An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

YAFLYA Cheerleaders

Four-year-old Gabrielle Varela and her colleagues from the Bernalillo Spartan YAFL YA Cheerleaders prepare to show Sandoval County Commissioners their award-winning technique. The 16 girls, ages 4-14, won first places for cheering and best stunt in recent state competition. Commissioners rewarded the team members with official certificates recognizing their accomplishments.


U.S. Forest Service considers land exchange near Placitas

The T'uf Shur Bien Preservation Trust Area Act of 2003 directs the Secretary of Interior to prepare and offer a land exchange of National Forest lands outside the area and contiguous to the northern boundary of the pueblo’s reservation within sections 10, 11, and 14 of T12N, R4E, N.M.P.M., Sandoval County, excluding wilderness land, for lands owned by the pueblo in the Evergreen Hills subdivision in Sandoval County contiguous to National Forest land, and the La Luz tract in Bernalillo County.

The Forest Service is presently considering whether lands specified in a proposal submitted by Sandia Pueblo fall within the appropriate rules and regulations for such an exchange. USFS property specialist John Bruin told the Signpost that the exchange process could take up to three years and will include a period of public comment specified by the National Environmental Policy Act. Bruin said that the USFS is trying to consolidate public lands through exchanges such as this.

The national forest is a popular hiking area just south of the S-curves in Placitas. The public process should make clear what effect this exchange will have on public access and future development.


Rep. McCoy assigned to impeachment committee

Representative Kathy McCoy (R-Cedar Crest/Placitas) has been named to a select committee to begin the impeachment process against state treasurer Robert Vigil.

McCoy is one of ten members of the bipartisan subcommittee of the House Rules Committee. The committee is to develop impeachment procedures and determine whether probable cause exists for presenting articles of impeachment against Vigil, who, along with former state Treasurer Michael Montoya, was arrested September 16 on federal extortion charges.

“I’ve received calls from constituents ranging from rage to resignation that this is the way we operate in New Mexico,” McCoy said in a written statement.

“We must resolve this in a manner that restores public confidence in state government. Our committee was designed to deal with impeachment in a deliberative, nonpartisan way,” she continued. “The public should know that we are treading on uncharted territory and that we are intensely aware of the absolute necessity to get it right the first time—not only for this particular case, but in the event that it reoccurs in the future.”
The committee will report back to the full House by the end of the special session, and is scheduled to issue a report by October 27 for the new October 28 session.


Bernalillo Farmers Market

Three generations of the Juanico family, of San Felipe pueblo—(left to right) Simon, Aaron, and Dominic—display white corn, ristras, and other produce at one of the last Bernalillo farmers' markets for the season. The proposed Cottonwood Ranch subdivision would punch through the trees in the background to create a new intersection on Bernalillo's main street, Camino del Pueblo.

Bernalillo council rejects Wallen subdivision despite P&Z recommendation

—BILL DIVEN
Bernalillo town councilors have rejected a plan to put a suburban-style subdivision on a venerable piece of downtown farmland.

Councilors hearing a citizens' appeal voted unanimously to overturn a Planning and Zoning Commission decision approving the Cottonwood Ranch subdivision. Wallen Builders had proposed the thirty-three-lot project, which includes a new intersection in what is now the 300 block of Camino del Pueblo.
Despite the denial, the council made clear Wallen is welcome to try again after it addresses access and density issues.

“My recommendation is that we uphold the appeal not because I want to say no right down the line and we can't work with this,” Mayor Charles Aguilar said. “Wallen has worked with us I the past.

“I would hate to see the day we just fit something in, squeeze it in and we're only concerned about money.”

Wallen planned to wrap the homes around a cul-de-sac tied to Camino del Pueblo, several lots south of El Zócalo and across from vacant land used by the Bernalillo Farmers’ Market. The plan included dedicating space at the back of its property for a future north-south road paralleling the BNSF Railway.

Town planning director Kelly Moe later said the vote was only the first or second time in his two and a half years in Bernalillo that the council has rejected a recommendation from its P&Z commissioners.

Typical of farmland passed down and divided over generations, the Wallen tract is long and narrow, stretching from Camino del Pueblo, Bernalillo's main street, to an irrigation ditch at the back. The front four hundred feet, which Wallen plans to landscape rather than subdivide, falls within the style guidelines of the town's Main Street Overlay zone, while the zoning ordinance governs the rest of the property.

Neighbors appealing the P&Z approval said preserving their ditch access is an issue, as is traffic safety in the area used for the farmers’ market, church events, and the Bernalillo Wine Festival. Scott Green, whose business would be on the new corner, said the loss of 375 feet of parking on Camino del Pueblo would leave the large delivery trucks he needs no place to park.

“Why not show a little more creativity and develop a subdivision that fits into the community,” he said.

Moe told councilors Wallen's proposal was a suburban design and sketched out what he called a rural-style option with fewer houses. Instead of rounding a cul-de-sac, the homes all faced south, lining a street on the south edge of the property.

Each home had an oversized backyard extending to the north edge of the property and suitable for landscaping or small-scale agriculture to preserve the town's rural character, he said.

