Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

  Up Front

Alpacas Massacred

Chuck Homer visits his two surviving female alpacas: Jamie, the larger one who escaped the pit bulls and Truffles, the baby who survived her injuries.

Pit bulls massacre Placitas alpacas

—Ty Belknap, Signpost

At about 8:00 p.m. on February 4 when Placitas resident Chuck Homer stepped outside his home with his dogs, he heard strange sounds coming from his alpaca corral about twenty yards away. In the powerful beam of his flashlight, Homer saw a pair of pit bulls chasing one of the females out of the broken gate as it ran screaming into the night. To his horror, Homer found six female alpacas—one pregnant, one just a baby—lying on the ground bleeding. Throats were torn out; lips ripped off; eyes gouged out; ears chewed off. “It was absolute carnage.” Homer said. 

He went back in the house to get his rifle, and told his wife to call 911. Back in the corral, Homer found three alpacas were dead and three were dying. One was still off in the hills. The dogs, which he knew belonged to a neighbor, were nowhere in sight.

According to the animal control incident report obtained from the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Kevin Saiz arrived on the scene at 9:00. After observing the carnage, Saiz called for backup, and was accompanied by Deputy Robert Chavez to the neighboring home on Pine D Ranch Road and used his air horn to call the residents out. Deputy Chavez asked Dillon Felt, as he stepped out of the house, if he knew where his dogs were. The report goes on to say, “As I asked, I heard a rustling sound on the north side of the house. I lit up the area and observed two pit bulls loose and approaching me. I ordered the homeowner to get his dogs as I backed away.” The deputies observed what they believed to be blood around their chests and mouths. Felt called his dogs and put them inside a fence, saying that they must have gotten out earlier when his eight-year-old son put out the trash. 

When Chavez told Felt what his dogs had done, Felt “appeared genuinely in disbelief and asked if we knew for sure it was his dogs. I lit the dogs up again with my flashlight to show Mr. Felt the blood stains. Mr. Felt became very apologetic for what his dogs had done… [and] asked that I advise his neighbors he was truly sorry for what happened and he wants to make things right.” Felt was told that an animal control officer would take possession of the dogs on the following morning.

Two of the surviving alpacas were injured so severely that they were euthanized. The baby was taken to the veterinary hospital, but was well enough to return after a day. The other female came back from the hills later that day. Two weeks later they still appeared traumatized—in contrast to the seven males in a separate section of the corral that roughhoused and frolicked, apparently unfazed.

An alpaca (Vicugna pacos) is a domesticated species of South American camelid. It resembles a small llama, standing about three feet tall and weighing one hundred-fifty to two hundred pounds. Alpaca fiber is used for making knitted and woven items. Since they are not beasts of burden, females are considered more valuable for breeding purposes. Alpacas were first imported to the United States as domestic animals in 1984.

Chuck Homer and his wife Diane Torrance started a breeding farm called Alpacas of New Mexico in 1993. They enjoy taking alpacas to local events, including the Placitas Fourth of July parade and Placitas Appreciation Day. They give the luxurious fur away to spinners and weavers. Alpacas are known for their sweet and gentle dispositions and make fine pets.

Homer said that his corral includes chicken wire buried two feet deep beneath the fences, which also have electric wire around the top. He explained that he always tried to protect the herd from dogs and wild animals, but he never expected to be attacked by animals powerful and aggressive enough to break down the gate. 

The incident report confirms that on February 5, Dillon Felt helped load his pit bulls into the Animal Control Officer’s truck and signed documents to authorize their euthanasia, which was carried out at El Rincón Pet Hospital. Felt faces misdemeanor charges of harboring two vicious pit bulls and allowing them to run loose. 

Residents of rural, unincorporated areas of Sandoval County can contact 867-4581 for Animal Control issues. This is the non-emergency number for the Sheriff’s Office, as there is no number listed for Animal Control. In an emergency, dial 911. Municipalities having Animal Control staffs include Bernalillo (867-2304), Corrales (897-7586), and Rio Rancho (891-7237). The Sheriff’s Office enforces the county Animal Control Ordinance. Copies of the ordinance can be obtained at the Sheriff’s Office and are available online at

Lethal forms of animal control have traditionally been used by residents in rural areas of New Mexico, but discharging firearms in residential areas is dangerous. For most of the past eight years, George Griego has served as the sole Animal Control Officer in Sandoval County. A second officer, Brian Frank, was added to the staff last year. They work from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. After hours, Sheriff‘s deputies are required to handle animal control issues, but they are not as well-equipped for these calls. The Sheriff’s Office recently stopped seeking assistance from and terminated funding Placitas Animal Rescue (867-0004).

