Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front

Poll workers Fernando Aleman and Barbara Streigel begin the process of sorting ballots by precinct on the first day of recounting votes from the November 8 election in two close legislative contests.

Secretary of State Brad Winter dropped by the recount of Sandoval County votes on November 30 visiting with (from left) Bureau of Elections Director Bernice Chavez, County Clerk Eileen Garbagni and poll worker Vivian DeLara.
Photos credit: —Bill Diven

Recounts uphold results

Signpost Staff

It took nearly a month from the November 8 election to resolve three tight legislative races where automatic recounts changed the numbers slightly without changing the outcomes.

That has some legislators questioning whether a loosening of the state law that triggers automatic recounts is unnecessarily shifting more costs from candidates to taxpayers. The threshold for state-paid recounts is a margin of one percent or less while in past elections it was half that—0.5 percent.

The recount confirmed Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, were returned to office. Adkins' margin remained at nine votes or 0.06 percent of the nearly 14,000 votes cast in the Bernalillo County district.

In Sapien's Senate District 9, his margin of victory over Republican Diego Espinoza of Rio Rancho stood at 0.76 percent of out of 25,258 votes. It had been 0.8 percent before the recount.

In House District 23, Democrat and former Sandoval County Commissioner Daymon Ely unseated incumbent Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Rio Rancho. The difference there was 120 votes, 0.64 percent of the 14,149 total votes compared to an initial 105 votes and 0.74 percent margin.

Both Senate District 9 and House District 23 are mostly within Sandoval County, although they include precincts recounted in Bernalillo County. The State Canvassing Board made those results official on December 15.

The recount in Sandoval County began on November 30, mandated by a court order. It continued into December 7 with the county staff, two precinct judges, and 16 poll workers working full-time—taking only Sunday off.

County Clerk Eileen Garbagni said she hadn't tallied the cost of staff overtime and paying the precinct judges and poll workers. The Secretary of State's Office, which will reimburse the county, also didn't have a ready figure when contacted by the Signpost.

Watchers from the Democratic and Republican parties monitored the hand sorting and counting, as did an assistant district attorney on behalf of the District Court. The growing use of voting convenience centers, set up to print ballots for multiple precincts, required the poll workers to first separate the paper ballots by precinct before feeding them into a reading machine.

Sapien told the Signpost that he voted to change the threshold for automatic recounts but now questions the result. He and other lawmakers have been discussing whether the change is worth the expense, given the precision of New Mexico's system of paper ballots counted by machines that read them.

"I want transparency, but you need to weigh that against efficiency," he said. "At the end of the day, why should taxpayers pay?"

Even at the lower threshold, a losing candidate could still request a recount and pay for it out of campaign funds, he added.

As the recount began in county election warehouse in Bernalillo, then-Secretary of State Brad Winter dropped by and pronounced the election a success.

"We have a really good election process because everything we do is on paper ballots," he said. County vote canvasses are followed by the state canvass and an independent audit, he added.

In addition, county clerks around the state did a fabulous job, he said.

Winter became secretary of state by appointment in December, 2015, after the elected secretary, Dianna Durán, resigned and later pleaded guilty and spent a month in jail for violating campaign finance laws and embezzling money from campaign accounts for personal use.

Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver won the office in the November election and was sworn in on December 9 to fill out the remaining two years of Durán's term.

State Sen. John Sapien (left), D-Corrales, and Bernalillo Town Councilor Dale Prairie talk about community issues during a breakfast the town hosted to discuss its priorities for the 2017 Legislature convening this month.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Local governments wary of legislative austerity

—Bill Diven

When the 2017 Legislature convenes on January 17, local officials are less concerned about what the state might provide than what it might take away.

With the state financial crisis unabated, there is concern legislators might see the gross-receipts tax, commonly called a sales tax, as extra cash flow to help balance the budget. Also in the mix are hold-harmless payments that replaced local revenue lost when the state ended the sales tax on most food items.

Those two revenue streams underwrite about 75 percent of Bernalillo's general-fund budget, Mayor Jack Torres said during the town's annual legislative breakfast in December. "Small communities do not have a lot of options in terms of generating revenue per state statute," Torres told an audience of area officials and officeholders plus one legislator, Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales. "We're real nervous about that as are most communities across the state…. We understand if there's a sharing of the pain. We're okay with that. We just hope we don't get the brunt of it."

The sixty-day session is open to all topics, but budget problems linked to the crash in revenue from oil and gas production and the state's underperforming economy have been getting the most attention. A special legislative session called in October scraped together enough cash and cuts to cover the shortfall in the 2015-16 budget and put a $209 million bandage on the current budget.

A December estimate for the fiscal year, ending June 30, shows continued slippage in revenue. This has the Legislature looking at more cuts to state operations and services as Gov. Susana Martinez maintains her vow to veto any tax increases.

Past cuts in Santa Fe have in some cases led to tax increases anyway but at the local level.

"It's going to be a challenging year," Sapien said. "As things play out, know that, as I have for the last eight years, I'll have the town of Bernalillo in the forefront, I'll have Sandoval County in the forefront of where we go."

County Manager Phil Rios told the audience the county took a $400,000 hit from the special sessions affecting senior, DWI, and other programs. "All I'm going to ask Larry, our lobbyist, is to make sure that we don't get robbed," he said.

Still, there may be some money for bonds to pay for construction and other projects around the state. The county approved five priorities in October, although, even at that time, Rios said there might not be money for any of it.

Those were: rehab County Road 11, $450,000; continue acquiring right-of-way for Paseo del Volcán connecting U.S. Highway 550 with Interstate 40, $1 million; countywide broadband initiative, $500,000; complete the voting/training center adjacent to the Bureau of Elections, $540,500; and new sheriff's vehicles, $486,000.

The town is asking for $250,000 to complete the arsenic-treatment facility at Well No. 2 and help with $800,000 needed to relocate utilities so the state Department of Transportation can widen the remainder of U.S. 550 through the town.

Town councilors also approved policy resolutions requesting the Legislature reduce interest rates charged by predatory lenders, address substance abuse as a medical emergency, and focus on educational improvements as a form of economic development.

The meeting drew representatives of eastern and southern Sandoval County flood-control districts, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, and the four-county Mid-Region Council of Governments, prompting comments about the strength of interagency cooperation and support from area legislators.

"I think we have a great voice in Santa Fe with all of our member governments," MR-COG executive director Dewey Cave said. "We're going to try to protect what we currently have, and I think that's kind of our goal for this next year."

Bids over budget stall new senior center

Signpost Staff

It’s back to the drawing board for the new Bernalillo Senior Center after two attempts to bid its construction failed to draw offers within the $1.85 million budget.

After the second round of bids, received in August, state law allowed Sandoval County to negotiate with the low bidder to bring the price within ten percent of the project estimate, County Manager Phil Rios told the Signpost. When that failed, the county decided to change the scope of the work to be done, which means it must be bid as a new project, he added.

The plan is to keep the building the same size, about ten thousand square feet, while trimming costs elsewhere. The building will replace the current center and include a commercial kitchen and a loading dock so it can provide meals for other centers.

The town of Bernalillo agreed to provide the land for the center, 1.5 acres adjacent to Rotary Park in the southern part of town. The current center is in the northern part of town near Camino del Pueblo and U.S. Highway 550.

Construction funding comes from bond sales approved by the Legislature and voters in 2014 and channeled to the county through the state Aging and Long-Term Services Department.

Rios said the county is now hoping for groundbreaking in the spring with the opening now set back eight months to a year from initial plans. Construction is expected to take up to ten months.

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