Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front

During a recent Sandoval County Commission meeting four Bernalillo High School graduates accepted scholarship checks from the Comcast Foundation to further their educations. The awards from $2,500 to $1,000 were present to (from left) Kaitlyn Donahue, Kodi Waddell, Eduardo Garcia and Holly McKenzie. Across the back are County Manager Phil Rios and Commissioners Darryl Madalena, Glenn Walters, Don Chapman and James Dominguez. The scholarships for high-achieving students are a joint effort of Comcast and the county with the commission selecting the recipients.
Photo credit: —Sidney Hill

Countywide reappraisal project sees finish line

—Bill Diven

The long process of tracking down and appraising every piece of property in Sandoval County is nearing its end.

“We’re getting close, guys,” Sandoval County Chief Deputy Assessor Christie Humphrey told county commissioners during an annual update of the work. After two years the project is about eighty percent done, she added.

That leaves about eight thousand of the more than 37,000 residential properties in the county still to check plus one hundred of the 1,100 commercial properties.

The field appraisers are finishing their work in Placitas before moving onto Algodones, the Cochiti Lake area, and the East Mountains before wrapping up in Rio Rancho. The field inspections are expected to be complete by the end of the year with the final updating of appraisal records, maps, and property market values completed by July, 2016.

Going forward from there, about twenty percent of properties will be checked annually, creating a five-year cycle for reappraisals. Under state law assessors are supposed to keep property values up to date with current market conditions.

Commissioner Don Chapman described the process as leveling the playing field for all property owners.

The report presented to commissioners showed residential, commercial, agricultural, and vacant property in the county is valued at about $10.7 billion dollars. That figure is $490 million dollars more than last year, due to both new construction and the updated appraisals.

As a result, the tax rate may drop slightly, although payments on bonds that voters approved last year may lead to a slight increase, Humphrey said.

The county had gone 12 years without a reappraisal before Assessor Tom Garcia came into office in 2010, Humphrey added. A 2008 conversion of records to a new system lost some records and left gaps where the old system simply lacked data, according to the assessor’s office.

Records failed to show new homes, and additions to old homes contained dubious agricultural exemptions and showed numerous conflicts between maps and appraisals. Some properties were not listed at all.

On the other hand, the reappraisal and outreach efforts have brought in people entitled to tax breaks they weren’t using. That includes boosting by about five hundred those 65-plus seniors eligible for a valuation freeze.

The appraisers also are checking exempt properties such as federal and tribal lands that can’t be taxed but are the basis for money the county receives under the federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes program. Only about 16 percent of Sandoval County is private land, according to the assessor’s office.

Major upgrade of emergency dispatching begins

—Signpost Staff

Through the support of taxpayers and successful grant writing, Sandoval County is expanding the reach and quality of its fire, police, and rescue dispatching.

The first phase of the project upgrades the radio system covering southeastern Sandoval County including Bernalillo, Corrales, Rio Rancho, and Santa Ana Pueblo. County commissioners approved the $2.7 million dollar contract with Motorola Solutions Inc. on June 4.

The project includes hardware at the dispatching center in Rio Rancho and local repeaters to retransmit radio signals.

“We’re excited,” Sandoval County Fire Chief James Maxon told commissioners. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Upgrading the communication system, which doesn’t reach all areas of the county, emerged from discussions two years ago about asking voters to approve expanding the judicial complex and providing the sheriff’s office with its own building.

“What we really needed was better communication,” Undersheriff Karl Wiese said. “Although the building didn’t pass, fortunately voters okayed the communications.”

In the November election, voters rejected separate bond issues totaling $15 million dollars for the court and public safety buildings. The two million dollar communications question passed.

County Manager Phil Rios credited Maxon and Wiese with leveraging the bond money to obtain a $1.5 million dollar grant from the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. That allowed for a bigger project that includes radio repeaters for Placitas and La Madera.

Commissioner Glenn Walters, after thanking taxpayers for supporting the project, said he was reminded of sheriff’s Sgt. Joe Harris, who was killed by a burglary suspect in 2009. Harris was shot during the stakeout of a cabin in an area of the Jemez Mountains with poor radio reception. A second deputy on the state tried to contact the dispatching center by radio, but help came after the resident of a nearby cabin called 911. Maxon said revamping the entire communications system is estimated to cost $18 million dollars.

Mining company plans Placitas meeting

—Signpost Staff

Vulcan Materials Inc. has announced it will hold a community meeting on its gravel-mining operations in Placitas. The meeting is scheduled for 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. on July 7 at the Placitas Community Library, 453 Highway 165.