Chuck Homer says that the events of February 4 might put him out of the alpaca breeding business, and he is considering civil action to recover his losses. He also plans to address the Sandoval County Commission because he feels that Animal Control needs to do more when it receives a complaint. Homer said that he once chased the pit bulls away from his corral, and that animal control was notified several times last summer about the dogs running loose. He insists that he does not want to demonize pit bulls as inherently evil, and blames irresponsible dog owners, saying, “Owners of dogs like pit bulls, Rottweilers, and German shepherds need to be extra-responsible.”  

Update on tax money for Sandoval County bond issues

Signpost Staff

Sandoval County voters approved in November an increase in their property taxes to support hospitals that provide health services to the county.

The so-called 4.25 mill levy is expected to generate more than $13 million a year for a period of four to eight years to help Presbyterian Healthcare Services and the University of New Mexico, both of which are building new hospitals.

Presbyterian broke ground in August on a state-of-the-art facility in Rio Rancho, which it expected to open in November 2010. But the hospital board of directors decided in December that poor economic conditions made it unwise to issue the $200 million in bonds necessary for construction. Presbyterian has halted the project until the economy improves, which should become clearer in the next year, said Todd Sandman, its director of public relations.

UNM plans a new hospital downtown near City Center, to open in 2011, although it has yet to break ground.

Meanwhile, homeowners will see their property taxes increase in 2009 by $142 for every $100,000 of assessed value. Half of that payment will be due November 10, with the balance due by April 10, 2009.

This money is not going toward construction of either hospital. Rather, the county is negotiating what services the facilities will provide. The money collected this year will not be disbursed until around 2011, said Gayland Bryant, director of public affairs for Sandoval County—by which time one or the other hospital may be partially up and running, he noted.

For questions about your property taxes, contact the County Assessor’s office at 867-7562, 1-800-972-6368, or visit

The Rio Rancho road improvement bond comes up for a public vote on March 10. At issue is whether to extend the city’s debt-service bond and replace retiring bonds to provide $25 million for road construction and improvements. If the measure passes, the city will extend its 1.5 mill levy on property taxes that go toward paying the debt.

The $25 million made available would fund seven road projects, in descending order of cost as follows:

  • Paseo del Volcan project, Iris Road to U.S. 550, $10 million
  • Unser Boulevard widening, Paseo del Volcan to King, $6.1 million
  • Western Hills Drive asphalt work, Unser to Southern, $2.58 million
  • Pavement maintenance, $2.32 million 
  • Nicklaus Drive asphalt work, Broadmoor to Southern, $2.1 million
  • Northern Boulevard widening, 35th Court to Broadmoor, $1.6 million
  • 30th Street paving, Northern to Paseo del Volcan, $300,000

Rio Rancho residents can locate their polling site by calling the City Clerk’s office at 891-5004. Absentee voting is available at the Rio Rancho City Hall on weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. through March 6. To request an absentee ballot, contact the City Clerk’s office at the number above.


Update on Placitas Lomos Altos water transfer protest

—Kay Matthews, La Jicarita News

The potentially precedent-setting protest of the Lomos Altos water transfer application in Placitas was heard by the New Mexico Supreme Court and was remanded to District Court de novo for reconsideration in December 2006.

The case goes back to the 1997 and 1999 applications to transfer 15.05 acre feet per year (afy) of surface water from locations on the Rio Grande in Valencia County to wells that supply the Overlook subdivision in Placitas (owned by Bob Poling). The protestants, Lynn Montgomery, Robert Wesley, and Catherine Harris, live in areas near the subdivision, where they irrigate from springs near Las Huertas Creek. Their protest claimed that their surface water rights would be impaired by the groundwater pumping. They also raised the other two statutory objections considered by the Office of the State Engineer in water transfer protests: whether it is contrary to conservation and detrimental to the public welfare.

Now that the case is back in District Court, it has become even more complicated. The Supreme Court remand states: “We remand to the district court for a de novo proceeding to consider all existing water rights at the move-to location, or extinguish those rights, the extent of depletion at the move-to location, and determine whether this depletion constitutes impairment of existing rights.” The Supreme Court also directed “for the impairment analysis, the State Engineer must either include the total amount of water rights contained in… non-party declarations [or other evidence] or formally extinguish them. The State Engineer can extinguish these rights through various means, including a forfeiture proceeding or an abandonment action.”

