Ms. McCoy Goes to Santa Fe
On my visit to the Roundhouse in Santa Fe last week, at the midpoint of the 2005 legislative session, I was able to witness some of the excitement, chaos and pressures that our freshman Representative, Kathy McCoy, has been experiencing during her first session in the Capitol.
Like any elected state official, Rep. McCoy must represent the needs of her district and the state as a whole—a tall order when you consider the diversity of her district (District 22, which includes unincorporated parts of Sandoval, Santa Fe and Bernalillo Counties).
This diversity is well represented in some of Rep. McCoy's legislative priorities, from voter identification (she supports strong voter identification legislation and sits on the House Voters and Elections Committee which is currently hearing a number of competing voter ID bills) to education (she is a strong supporter of charter schools) to state symbols (she sponsored HB845 which would make Simply Simpatico: A Taste of New Mexico, written by the Junior League of Albuquerque, the official state cookbook).
One of Rep. McCoy's strong interests is animal protection—not only does she support HB878, the bill to ban cockfighting which is currently being debated in committee, but she has sponsored HB482, or Scooby's Law, the bill to require a bittering agent be added to anti-freeze sold in the state (it's currently in the House Judiciary Committee and proponents feel it stands a good chance of passing this year due to compromises with the anti-freeze industry). In addition, animal lovers can expect Rep. McCoy's support when it comes to many of the other 42 bills regarding animal welfare introduced this session.
On top of her animal welfare interests, Rep. McCoy is also a strong environmentalist, a position that has earned her widespread support beyond her traditional Republican base. She serves as Vice President of the New Mexico chapter of REP America, an organization aimed at bringing environmentalism back into the Republican party, and fighting many of the party's own attempts to erode or eliminate hard-fought environmental laws and initiatives. Specifically, Rep. McCoy will be targeting uncontrolled urban sprawl (rational land use has long been one of her interests; she is also the co-founder of the East Mountain Legal Defense Fund, a land use and conservation group), and water related issues such as the lack of water for new subdivisions and industries. She has sponsored HB623, which would provide for funds to acquire water rights for the Carnuel Mutual Domestic Water Association in Bernalillo County.
Rep. McCoy has also introduced legislation (HJR14) to ask voters to repeal the state constitutional amendment that allows for the unification of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. Because voters have twice before rejected this merger, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars to taxpayers, Rep. McCoy would like to end the possibility of continued debate in the interest of fiscal responsibility.
Another item of local interest is the issue of Placitas County. Before taking office, Rep. McCoy had originally planned to introduce a bill authorizing a referendum on whether to split off a portion of Southeastern Sandoval County into its own county; this would have allowed voters to decide whether to actually hold a vote on the issue. Unfortunately, she learned that such a referendum would not be possible (she says it was a "newbie mistake" to make such a promise), and the only possibility would be to have all of Sandoval County hold a yes/no vote on the county, a vote that she felt would be premature. Instead, Rep. McCoy and others recommend that supporters of the new county find an independent organization to conduct a cost/benefit analysis (the state will not provide the funds for this), before a county-wide vote should be held. Officially, however, Rep. McCoy is neutral on this issue.
Finally, Rep. McCoy sits on the Appropriations and Finance Committee, her first committee choice, given the broad overview of issues that this appointment brings. Many residents might think that this would mean that Rep. McCoy should be able to bring her district more funds than other representatives, but sadly, this is not the case. Typically, District 22 gets about $300,000 per year in funds, which she then allocates based on projects and need. However, Rep. McCoy won't know how much money we are allotted until the last week of session, at which point she, like all of the other representatives, will have to scramble to allocate it, based on capital outlay requests submitted to her throughout the year. Since this year's requests alone total $23 million for our district, Rep. McCoy (and the Capital Outlay Sub-Committee) has some tough choices to make, from water system improvements in Sandoval County (almost $3 million) to improving the senior center in Placitas ($176,000) to school projects in Albuquerque Public Schools (almost $2 million). One funding priority will most likely be construction improvements to Camino del San Francisco Road in Sandoval County ($196,800).
If the first thirty days of this session are any indication, the rest of the 2005 legislative session will be a roller coaster of committees, constituent meetings and special events from early morning till late at night for our freshman legislator. While she admits that the job is extremely stressful, she also says it's incredibly rewarding, and her enthusiasm for the long hours and endless demands is evident. Rep. McCoy welcomes constituent visits (her office is 201B in the Roundhouse) and comments via phone (986-4214) or email (Katrina@swcp.com).
