Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front

Fall Storm, photograph by Michael Edminster

Beer and bridges top Bernalillo town council agenda

~Signpost Staff

Keg beer, U.S. Highway 550, and naming a town administrator occupied the Bernalillo Town Council during its first meeting in February.

Councilors without opposition approved a request by Kaktus Brewing Company to allow truckload distribution of keg beer from its brewery and taproom on South Hill Road. Visions of semi-trailers lined up on the street prompted Kaktus President Dana Koller to explain the relative size of his brewing operation opened in 2013.

"We're a little less than a two-barrel system," he said. "It takes a 10-barrel system to fill a semi."

Kaktus anticipates using its own pickup trucks arriving during off hours to carry kegs to wholesale customers—restaurants. A small semi from a restaurant supply company already navigates the brewery driveway to make deliveries, Koller said.

Kaktus is expanding having opened a taproom at Central and Monte Vista avenues in Albuquerque's Nob Hill. It also added kombucha, a low-alcohol fermented tea, to its beer menu and is making that the focus of its keg distribution, Koller said.

Ramping up to semi-sized production is another matter, however.

"For us to grow that much, we'd need to come back for city sewer and a new building," Koller told councilors.

The brewery is again holding a St. Patrick's Day event on March 17 with food, specials, and live music by Red Light Ramblers from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Later in the meeting Mayor Jack Torres reported on a meeting with the New Mexico Department of Transportation on widening U.S. 550 between Camino del Pueblo and State Route 528 in Rio Rancho. Torres, and others, have been raising concerns that medians running the length of the project with few left turns will hurt local businesses and town tax revenue.

"I was prepared for a frustrating meeting, but it was the best meeting so far," Torres said. While most of the project is still in the planning stages, NMDOT is looking at more left turns and possibly asking some businesses to develop shared driveways, he said.

"That's a huge improvement that we hadn't seen before," he added.

The planners also are looking at improvements to the intersection of U.S. 550 and Camino Don Tomas to address traffic-flow and business access issues there, Torres said. Widening the four-lane bridge over the Rio Grande to six lanes involves building a new two-lane bridge on the north side.

The bridge project is tentatively scheduled to go out for bid in August with construction to begin in early spring 2018, NMDOT Chief Public Information Officer Emilee Cantrell told the Signpost. The contract for the remainder of the project could be let as early as mid-2018, she added.

Meanwhile the town is on the hook for relocating utility lines that use the existing bridge and approaches to cross the river, an expense recently estimated at $800,000. Torres said the town has contacted its legislators in hopes that state can help fund that.

During the meeting, councilors voted to make Town Clerk Ida Fierro the town's full-time administrator with the title of clerk-administrator. Fierro and Community Planning and Development Director Maria Rinaldi, who retired at the end of 2016, had been sharing the title of interim co-administrator.

Sandoval County Public Works Director Tommy Mora waded into a capacity crowd in Placitas to field questions about a plan to franchise rural residential trash pickup to a single countywide vendor.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Placitas crowd calls new trash-collection plan rubbish

~Bill Diven

Few, if any, of the one hundred or so Placitas residents packed into the community center in late January saw any merit in Sandoval County choosing a single countywide vendor to handle trash pickup from rural homes.

If anything, the standing-room-only crowd at the Placitas Community Center was openly hostile, arguing that the result would be less service, higher prices, and putting established local haulers out of business. Whether service to homes on rougher roads in Placitas would continue also arose as an issue.

Comments like "We should do whatever we can to kill it stone-cold dead" drew loud applause.

Behind the ruckus is a request for proposals (RFP) issued by the county Public Works Department in August. The idea was to identify interested companies and how, and at what cost, they would collect trash from 15,000 homes and operate three existing regional convenience centers.

The RFP warned companies the county might ultimately decide not to franchise residential trash collection.

