Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front

Years of work paying off in Bernalillo budget

—Bill Diven

With the new budget year beginning July 1, employees of the Town of Bernalillo are looking forward to pay raises for the fourth consecutive year. Take it as a sign the town’s financial house is in order after years of labor by town councilors, administrators and staff.

“Six years ago we were three years behind in our audits,” Mayor Jack Torres told the Signpost. “It’s been just a monster… It’s definitely hundreds of hours just to get the bank accounts reconciled.”

After Torres took office, becoming current on annual audits became a priority. The action proved valuable when, in 2013, Governor Susana Martinez issued an executive order denying grant funding to counties and municipalities behind in their audits or whose audits revealed significant accounting weaknesses.

By being current, the town recently won a $741,000 dollar grant from the state Water Project Fund to restore Well No. 2 to service with an arsenic removal system. The town earlier rehabbed the tank near Interstate 25 and has been using it for storage of water pumped from west of the Rio Grande.

The lack of a functioning well east of the Rio Grande has left that part of town vulnerable should something happen to the pipeline from the west side.

Former town treasurer Juan Torres (no relation to the mayor) spent much of his four years in the administration straightening out the books with the aid of town staff and outside accounting consultants. Two state agencies have signed off on the work, and the only red flag from past audits still to fix is an inventory of capital assets, big-ticket items from buildings and vehicles to the network of pipes delivering water to homes and businesses.

Torres recently left to become clerk-treasure for the town of Edgewood east of Albuquerque. In June, Bernalillo councilors approved hiring Lupita DeHerrera, currently clerk-treasurer of Jemez Springs and formerly finance director of Angel Fire, to replace him.

The recent release of the audit for Bernalillo’s 2014-15 fiscal year drew news coverage to the lingering issues that put the town on the State Auditor’s “at-Risk list” of local governments with financial problems. However, State Auditor Tim Keller, in a letter to Mayor Torres, said that list only changes when problems are fully resolved.

“While your ongoing progress and efforts may not have been reflected in media reports or our At-Risk list, your work does give this office, and should give the public, confidence that the Town is diligently working to fix the issues,” Keller wrote.

The fiscal year budget still waiting final approval from the state contains the fourth year of five percent across-the-board raises for town staff, whom the mayor says are still underpaid. By living within its means and setting a little aside, the town also was able to pay $1.2 million dollars for the former Roosevelt Elementary School property now being converted to town, public, and nonprofit uses.

“Part of that is the staff buying into the notion that just because you have the money doesn’t mean you have to spend it,” Torres said. Department heads are only proposing purchases of items from LED lights and virtual computer servers to lawn mowers and fire trucks that increase efficiency and save money in the long run, he added.

“That forward-thinking stuff really energizes me,” the mayor said. “That’s when you know your organization is healthy.”

County cites fire danger in restricting fireworks

Signpost Staff

The sale and use of fireworks has been restricted in the unincorporated areas of Sandoval County under action taken by the county commission in June.

The resolution bans the sale of audible fireworks, missile-type rockets, and other aerial devices, including spinners and sets, under penalty of arrest, three hundred dollar fines, and ninety days in jail. Ground, handheld, and smoke devices are limited to paved or cleared areas with ready access to water.

County Fire Chief James Maxon requested the restrictions due to the fire danger.

“This is our annual due diligence to keep our forests and our citizens safe,” Maxon said. “We’re restricting certain types of fireworks. If you’re in a barren area, it’s permissible to use certain types of fireworks. However, we’re completely banning fireworks in any of our grassy areas and forest areas, and as you all well know, most of the county is grassy and forest areas.”

The restrictions, set to expire on July 15, will be enforced by the county fire marshal and sheriff’s deputies.

The North Fire burns through the night as the U.S. Forest Service manages the lightning-cause blaze to reduce the fuel load.
Photo credit: —Eric Krueger: courtesy U.S. Forest Service

A U.S. Forest Service firefighter—one of hundreds managing the North Fire
Photo credit: —T. C. Smith: courtesy U.S. Forest Service

Hazy skies sign of fire season, approaching monsoon

Signpost Staff

While the major wildfire in the Manzano Mountains destroyed homes and made national news, smoke visible in Placitas and Bernalillo came mostly from other fires in New Mexico and Arizona, according to the National Weather Service.

