the importance of the Affordable housing project for the Town. This draft (#268) was unanimously approved by the council after discussion and public comment. The NM MFA will meet to approve funding in January thus Town approval of the Draft will allow for consideration of funding Bernalillo projects. SW Site collected information including that 71 percent of the families in Bernalillo could not afford to buy a home here. Currently, more than thirty percent of a household income is required for rent/mortage to live in Bernalillo. Suggestions by the study included increasing entry level housing by ten-12 units per year, rehabilitation and repair of three to six homes per year, increasing rental units by 24-thirty per year, and developing emergency housing shelter with 15 beds.
  • Recommendations included making town-owned land available at reduced costs for desired housing projects, allow R2CR zoned apartments (proposed location near Walmart), enforce building codes, allow smaller lots than currently allowed. Concern for enforcement with regard to seniors and limited income households was raised, and Mayor Torres stated that enforcement will not be punitive. One project to begin in the current low-income housing will expand housing by 36 units. Proposed language changes in the existing ordinance would allow for homeowners of narrow lots to replace their mobile home or build homes to meet codes in the existing narrow lots.
  • Home-based business zoning was addressed in ordinance #269. A change in the size of signage allowed (one square foot), and clearly defining stock in trade (as physical inventory). The council unanimously approved the changes.
  • Mobile home skirting for homes not on permanent foundations was changed in ordinance #270 to require that aesthetic skirting that touches the ground must be in place at the time a home is given a certificate of occupancy. The council unanimously approved the changes.
  • In New Business, the council unanimously approved a resolution to provide for relocating residents that might be displaced during an infrastructure project. This would not cost the resident anything—the Town would have to provide the monies, or the costs would be anticipated and included in the project funding. This resolution has been renewed annually since 2005.
  • • The plan for Citizen Participation was renewed unanimously. This effort to include low/moderate income residents and Spanish-speaking only residents in Town meetings addresses mailing lists, public notices, meeting times and locations conducive to public attendance (I was thrilled to have the meeting length of 1.5 hours), and technical assistance developing proposals (on a case-by-case basis).
  • The COG (Council of Governments, attended by the Mayor) recommended supporting the New Century Economy Jobs Agenda. Mayor Torres suggested that three items be removed from the Agenda, those being (a) single sales which eliminates taxes to companies on income from sales outside of the state (b) corporate income tax reduction from 7.6 percent to 4.9 percent over four years, and (c) capital outlay reform which would mean the State of NM would prioritize projects based on regional and State importance rather than importance to the individual locality. The council unanimously approved the Economy Jobs Agenda, with the recommended changes.
  • The Financial Accounts section showed and increase of forty percent in utility payments, thanks to efforts of Town staff.

Announcements included:

  • 430 children will receive Christmas fund gifts this year.
  • Coats for Kids was a success; the last of the coats given away on December 21.

Sandoval County’s impenetrable budget, and how it can be fixed

—Stephen M. Barro

We who live in Placitas, an unincorporated area of Sandoval County, receive essentially all our local public services (other than schools) from the County government. All our property taxes that pay for those services go to the County government. If we, as citizens/taxpayers, hope to be able to influence or even to understand what our local government does, we need to look into County government finances: Where does the County get the $60-plus million (about $450 per resident) it now spends each year? How does the County use that money? What activities do County outlays support, and what benefits do residents receive? 

One would expect to find the answers in Sandoval County budgets and financial reports, but those documents, in their present forms, obscure more than they reveal. They are more like coded messages needing to be deciphered than understandable guides to how the County raises and spends money. That is not how things need to be. Using existing data, County officials could present information on revenue and expenditure (both budgeted and actual) in an accessible and comprehensible manner. Not only would the public be better informed, but also our County Commission, the County’s highest governing body, would have a firmer foundation on which to base its policy decisions.

The present County budgets and reports do not show what is spent for different public purposes, functions, programs, or service categories. Instead, they are dominated by what is called “fund accounting.” The budget consists of a general fund and over 90 “special revenue” funds. The general fund accounts for property tax receipts and other unrestricted revenue and, on the expenditure side, for outlays that support County administrative departments and the offices of elected officials. It covers only about one-fourth of total County spending. The “special” funds, which account collectively for three-fourths of County spending, correspond to blocks of revenue—taxes, grants, or fees—earmarked for particular projects or activities. So, for example, when the County obtains gross receipts tax (GRT) revenue designated for fire protection or a federal grant for health care services, it creates a separate fund to report outlays from that particular pot of money. In effect, the County budget is a collection of 90-plus mini-budgets, each with its own separate expenditure and revenue figures. 