Lomos Altos then proceeded to identify over one hundred parties who it claims might have an interest in water rights at two of the five springs in question, and that these “third party defendants” have not put any of the water rights in question to beneficial use, or that the water rights have been forfeited or abandoned. The protestants filed a motion to stay, claiming only thirty-eight of these water rights defendants have been served: “Until all defendants are joined and served… protestants are unable to determine whether the water rights attributed to these parties play a role in the analysis and resolution of the overall issues of impairment, conservation, and public welfare.” The protestants also filed a motion that the court direct the state engineer to conduct a hydrographic survey or dismiss the “Third Party Complaint.” They claim that the directive of the court is in essence “an adjudication of the water rights of the named defendants.” According to state statute, the state engineer must make or furnish a complete hydrographic survey of the affected stream system.

Adding to the case, two of the newly named defendants hired prominent Albuquerque Attorney Peter Shoenfeld, who also filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the “District Court has no jurisdiction to forfeit or otherwise extinguish those water rights.” That power is accorded solely to the State Engineer, and that office has not issued any notices of non-use. Shoenfeld also argued that District Court cannot hear this case as a de novo trial because de novo means “anew“ or “once more, again,” and there can be no proceeding to forfeit or extinguish water rights in the absence of an original proceeding before the State Engineer.

According to Lynn Montgomery, the State Engineer also filed a motion to stay and a motion to bifurcate the case (all parties, except the applicant, agree that any determinations of water rights, whether by abandonment or in adjudication, must occur in another court as a separate case). It’s unlikely that the OSE has the resources to carry out abandonment proceedings, and even if it did, the agency probably would have trouble getting large amounts of rights abandoned. It would also have trouble coming up with the resources to do a hydrographic survey and adjudication. Montgomery and attorney Peter Shoenfeld claim that the OSE would have to conduct an adjudication of the entire Middle Rio Grande Basin.

Mary Humphrey, Montgomery’s attorney, believes if the State Engineer continues with this, it will precipitate adjudication. The motions to dismiss ask the judges to embark on a prima facea (before investigation) proceeding, and accept all existing water rights claims to determine impairment and avoid adjudication or abandonment findings. Many more attorneys have entered the case, defending people in other subdivisions who could be affected. There are still many defendants who haven’t been named or served.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for March 2.

Political Directory

Political directory available to the public

The League of Women Voters of Central New Mexico (LWVCNM) is announcing the availability of the 2009 Who’s Who, a complete directory with contact information for all elected officials for citizens of both Bernalillo and Sandoval County.

The League has published twelve thousand copies of this free brochure, which is now available at public libraries in both counties, at the Bernalillo and Sandoval County Clerk’s offices, at the Sandoval County Courthouse, at municipal offices, at the Rio Rancho Chamber of Commerce, and at the League’s office at 2403 San Mateo NE, Suite W-16C in Albuquerque.

Key to the League’s mission since its 1920 founding is to keep citizens informed about the issues and to aid them in playing their parts in our democracy. The Who’s Who lists names and contact information for elected officials including our federal representatives, state, judicial, and local government office holders. “If you want to contact your legislators or your mayor, this is the information you need,“ says Diane Goldfarb, the LWVCNM president.

In addition to sites mentioned above, the Who’s Who, underwritten by the LWVCNM’s Education Fund, is also available on the League website at The League’s Education Fund also distributes the Voters’ Guide before all general and municipal elections. For further information or for additional locations to find a Who’s Who, please contact the League’s Office at 884-8441.



Necessary steps being taken in tough economic times

Midpoint of 2009 legislative session

At the midpoint of the Legislative Session, State Senator Carroll Leavell does not recall any tougher time serving on the Senate Finance Committee now that the state and nation are facing difficult economic times. Senate Finance is the all-important committee that helps craft the state’s operating budget. Even though state revenues are shrinking, Senator Leavell is confident that all critical services will still be available for New Mexico residents.

“While we are seeing the largest downturn in the economy since the Great Depression, the state of New Mexico will continue to provide basic core services the public expects. We are doing everything we can to keep the budgets for public education and critical services like public safety intact as much as possible,” Senator Leavell said. “Revenues are decreasing across New Mexico and that has impacted every segment of the state tax collections.”

As the Senate Finance Committee, along with the House Appropriations Committee, is developing the 2010 budget for next year, they are anticipating a $5.5 billion budget.