Moe's sketch located the proposed north-south road by the railroad differently than Wallen, although it still raised concerns about the irrigation ditch, water rights, and schoolchildren at nearby Roosevelt Elementary School. The town has had only preliminary discussions with the Bernalillo Public Schools about running a new north-south street past the school to Camino de la Escuela, he added.

Hank Axen, Wallen's director of land development and design, told councilors that reducing the density as suggested to twenty-two homes would drive the cost up from $165,000 to $250,000. The homes in Cottonwood Village sold out quickly, many going to Bernalillo residents, and a waiting list for Cottonwood Ranch already exceeds the initial thirty-three lots, according to Axen.

”We think the town has a need for more affordable housing,” Axen told councilors. Moe, however, suggested reducing the density could reduce other costs to keep the homes affordable.

Axen later said Wallen is working with the town to revise the subdivision in hopes of getting a new plan to the P&Z by the end of the year. It is too early in the process to say what revision will be included, he added.


Rebuilding of Tramway interchange may be followed by freeway improvements

—BILL DIVEN
Hot on the heels of overhauling the I-25 Tramway interchange comes word of how the state plans to widen I-25 from Tramway to Bernalillo.

With its study phase now complete, the New Mexico Department of Transportation announced it is moving ahead to design the new roadway, with construction tentatively set to begin in January 2007. The rebuilding of the Tramway interchange now underway is scheduled for completion in September 2006.

The recommended freeway improvements include adding a lane in each direction from Tramway to the North Bernalillo–US 550–NM 165 interchange. The southbound bridge over Sandia Wash would be replaced, although the northbound bridge still is being studied for possible repair, NMDOT said in a recent status report.

Under the heading of “value engineering,” the proposal includes a project theme for any landscaping or artistic touches. Choosing a theme is part of the design process.

The widened interstate would stay within its existing right-of-way across Sandia Pueblo and retain its open median from near Tramway for nearly five miles to north of Sandia Wash. From there northward the study suggests squeezing the lanes together, separated by a concrete barrier.

Also recommended is reducing the height of some hills to improve sight distances.

According to NMDOT, public comments adopted into the design ideas include extending the concrete median wall north from Tramway to prevent U-turns and reconfiguring the South Bernalillo Interchange to permitting exiting traffic to make legal U-turns under the freeway.

One thing the project does not do is upgrade the North Bernalillo interchange and the often snarled US 550–NM 165 overpass. That project remains under NMDOT study while the Mid-Region Council of Governments, currently updating its metro transportation plan, considers advancing it on the schedule of urban road projects.


Rep. Tom Udall in Bernalillo

Rep. Tom Udall, D-NM, listens to while ARS USA chief engineer Andy Polnicki points out features of the arsenic-removal system being tested in Bernalillo. Behind Udall is ARS president Norbert Barcena, of Placitas, who hopes to show electrically charged metal plates can collect naturally occurring arsenic from large volumes of running well water.

Rep. Udall finds Bernalillo arsenic-removal plan “promising”

—BILL DIVEN
The experiment to find a cheaper way to remove arsenic from groundwater in Bernalillo is poised to increase in scale and tie into the town water system.

Following certification by the National Sanitation Foundation and inspection by the state last month, ARS USA president Norbert Barcena of Placitas said his company's equipment could be tied into the municipal system as early as the last week of October. For the following month, ARS plans to gather data, as fifty thousand gallons a day flow from town well through ARS equipment and on to water customers.

Testing that has been ongoing since the equipment was installed next to a town well in April has used static vats well water rather than a continuous flow.

“The batch and intermittent testing was very positive for the most part, bringing the arsenic below a level of five (parts per billion),” Barcena told the Signpost.

For a few brief miles last month, Barcena had Representative Tom Udall (D-NM) as a captive audience as he explained the ARS technology during a bus ride from town hall to the well across the Rio Grande. Barcena said he plans to base ARS and its jobs in Bernalillo when the patented process moves from experimentation to manufacturing.

Udall, on a tour of his district, stopped first at Bernalillo Town Hall to hear about linking the town and Rio Rancho with light magnetic-levitation trains to route commuters around congested US 550 and to the commuter railroad to Albuquerque planned for startup later this year. Joining him on the bus ride were town councilors Marian Jaramillo and Ronnie Sisneros, town administrator Lester Swindle, and two itinerant journalists.

Town customers consume about two million gallons a day, Swindle said, and the town mixes water from two wells to reduce levels of naturally occurring arsenic. Two other wells with arsenic levels above fifty ppb have been shut down, he told Udall.

The federal government is imposing drinking-water standards reducing arsenic to ten ppb from the current fifty ppb. Under its new wastewater permit, Bernalillo faces even tougher standards for removing arsenic and other chemicals from effluent discharged to the Rio Grande, Swindle said.

The town has estimated it would cost $17 million to set up an arsenic-removal facility using existing technology that adds chemicals to the water, increasing operational, removal, and disposal costs. ARS is trying to make operational an electrolytic process in which arsenic bonds to electrically charged material that can then be removed, cleaned, and reused.