Ramon “Mojo” Montijo
Former Bernalillo police chief sues town
More than a year after being fired, former police chief Ramon “Mojo” Montijo is suing the Town of Bernalillo, alleging violation of labor laws and his rights.
The suit filed in U. S. District Court in Albuquerque names as defendants the town, Mayor Charles Aguilar, current and former town administrators, the human resources director, and a police officer. The town has yet to file a response to Montijo's claims, but Swindle said a lawyer has been assigned to the case by the New Mexico Municipal League, which handles the town's insurance.
Montijo's tenure as chief lasted from April through November of 2003, when he was fired by a vote of the town council. He had been suspended once previously by Mayor Charles Aguilar for alleged insubordination, although Aguilar at the time declined to detail his reasoning.
Montijo said it was because he refused to divulge details of ongoing investigations within the department and had suspended an officer for alleged misconduct. In previous interviews, Montijo said his political troubles stemmed from his discovery of irregularities within the department involving the evidence vault, missing weapons, and a criminal case in which an officer was a suspect.
New rail routes in Sandoval County’s future?
County commission votes to join transit district, approves $6 million for shuttle
As a regional transit district takes shape, Sandoval County has opted in, while Rio Rancho is reconsidering its decision not to join. Both actions came after the Mid Region Council of Governments changed the district contract to allow local governments simply to drop out within sixty days of finding out what the debt burden will be for starting up the district. Previously, any withdrawal required two-thirds of district members to vote in favor of it.
MRCOG is the lead agency setting up the RTD, which encompasses commuter rail service between Bernalillo and Belen through Albuquerque and connecting bus and shuttle service. Locomotives and commuter coaches are on order, with service scheduled to begin late this year.
Valencia and Bernalillo County already have joined the district, as has the town of Bernalillo. Last year Sandoval kicked in $10 million from its Intel bond-issue income for track improvements, equipment, and station facilities in Bernalillo.
County commissioners also approved $6 million for shuttle service linking Rio Rancho and the Bernalillo station. They voted February 22 to join the RTD.
Initially, state and anticipated federal funding will operate the commuter system. Long-term financing, however, likely will hinge on voters in RTD communities voting to tax themselves to cover the difference between fares and expenses, MRCOG officials have said.
Plans to extend transit service to Santa Fe also got an airing in Bernalillo as the state Department of Transportation continues to explore highway, bus, and rail alternatives. The ongoing analysis is expected to produce a preferred alternative by late spring, a required step in seeking federal funding, said Will Gleason of URS Corporation, a DOT consultant.
The key issue driving any improvement is the anticipated 50 percent population growth in the Albuquerque-Santa Fe corridor in the next twenty years, Gleason said. On a good, accident-free day, the rural part of I-25 between the cities now flows relatively well, he added.
“It's at the end of those trips that the real problems, the real congestion occurs,” Gleason said.
While possible rail routes to Santa Fe have gotten the most media attention, the DOT analysis also is looking at adding lanes to I-25, including dedicated lanes for high-occupancy vehicles and separate bus-only lanes.
Adding new I-25 lanes would cost at least $514 million, with only slight improvements in travel times, according to the preliminary analysis released at the February 8 Bernalillo meeting. Four new or upgraded rail routes between Albuquerque and Santa Fe would cost from $157 million to $345 million and produce downtown-to-downtown travel times from seventy-three to ninety-two minutes, depending on the route selected.
The preliminary study identified five potential rail routes to Santa Fe branching off the BNSF Railway main line east of La Bajada: Waldo Bypass, climbing La Bajada through Waldo Canyon and following I-25; Community District farther east, running largely through undeveloped public and private land; NM14, following that state highway from near Cerrillos; Kennedy, on abandoned railroad roadbed from near Galisteo; and Santa Fe Southern, using that railroad's existing track from Lamy.
Those options are now expected to be reduced to two or three for detailed study.
Proposed Placitas County legislation needs more analysis and support
Now that the legislature is in full session, I'm learning to digest massive amounts of new information every day.
One key thing I've learned is that spontaneity rarely works in the legislative process—which brings me to the topic of Placitas County. I had hoped I could introduce a bill that would simply ask whether people wanted a vote; however, I have learned that due to legal issues the only available option is to vote yes or no on a new county. To complicate matters more, it appears that it might have to be a countywide vote, based on the Corrales precedent.
I have spoken with individuals involved in the forming of Cibola County and with financial people, who strongly advised that an independent cost/benefit analysis be performed before taking any other steps. Finally, I have heard from a great number of Placitas residents who thoughtfully and articulately voiced their opposition to a new county. I fully understand the desire to be autonomous and to guide the future of your community, but what I saw was a “perfect storm” of reasons to hold off on any legislation until we have more information and support.