In mid-June, southwesterly winds carried smoke from the North Fire in Socorro County and the Cedar Fire in east-central Arizona into Sandoval County. When the wind shifted to the southeast, smoke from the Dog Head Fire in the Manzanos drifted into the Albuquerque metro area and up the Rio Grande valley.

The change in direction also brought a light stream of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico into the state as high pressure settled over the area and wind speeds dropped.

“The haze is a combination of the moisture and smoke trapped under the ridge of high pressure,” weather service meteorologist Brian Guyer told the Signpost on June 20. “There are really no winds out there right now to push the smoke around… It will stay like that for a while.”

The U.S. Forest Service has said the North Fire in the San Mateo Mountains is being managed and allowed to burn as it stays on the ground consuming fuel that could contribute to a larger fire. The fire, about 130 miles south-southwest of Sandoval County, has spread across more than 31,000 acres since being reported on May 21 after lightning strikes in the area.

The Cedar Fire on White Mountain Apache tribal land has closed U.S. Highway 60 south of Show Low, Arizona. It was reported on June 15, and its cause is under investigation.

The Dog Head Fire, named for the location where it began on June 14, raged across 18,000 acres in the Cibola National Forest. At last report, it had destroyed 24 homes and numerous other structures near the communities of Chilili and Tajique. As of Signpost press time, it was mostly contained.

High temperatures, low humidity, and gusty winds helped spread the fire. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

In late June the interagency website showed six active wildfires in New Mexico and 19 in Arizona. The prospect for additional lightning fires remained high as the beginning of the monsoon season brings limited moisture into the state.

“That increases thunderstorms with not much precipitation but with dry lighting,” Guyer said. “It happens every year causing more fires until we get the real good showers in here that produce more rainfall.”

The weather service considers June 15 to September 30 to be monsoon season with rainfall usually ramping up in early to mid July.

The New Mexico Department of Health offers online tips at to help determine whether smoke is dense enough to raise health concerns especially for children, pregnant women, older people, and those with existing health issues. The tips cite one-mile visibility as a time for everyone to stay indoors, three miles for healthy adults to limit outdoor activity, and five miles for at-risk groups to minimize their time outdoors.

Firefighters attack wildfire in Jemez Mountains

Signpost Staff

As fire season moved into late June, firefighters mobilized to tackle a human-caused blaze in the Jemez Mountains near Battleship Rock.

The fire was about five miles north of Jemez Springs, off State Road 4, near the Battleship Rock Campground and Picnic Area, Hummingbird Music Camp, YMCA Camp Shaver, Jemez Falls, and numerous recreation sites. Information posted on by the Santa Fe National Forest described the area as heavy with dead and downed timber with a high potential for the fire to grow.

The fire was reported on June 19 and by the next day had 55 firefighters on the scene with more on the way. A fixed-wing aircraft monitored the fire from above, and a helicopter was making water drops—this for a fire that on the second day was confined to three acres.

“They were able to work overnight,” said Julie Anne Overton, acting public affairs officer for the Santa Fe National Forest. “The weather cooperated—it was fairly calm last night—so they were able to establish a line around the perimeter. It appears to be holding.”

The interior of the fire was still burning hot, she added, and the steep terrain remained a concern. “It’s only three acres, but we don’t want the fire to make a run up the canyon,” she added.

With the strong response, firefighters contained the fire late on June 20 and were working the next day on hot spots and watching for flare-ups.

While the point of origin will be found and the cause investigated, a person or persons are likely responsible. “We’ve had no lightning strikes, so we’re pretty certain it’s human-caused,” Overton said.

Placitas Fourth of July Parade set

The annual Placitas Fourth of July Parade will take place, once again, on July 4, starting at 11:00 a.m. Horses, floats, bicyclists, marchers, and decorated cars are invited to join local fire department and emergency medical services vehicles on a trip east on Highway 165 and through the Village of Placitas. Participants should line up in front of Placitas Heights at 10:00 a.m. No registration is necessary to be in the parade. The public is welcome to bring camp chairs and coolers to enjoy this lively community event.

Rio Rancho celebrates Fourth of July weekend

—Peter L. Wells

Several events will take place in Rio Rancho to celebrate this year’s Fourth of July weekend and holiday. The thirteenth annual Pork and Brew BBQ State Championship will be held from July 2-4 at the Santa Ana Star Center.

The Pork and Brew event will be held both inside and outside of the Santa Ana Star Center on July 2 and 3, from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and July 4 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

For information including details on how to purchase tickets, visit, or contact the city of Rio Rancho Convention and Visitors Bureau at 891-7258.