Udall called the technology interesting, promising, and potentially competitive. He also praised the commuter-rail venture and its hope of getting commuters out of their cars.
“With the cost of oil, the market is pushing us in that direction,” Udall said during a Signpost interview. “The government also should be pushing any way we can.

“I think the consumer is waking up.”


El Zócalo project in Bernalillo to be rebid

—BILL DIVEN
The first shot at rebuilding historic El Zócalo in Bernalillo misfired when an electrical subcontractor pulled out of the bidding process at the last minute.

An attempt to substitute another electrician failed in the face of higher bids and the restrictions of state purchasing laws, so the Sandoval County Commission rejected the bids at its October 6 meeting and told staff to start over.

The confusion began at the bid opening, after the subcontractor, working with two of the three bidders, withdrew his approximately $200,000 estimate but failed to notify one of his potential employers, according to the county's consulting architect. Low bidder Gemtech was allowed to look for a replacement electrician, but each of three offers received added at least $100,000 to the cost.

The attempt to salvage the process ended when county attorney David Mathews cited a section of the state procurement code prohibiting changes to bids after they are opened.

County planning director Mike Springfield told commissioners rebidding would take about forty-five days. And he again warned county commissioners about rising construction costs.

“Just a heads up,” he said. “The low bidder was $300,000 over the architect's estimate.

“It just keeps going up.”

The county's architect had estimated the first phase of renovating the former convent, high school, shop, and barn buildings at about $1.7 million. The county bought the three-acre property last year with the intent to upgrade the buildings and convert them to public uses.

Historically the site is remembered for the Sisters of Loretto convent, Our Lady of Sorrows high school, and extensive orchards.

William “Bill” Sapien

County Line—Property tax relief on the way

—WILLIAM SAPIEN, CHAIRMAN, SANDOVAL COUNTY COMMISSION
The post-Halloween goblins will be less frightful for property owners this year as tax bills being prepared by the county treasurer's office are offering “treats” rather than scares.
Property owners will receive tax bills in early November. The good news is property taxes for residents in most areas of Sandoval County will be lower. The only exception is the portion of Corrales that was not previously part of Bernalillo County. There, owners of property in the Village of Corrales will begin paying higher debt service that reflects voter-imposed bond tax initiatives.

Tax rates approved by the county commission on October 18 reflect the diligence of the commission, other elected officials, and the county's exceptional staff in continuing to improve services to residents while controlling costs to taxpayers.

Ongoing efforts by county assessor Rudy Casaus and his staff to get new construction on tax rolls as quickly as possible is definitely equalizing the tax burden among all residents. In the past year alone, more than $150 million of new construction has been added to county tax rolls.

Sandoval County is mailing about 110,000 tax bills, with a net taxable value of $1.792 billion. That critical component of property taxes is almost $203 million above last year, which reflects our staggering growth.

County treasurer Lorraine Dominguez is responsible for preparing and mailing tax bills. Then, Lorraine and her staff have the task of collecting the taxes imposed by all agencies within Sandoval County—cities, schools, the state, TVI, and such “specials” as improvement districts and flood-control agencies.
Only a small portion of the total taxes collected by Sandoval County—about twenty-five cents of each dollar—pays for county programs and services. The remaining 75 percent is transferred to the other taxing entities.

The tax levy allocated to Sandoval County government is the same no matter where you reside in the county—about $212 for a home valued at $100,000—or a staggering 35 percent lower than last year.

The total tax bill includes $41 that goes directly to the state, or 20 percent more than last year, again for a home valued at $100,000.

While the county and state tax rates remain the same throughout Sandoval County, other components of the bill vary from city to city, among school districts, and by other agencies. Those local variables are outside of the county's oversight and mean that actual bills, too, will vary from one area of Sandoval County to another.

Based on a home valued at $100,000, property taxes in Rio Rancho will be $992, or about $11 lower than last year, including TVI taxes of $101, where applicable. Taxes on the same-valued property outside Rio Rancho's city limits but still within the Rio Rancho School District will be $714, again including any applicable TVI tax. In Bernalillo, owners of a $100,000 home will see a tax bill of $729, or $10 less. Taxes on the same-valued home in Placitas or Algodones will be $642 or $12 less than last year.

In Jemez Springs, taxes on a $100,000 home will be $767, or a reduction of $22, while taxes on an identical-valued home in San Ysidro will be $812, or about $17 lower. Owners of a $100,000 home in the unincorporated areas of the Jemez Mountains will receive a bill for $637—a drop of $17—and home owners in Cuba will be billed $794, or a $5 reduction.

With the annexation of the southern portion of Corrales, taxes in that community, too, will vary by location. For a $100,000 home in the portion of Corrales that was in Sandoval County before January 1, taxes will be $739, or $36.27 more, including the village's increased voter-imposed debt service. In the south end of Corrales that previously was part of Bernalillo County, taxes will be $852, or a reduction of $109 from what they paid to Bernalillo County last year.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Sapien can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P.O. Box 40, Bernalillo, NM 87004.

 

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