With the Sandoval County Landfill dependent on a fee-supported enterprise fund, Public Works Director Tommy Mora said the planned expansion of the site in northeastern Rio Rancho is the main concern driving the RFP. The county also loses money on staffing and hauling from the convenience centers in Cuba, Cañon, and Peña Blanca and is trying to reduce illegal dumping, he added.

"I'm stuck between running a service and a business," Mora said during the January 25 meeting, one of four held that week. "I either find more revenue or look at tax support for the enterprise fund… If the commission wants to raise rates, I'll do it."

The county already has raised fees for commercial dumping, he added.

Last year the state authorized the county to expand the landfill by ten acres within its existing site and increase the height of the compacted and covered trash. In December the county applied for a state permit for what will be known as the Sandoval County Solid Waste Regional Center, SWRC for short.

The permit would cover five hundred acres in a largely undeveloped area on Encino Road that northwestern Rio Rancho anticipated to open in 2030 or within a year prior to the current landfill closing.

In exchange for the exclusive franchise, the RFP says that the chosen company would pay ten percent of gross revenues to the county and take over the convenience centers. Rate details from the companies have not been released.

Residential customers could opt out of using the company but then would be on their own for taking trash to the landfill.

Only two companies responding to the RFP made the cut: Road Runner Waste Service Inc., based in Algodones, and Universal Waste Systems (UWS) of Santa Fe Springs, California. UWS already works in Valencia County but brings about 2,500 tons of trash a month to the Sandoval County landfill, which charges a weight-based tipping fee for each load.

Road Runner, founded in 2001, has grown to offering services from Albuquerque to Santa Fe and Los Alamos, handles Corrales pickup and, last year, won the town of Bernalillo contract previously held by Waste Management Inc. The company has about 1,500 customers in the Placitas and Algodones areas, Road Runner President Lee Dante said at an earlier meeting.

Dante also questioned the figure of 15,000 potential customers saying the number was closer to 6,200 after subtracting the county's six municipalities.

Wayne Dominguez, who began Placitas Rubbish Removal in 2003, told Mora going to a countywide franchise would put him out of business. Under the RFP, the franchise company would need all new trucks, a five-hundred-thousand-dollar proposal bond to get the contract, a two million dollar performance bond to keep it, and two million dollars in liability insurance.

"There is no problem with the current situation," Dominguez said. "As an independent small contractor, it's not feasible for me to go to Fenton Lake."

Fenton Lake is a remote forest community in the Jemez Mountains about 65 miles from Placitas.

County Commissioner James Dominguez, D-Bernalillo told the crowd that while he agreed with much of what he heard, he was present to support Mora. He also said he had multiple questions that needed answers before he could take a position on the issue.

Commissioner Jay Block, R-Rio Rancho, also attended and said he, too, needed more answers. To say now how he intended to vote would be inappropriate, he added.

The next step toward negotiating with Road Runner and UWS was to be on the February 16 County Commission agenda. Instead, the issue only came up during public comment when Ross Isaacson of Placitas questioned creating a trash-hauling monopoly.

"I've been with Road Runner for ten years, and I'm fine with that," he said. "I want to be able to decide who picks up my trash."

Commission Chairman Don Chapman, R-Rio Rancho, said he'd received "oodles of emails" on the subject, overwhelmingly from Placitas.

While awarding a franchise seemed on the fast track two months ago, the process has slowed down. County Manager Phil Rios told the Signpost his recommendation is for the commission to hold a workshop meeting on landfill revenue, the RFP, and public reaction.

"We wanted to hear from the public," Rios said. "We got what we wanted. I don't see a positive."

Solutions short of a single franchise could include letting contractors take over the convenience centers and raising the landfill tipping fee, an expense the residential haulers likely would pass on to their customers, he said.

Phil Rios

Sandoval County Manager Phil Rios speaks during a ceremony swearing in newly elected county officials in December, 2014.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

County Manager Rios announces retirement

~Bill Diven

After 26 years in public service, 38 if you add his time as an Air Force officer, Sandoval County Manager Phil Rios is moving on.