On July 4, an Independence Day parade will kick off at 10:00 a.m. and travel throughout the City Center area (Civic Center Circle, etc.) and near the Santa Ana Star Center.

Live music will begin at 6:00 p.m., athe Loma Colorado Park, 735 Loma Colorado Boulevard, with a fireworks show to start at approximately 9:15 p.m. There is no admission fee to attend the show.

For more information about the city’s Fourth of July events, contact the city’s Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Department at 891-5015.

Candidate Gino Rinaldi and supporter Yvette Griego campaign on Primary Day outside the voting convenience center at the Placitas Presbyterian Church. Despite signs and enthusiasm, Rinaldi failed to unseat Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya in the Democratic primary.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Incumbents survive primary challenges

Signpost Staff

Three high-profile public officials—Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya and state Senators John Sapien and Benny Shendo—held off opponents in the June 7 Democratic primary, but only two face Republican challengers in November.

Montoya won nearly 58 percent of the vote in defeating Gino Rinaldi and James Baca. Leroy Joseph Lovato ran unopposed in the GOP primary.

Sapien received 62 percent of the Democratic vote compared to Jodilynn Ortiz for the District 9 Senate seat. Diego Espinoza won the Republican nomination without opposition.

In Senate District 22, Shendo outpolled former legislator Sandra Jeff 63-37 percent and is unopposed in November.

In another contested legislative race, Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo defeated County Commission Chairman Darryl Madalena of Jemez Pueblo in the Democratic primary for House District 65. No Republican filed for the seat held by Madalena’s father, retiring Rep. James Roger Madalena

In the contest for county clerk, Donald Lemm won 58 percent of the vote besting Pete David Salazar on the Republican side while Democratic incumbent Eileen Garbagni was unopposed.

In County Commission District 4, David Heil captured 78 percent of the voted in the Republican race compared to 22 percent for Issach Allen Martinez while Democrat Alexis Jimenez ran unopposed. Republican Glenn Walters holds the seat now but has served the maximum of two consecutive terms.

F. Kenneth Eichwald defeated Anna Messer in the County Commission District 5 Democratic contest. No Republican filed for the office being vacated by Darryl Madalena, who is term-limited.

The District 2 commission contest pits incumbent Democrat Nora Scherzinger against Republican Jay Block. Neither drew primary opponents.

Investigators worked into the night to unearth the three murder victims buried in eastern Sandoval County.
Photo caption: —Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office

Three charged with murder after bodies unearthed

—Bill Diven

Sandoval County sheriff’s investigators say they have linked a bloody truck to three buried bodies and charged three suspects with murder.

Details remain scarce, however, as the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office says most of the records in the case have been sealed by a judge.

The Ford F-150 pickup truck reported stolen in Albuquerque was found February 29 near Hagen Road on Diamond Tail Ranch about seven miles east of Interstate 25. Bullet holes and the large amount of blood immediately suggested a homicide involving one or more victims.

Hagen Road connects I-25 at San Felipe Pueblo with State Road 14 near Golden in Santa Fe County.

More than two weeks later relatives reported three Albuquerque residents were missing and last seen in a Ford truck similar to the one found here. Then on May 31 the investigation and information from one of the suspects led to three bodies buried near Hagen Road about five miles east of the first crime scene.

Medical investigators identified two of the victims as John Santistevan, 32, and Geraldine Sena, 48. By Signpost deadline, investigators were waiting for confirmation that the third body is Samuel Sena, 25.

Geraldine Sena was Samuel’s mother and Santistevan’s girlfriend, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Sandoval County detectives and federal agents with Homeland Security Investigations linked the trio to people involved in drug trafficking, mail thefts, and running stolen vehicles to Mexico, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office. On June 10, arrest warrants alleging murder, kidnapping, and additional crimes were served on three suspects already in jail on other unspecified charges.

The warrants name them as Omar Flores-Castillo, about 26, of Albuquerque, Alberto Rodriguez, about 31, of Los Lunas, and Samuel Jimenez-Perez, about 32, whose address is listed as the Sandoval County Detention Center in Bernalillo. It’s not known where the other two men were being held.

The additional crimes alleged in the warrants without explanation include receiving or transferring stolen vehicles and extreme cruelty to animals. The U.S. Marshals Service, the FBI, and New Mexico State Police also joined in the investigation.

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