Vulcan became owner of two gravel mines on the Interstate 25 frontage road with its purchase last year of Lafarge North America. Its Placitas pit is about 1.5 miles from Highway 165 while its Baca Sand and Gravel is about four miles farther north in Algodones.

Lafarge remains the subject of a lawsuit filed by Sandoval County alleging the company violates limits on its operation contained in a 1988 zoning agreement. That agreement covered the one-thousand-acre quarry near Highway 165 and adjacent to residential areas of Placitas.

Separately, the New Mexico Environment Department filed notices of violation over recordkeeping and dust controls. NMED officials have said they’re negotiating with Vulcan to resolve the violations and also are checking to see if Vulcan must apply for a permit to discharge water used to wash gravel for shipment.

MRGCD targets Sandoval County—Projects more than $300,000 dollars appropriated

—Tom Thorpe, Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District

Sandoval County will be the beneficiary of more than three hundred thousand dollars in upgrades and improvement projects in the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District 2016 fiscal year budget. Annual improvement and restoration projects continue across Sandoval County and the District’s Cochiti Division.

On the southern end of the county, ten thousand dollars has been earmarked for engineering analysis for flood control projects in the Town of Bernalillo. This analysis will address flooding issues from the east slopes of the mountain that inundate areas just west of Interstate 25. This uncontrolled water flow is taking its toll, not only on residential lands, but is damaging District facilities. That damage is creating an undue hardship on District repair funds. This study, in conjunction with ESCAFCA, will address the best, long-term solutions.

One hundred thousand dollars has been allotted as a cost-share with the Army Corps of Engineers to study the reconstruction of the Bernalillo levee. Once a plan is drawn and the levee work is completed, those located behind the re-engineered levee will be removed from the flood plain, resulting in reduced flood insurance rates to homeowners.

And finally, two hundred thousand dollars is appropriated for the Corrales siphon. That project includes funds to repair the siphon, which transfers water from the east side of the Rio Grande, under the riverbed to irrigators in Corrales. This money also seeks to develop solutions to riverbed degradation that has now exposed a portion of the siphon. This exposure has not created an immediate threat or danger, but does need to be resolved as the river continues to degrade.

In addition, the District continues its work promoting sustainable irrigation, funding Endangered Species initiatives and restoration activities to reduce fire risk and create suitable replacement habitat within our beautiful Bosque.

MRGCD Board Chairman and Sandoval County Representative, Derrick J. Lente says these projects will benefit all the citizens of Sandoval County. “The District must, and will, continue to work for the betterment of all District works, but these projects highlight the District’s commitment to promoting and protecting our citizens and ensuring the future of our beautiful County.”

The FY16 budget for the MRGCD is in excess of $21 million dollars, a decrease of more than four million dollars over the FY15 budget and expenditures, and includes a five-percent increase in the ad valorem assessment, effective July 1, 2015, and a three dollar per acre increase in the water service charge, effective January 1, 2016.

A scale version of the MRGCD FY16 budget can be found at A full version may be obtained at the MRGCD General Offices located at 1931 Second St., SW, Albuquerque, 87102.

Bernalillo Public Schools Superintendent Alan Tapia

Town of Bernalillo Mayor Jack Torres

Bernalillo schools cut deal to sell Roosevelt property

—Bill Diven

The collection of historic and portable buildings in downtown Bernalillo, once home to Roosevelt Elementary School, would become town property under a sales agreement approved in June. However, the deal between the Bernalillo Public Schools district and the town government isn’t quite done. Because 7.7 acres of public property is involved, and one of the parties is a school district, two state agencies must give their blessing before seller and buyer sign closing documents.

Still, both town and district are confident that the $1.2 million dollar contract will go through.

“I’m thrilled with the sale,” BPS Superintendent Alan Tapia said after the board of education approved the agreement on June 18. “I think it’s a win-win for the district and the town… I sincerely hope it benefits the entire community in the future.”

After town councilors approved the contract on June 8, Mayor Jack Torres said he expects the property to become a “really solid benefit to the community.” Torres and councilors Marian Jaramillo, Dale Prairie, Tina Dominguez, and Ronnie Sisneros all attended Roosevelt in their younger years.

The state Board of Finance was to consider the agreement at its June 24 meeting and from there it would go to the Public Education Department for a final okay.

The property sits immediately east of Bernalillo Town Hall and the Martha Liebert Public Library and is bordered on the west by Camino Don Tomas. The property also links Rotary Park on the southwest with the Bernalillo Police Department on the northeast.

It’s been vacant since the 2011 opening of Carroll Elementary School, built after the state found Roosevelt inadequate for educational uses. The property was placed on the market then as two separate parcels with a combined price of $2.8 million dollars.