While his pending retirement was announced at the end of January, Rios made the decision not long after his older brother died from an illness in November. He planned to retire late in 2017, he said at a December meeting in Bernalillo.

After the meeting, he told the Signpost that he decided it was time he and his wife Cindy, who retired two years ago, began to simply enjoy life. He later moved up the retirement date to the end of March but was persuaded by county commissioners for a better transition, but against the wishes of his wife, to hang on until the end of May.

"She's ready to go see the grandkids," Rios said at the February 2 County Commission meeting. "It's important, at some point in your life, you have to go have fun before it's too late."

Rios has worked for the county since 1999 as community services director and public works director before becoming county manager in April, 2011. He took the top job after the commission voted to fire the previous manager over his role in a tax dispute involving Intel Corporation's Rio Rancho computer-chip plant.

"When Phil came in, there were serious things to get done," Commission Chairman Don Chapman said. "He helped straighten things out."

Commissioner Kenneth Eichwald of Cuba thanked Rios on behalf of the acequia districts and rural communities. "He never forgot us."

And Commissioner James Dominguez, who took office two years ago, called Rios a stand-up guy who helped a novice official learn the ways of government. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart," Dominguez said.

During the February 2 meeting, commissions voted to amend Rios's latest three-year contract to end two years early. The vote was 4-1 with Commissioner Jay Block casting a token no vote.

"You are leaving Sandoval County better than you found it," Block said.

Rios became emotional as he thanked the commissioners for the trust they had placed in him. Rios added he will miss the people he's worked with in and out of government, even the contentious ones.

"We've always been able to talk," he added. "I think that what I leave is some tremendous employees who really care about Sandoval County."

Before joining the county, Rios served nine years as the village administrator in Corrales. He also spent more than 12 years in the Air Force, reaching the rank of captain before returning to college to earn a Masters of Business Administration degree.

Voters OK school bonds, oust BPS board president

~Signpost Staff

Voters in the Bernalillo Public Schools (BPS) district narrowly returned one board of education member to office and also, by a wide margin, elected Jodilyn Ortiz from Placitas to the seat held by board president Gilbert Lucero of Algodones.

BPS voters by a more than 8-1 margin approved spending up to $18.5 million on school projects over the next four years while a $2.2 million bond in the Jemez Valley Public Schools district passed with three no votes out of 271 cast.

The only other incumbent defeated during the February 7 election was Pamela Cayaditto who finished third in a three-way race in the Cuba Independent Schools district.

"I hope I can help the kids and do a good job," Ortiz said. "I'm looking forward to working with the communities and engaging with parents."

One focus, now that the new Bernalillo High School is finished, will be spreading the bond money out to needs around the district, she added. Ortiz's now adult children both attended Placitas Elementary School where she was active in the parent-teacher organization and volunteered at the school.

Ortiz outpolled Lucero in the Placitas precincts by 47 votes while Lucero's lead in Algodones was 24 votes. She previously ran unsuccessfully in the June Democratic primary challenging Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales.

In the other BPS contest, incumbent board member Isaac Herrera of Cochiti Pueblo defeated Merlinda Latoma of San Felipe Pueblo 70-68. Board member Olivia Calabaza of Santo Domingo Pueblo gathered 183 votes while running unopposed.

The winners take office for four-year terms effective March 1, 2017.

In the Jemez Valley Public Schools district Mary Bridget Maloney and Anthony Delgarito were returned to office without opposition. No one filed for the open seat on the board.

In Cuba, incumbent Taylor Pinto outscored Wally Toledo 21-12 while Elizabeth Martin tallied 42 votes in defeating Cheryl Chavez, 32 votes, and incumbent Pamela Cayaditto, 22 votes.

In Rio Rancho Public Schools district, Catherine Jeanette Cullen ran unopposed while incumbent Martha Janssen defeated William Dunn 93-90. Wynne Coleman won the open seat on the board with 265 votes defeating Natalie Nicotine, 236 votes, and Margretta Franklin, 70 votes.

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