“The remainder of this legislative session will be dedicated to building a balanced budget for the coming year. We do not have the same latitude that the Federal Government has in creating financial deficits. According to our State Constitution, our budget needs to be balanced,” says Senator Leavell. “We are feverishly working on leaving an adequate amount of money in our reserves so we will be once again prepared in case future revenue projections are not as healthy as we expect at this time. Our healthy reserves are our cushion.”

The budget for 2010 is anticipated to be around half a billion dollars less than the original budget for 2009, or around $250 million less than the revised 2009 budget.

This current year’s budget needed to be revised during the first half of the session due to falling revenue into state coffers.

According to Senator Leavell, “there was not enough money to pay the bills for the remainder of this year. During the first half of the session, we had to concentrate on revising the current fiscal year budget. Our original budget for the current fiscal year was just over $6 billion. By our latest estimates, our total receipts for the current budget period that ends June 30 will be $454 million short of the original projections. That is why adjustments needed to be made.”

To make the adjustments, the legislature passed a revised budget that took some funding from reserve accounts, shifted other funding, required some corporate taxes to be paid early, and made $190 million worth of cuts to all departments across the state.

“As we had to pare down state government, we were extremely careful in the amount of cuts made to education and Medicaid. While they constitute the largest parts of our budget, they received only one percent of the cuts to balance the 2009 budget. The $1.6 billion New Mexico is anticipating from the federal stimulus plan will be helpful from here on out. I believe this will go a long way in helping us patch our budget for next year, as well as provide us funding for our highways, roads, and other infrastructure needs.”

Sandoval County Line

—Don E. Leonard, Sandoval County Commission Chairman

While many businesses and organizations proclaim that employees are their most important asset, we actually mean it in Sandoval County, as many residents attest daily.

Our County’s government has a long history of neighbors working to help neighbors. That heritage predates New Mexico’s statehood and goes back to March 10, 1903—106 years ago this month—when Sandoval County was established as a separate entity.

Today’s employees who work for County government reflect that century-plus tradition. They strive diligently to provide residents with quality, efficient, and responsive service. While the County’s rapid growth may make it more difficult for the County’s 484 employees to recognize each other on sight, they don’t lose sight of the neighborly attitude that has attracted new residents and visitors to our area for thousands of years.

Sandoval County includes 3,716 square miles of diverse geography and people and, especially during the past two decades, has grown from a rural, sparsely-populated area. Latest estimates show Sandoval County’s population at 120,740 residents, reflecting a growth rate of more than thirty-four percent during the period from 2000 to 2008. Rio Rancho alone has an estimated population exceeding seventy-six thousand.

Along with population growth, County government has evolved to more effectively serve residents. Yet, County government can only meet the challenges of the present and future by working with and on behalf of residents.

Accessing County services is easy and can start with a phone call. All County offices can be reached by dialing one phone number, 867-7500, or by logging on to the County’s website,

Sandoval County is governed by the five-member Board of County Commissioners. Even though we are elected by districts, our duty is to best serve the entire County. The Commission establishes local laws, acts as final authority for County budget, and serves as the Election Canvassing Board and Board of Finance. The Commission also creates fire districts, levies certain taxes, and develops joint programs and agreements with other governments and agencies to efficiently serve County residents.

My Commission District 2 represents Corrales and southern and eastern Rio Rancho, including River’s Edge I. District 1 Commissioner Orlando Lucero represents northeastern Rio Rancho, including portions of River’s Edge II and III, the communities of Bernalillo, Placitas, La Madera, and Algodones, and the pueblos of Sandia and San Felipe. Commissioner Dave Bency, District 3, represents northern and central Rio Rancho. Glenn Walters’ Commission District 4 includes western Rio Rancho. Commissioner Darryl Madalena’s District 5 includes the northwestern part of Rio Rancho and the communities of Jemez Springs, Peña Blanca, Cochiti Lake, Cuba; the Navajo Chapters of Torreon, Ojo Encino, and Counselors; and the pueblos of Santa Ana, Zia, Jemez, Santo Domingo, and Cochiti.

The County’s other elected officials include Sheriff John Paul Trujillo, Assessor Rudy Casaus, Treasurer Lorraine Dominguez, County Clerk Sally Padilla and Probate Judge Charles Aguilar.

The County Commission appoints the County Manager, Juan Vigil, to carry out policy, serve as chief administrative officer, and assure budgetary and administrative procedures are met. Services and programs under his purview include the divisions of Finance and Administration, the County Attorney, Community Services, Detention, County Fire Department, Personnel, County Development, Public Affairs, Information Technology, and Public Works.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Leonard can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, PO Box 40, Bernalillo 87004.






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