Although fund accounting is useful for purposes of financial control, it conveys little information about how County money is allocated. To find out, for example, how much the County spends for services to seniors, one must add up expenditures from 11 different funds; to learn how much is spent on DWI and drug abuse programs, one would have to combine figures from 10 funds; and—the ultimate example—to arrive at total spending for fire and EMS services, one would have to aggregate outlays from no fewer than 27 funds. This “adding up” would involve much more than simple arithmetic. In many instances, it is not clear what activities a given fund supports, and some funds support multiple services; so considerable work would be needed to sort outlays of all the funds into meaningful categories. 

In addition to annual budgets, the County produces other financial reports based on the same fund categories: the County Treasurer’s periodic reports on cash receipts and disbursements and an annual financial report prepared by the County’s outside auditor.  Further, Sandoval County, like every other New Mexico local government, is required by law to submit its budgets for approval by the state Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) and then to report quarterly to DFA on actual revenue and spending. Because the DFA-mandated fund categories differ from the County’s, serious problems of translation arise, and significant inconsistencies emerge between the different reports. 

Expenditure breakdowns by purpose, function, or program are not all that is missing from the County’s financial presentations. Without going into detail, I note that (1) County budgets do not compare proposed outlays with prior-year actuals, leaving users without a base for assessing funding requests; (2) operating expenses and capital outlays are not separated, making it difficult to analyze program costs; (3) there is no comprehensive tabulation of revenue by source; (4) the lack of expenditure breakdowns by “object”—salaries, contracted services, supplies, etc.—leaves it unclear how programs operate; (5) some funds are uninformatively labeled or vague as to content—e.g., a “capital outlay projects” fund that identifies no projects; and (6) the absence of accompanying explanatory texts effectively prevents any non-insider from learning what certain funds are for and how money from those funds is being used.

These shortcomings can be remedied and nearly all the needed improvements can be implemented with data the County routinely collects. The first-priority task would be to construct a “program budget”—a presentation showing outlays for each of the major functions or programs for which the County is responsible. There is little ambiguity as to what these are: police, fire and EMS, corrections (detention), roads and other public works, health care, welfare, and so forth. To demonstrate what such a budget would look like and to get an idea of how much effort might be required, I have assembled the preliminary, very rough version shown in the following table. I did this, of necessity, mainly by grouping funds according to the functions their labels suggest, as opposed to dissecting funds and reassembling their components. 

Accordingly, the dollar amounts shown [See chart below] should be viewed only as broad indicators of the relative amounts spent on major County functions. (By the way, the large discrepancy between the total budgeted expenditure figure shown in the table and the $60.3 million the County has since reported as actual FY 2012 spending seems to reflect a pattern that recurs, for reasons unknown, in County budgeting practice.)

Budget chart

This exercise in budget reformatting is highly imperfect and the results are obviously incomplete. Note, for example, that a large block of capital spending has been left unallocated because information is lacking on the kinds of projects those oulays support.  Likewise, debt service outlays have not been allocated even though some County borrowing clearly is program-specific (e.g., for landfill and detention facilities).  Apart from addressing such deficiencies, important next steps would include separating each program’s current and capital outlays and showing the division of each program’s revenue between restricted and general-purpose funds. Experts from the County Finance Department and Treasurer’s office, being much better informed about County services and finances than any outsider can hope to be, should not find it overly burdensome to carry out such an exercise accurately and in full detail. 

An effort to produce a Sandoval County program budget—not to replace but to supplement the standard fund accounts—could have multiple payoffs: a better-informed citizenry, equipped for meaningful participation in budget discussions; a stronger information base for County Commissioners to refer to when reviewing budget proposals; and a foundation for County priority-setting and longer-run strategic planning. Given these potential benefits, the budget reforms proposed here merit serious consideration by both the Commission and Sandoval County management.

 
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