On the positive side, it was heartening to talk to so many people. Clearly, the Placitas community is extremely involved, and that's the key to good government. Keep those comments coming! We anticipate more than two thousand bills coming before us this session, and it is virtually impossible to read them all, so legislators welcome comments from those of you who follow specific issues. I will also earmark some of my capital-outlay money for Placitas, but until it's clear what amount we'll be receiving, I can't yet say how much will be available.
I've already met with several Placitans in the Capitol and I again extend my invitation to come up for a visit. Bring your children, too; we can arrange for them to page for a few hours and learn how government works. To make arrangements, my office number is 986-4214.
Councilor Salzman to speak on Rio Rancho growth
The public is invited to the March West Side Unit Meeting of the League of Women Voters on Tuesday, March 22, at 1:00 p.m. at the Rio Rancho Public Library at 950 Pinetree Road NE, when Marilyn Salzman will speak on the issue of Rio Rancho growth.
Salzman is a member of the Rio Rancho City Council, a small-business owner, and a member of the Chamber of Commerce. She has served on the Keep Rio Rancho Beautiful Advisory Board, the Charter Review Committee, the Teen Court Advisory Board, and the Leadership Sandoval County Advisory Board. A resident of River's Edge, she is also a member of the River's Edge Homeowners Association.
Please call the League of Women Voters office during morning hours Mondays through Fridays at 884-8441 for more information.
Placitas survey results compiled, meeting scheduled
Placitas property owners proved to be anything but bashful when the county began asking questions about what the community needs.
“It was like opening the floodgates,” planning consultant Cynthia Tidwell told Sandoval County commissioners. “There's a lot of interest in developing facilities and services.”
As the county moves forward, however, it must consider “the graying of Placitas,” whose median age of forty-six and rising is the second highest in the county behind the ranching community of Regina, she added.
“This issue needs further exploration—who is moving in and what it means for the future,” Tidwell, president of CCT & Associates of Corrales, said. “The age of residents of Placitas has implications for county decisions.”
“There are not a whole lot of families moving in with youngsters,” added commission chairman Bill Sapien, whose district includes Placitas.
Which could explain why 65 percent of respondents favored building trails and pathways, while only 7 percent favored a skateboard park. A public meeting to present the survey results is scheduled for March 16 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at El Zócalo, in the 200 block of Camino del Pueblo in Bernalillo [See announcement on opposite page in the paper version of the Signpost].
The survey evolved from discussions about opening a public library in Placitas, which led to questions about what other services such a facility might provide. Added momentum for community comment came from the donation by Peggy Cavett-Walden of 6.3 acres of vacant land behind the Placitas Elementary School for public purposes, especially those benefiting children.
Sapien said volunteers prepared the survey, and the county spent about $8,000 on printing and mailing and then tabulating ninety pages of results. Nearly two thousand surveys were mailed to property owners in the Placitas ZIP code with about 840 more going to absentee landowners with addresses elsewhere.
“This was a survey asking what you want, not what you don't want,” Tidwell said. “It's not designed to answer 'none.'”
Just over nine hundred surveys were returned, which both Sapien and Tidwell considered an unusually high response, although not every respondent answered every question. Some questions allowed multiple answers, so totals added up to more than 100 percent.
Among the results:
- 45 percent favored locating a library location in the village center, followed by neighborhoods to the west (Placitas Foothills 33 percent, Placitas Hills 20 percent) with little support for other locations (Las Huertas Canyon and Placitas North, 1 percent each).
- 44 percent preferred a library be part of a larger recreation center; 25 percent listed a smaller, independent facility.
- 60 percent wanted the library supported by grant or government funding, 8 percent favored a tax increase, 15 percent said Placitas doesn't need a library.
- 65 percent supported development of a trail network, 20 percent opposed.
- A picnic area ranked first among outdoor sports facilities residents would most likely use (39 percent of respondents), followed by tennis, basketball, and badminton courts (31 percent), an animal arena, and younger-age play equipment (both 19 percent). A skateboard park ranked last (7 percent), behind a putt-putt golf course (10 percent).
- 51 percent favored an indoor community facility with an exercise/fitness center, 44 percent wanted a community meeting room, while 22 percent favored a woodworking shop and 16 percent a game room.
- 35 percent would use or like to have expanded senior services in Placitas, including a therapeutic pool (27 percent) and adult day care (15 percent).
- About three-quarters of respondents said important community-design criteria includes xeriscaping and drought-tolerant landscaping, natural land contouring, shielded lighting, and pedestrian and cycle pathways.