Since then, the buildings suffered vandalism and other deterioration, and a recent appraisal dropped the value to $1.29 million dollars. On top of the $1.2 million dollar purchase offer, the town is agreeing to reimburse the district up to fifty thousand dollars for water-system improvements at one or more school sites.

The oldest building, a two-story adobe that was once the town’s all-grades school, was built in 1925 and is across a driveway from the library. Next to it sits a two-story multipurpose building with a gymnasium.

Elsewhere are two one-story classroom buildings and seven portable classroom buildings ranging in age from 14 to 35.

What comes next, assuming the sale happens, is an open question as the town plans to hold public meetings to gather ideas on how best to use the property. Early suggestions include moving the town library into the larger quarters of the adobe building and turning the multipurpose building into a community center.

Veterans groups also have toured the property as a possible site for a New Mexico military museum.

Placitas July 4 parade sparkles

The annual Placitas Fourth of July parade will proceed with community fun as usual this year on Saturday, July 4. Participants are invited to line up in front of Placitas Heights at 10:00 a.m. with floats, horses, bicycles, costumes, cars. There is no preregistration; anyone can be in the parade. The parade starts at 11:00 a.m. and winds through the Village of Placitas. Spectators are welcome to line Highway 165 with chairs and coolers. Refreshments are usually sold in the Las Placitas Presbyterian Church parking lot.

Wildflower walks on the Sandia Ranger District

Every Saturday through August 29, the Sandia Ranger District will be offering wildflower walks near Tijeras, starting at 9:00 a.m. There will be a small amenity fee of three dollars. For more information, call the Sandia Ranger District at 281-3305.

Outside the Sandoval County Judicial Complex attorney David Reynolds conducts a public auction of twenty formerly free-roaming Placitas horses to satisfy a lien for the cost of their care.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Placitas Wild gains 501c3 status

—Bill Diven

Behind-the-scenes efforts spawned by community turmoil over free-roaming horses have produced a new organization aimed at protecting Placitas open spaces and the animals that live there.

Placitas Wild, incorporated in November, recently received federal approval as a 501c3 nonprofit able to accept tax-deductible donations, said Sandy Johnson, one of its organizers.

“We are trying to preserve the wild and open lands that surround Placitas,” Johnson said. “Another goal is to educate the people of Placitas so they know how to live with wild animals.”

That includes working to preserve wildlife corridors connecting the Sandia and Manzano mountains south of Placitas to the Jemez Mountains and Galisteo Basin to the north, she said. Placitas Wild can be contacted through its website:

While its goals are broad, Placitas Wild has its roots in the Free-Roaming Horses of Placitas Task Force established by Sandoval County in 2013. Johnson and other Placitas Wild organizers were part of the task force trying to define issues and find consensus on dealing with the population boom of horses wandering the community.

The task force report released in May, 2014, included dozens of suggestions on population control, legal issues, and possible sanctuaries with consensus on not rounding up the horses for slaughter. To date many of those issues remain unresolved.

Placitas Wild, however, organized on its own, aided by connections made within the task force. That led to supporting efforts by San Felipe Pueblo, Placitas’s neighbor to the north, to manage its horse population.

Placitas Wild, using donations from its supporters, helped fund a well for the 350 acres San Felipe has set aside for what is being called a temporary shelter, Johnson said.

Meanwhile San Felipe last year began administering the contraceptive vaccine PZP to its free-roaming mares to help control the population. Horse numbers expanded there in 2013 in part due to horses dumped on tribal lands, according to a tribal news release.

Some of those horses then found their way into Placitas through cut or downed fences.

The task-force suggestion to use PZP on Placitas herds has so far failed to change state policy that limits its administration to the New Mexico Livestock Board (NMLB), which has collected and auctioned dozens of Placitas horses as estray livestock.

The NMLB, citing state livestock laws, took possession of wandering horses at the request of private landowners who corralled them. The NMLB then advertised the horses as strays and auctioned them when no owner stepped forward to claim them.

Most were bought by Placitas Animal Rescue (PAR) and either moved out of the area or cared for in Placitas through a network of volunteers.

That recently led to a dispute between PAR and one of the caretakers, Barbara Goodwin, who claimed PAR wasn’t providing proper care for the horses. She filed a lien against the twenty horses in her care claiming more than $11,000 dollars in unpaid expenses.

In late May, attorney David Reynolds conducted a public auction of the horses outside the Sandoval County Judicial Complex where Goodwin was the only bidder.

Goodwin later told the Signpost the NMLB is still working through releasing 19 of the horses to her ownership while it determines whether the twentieth might have an identifiable owner. Ultimately, she plans to work through Placitas Wild to move the horses to San Felipe Pueblo, she said.

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