Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

Up Front

Mayor Swisstack with volunteers

Mayor Swisstack and volunteers


Lots of decadent desserts


More than 50 volunteers, including many Rio Rancho city officials such as Mayor Thomas E. Swisstack and Rio Rancho Department of Public Service Spokesman John Francis, give up part of their holiday to serve the meal on Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving under the Golden Arches

—Margaret M. Nava

Thanksgiving is the day when the mouthwatering fragrances of roasted turkey, sage stuffing, candied yams, freshly baked bread, and homemade pumpkin pie fill the air. In olden days, this was a day of giving thanks for a bountiful harvest. Nowadays, friends and family gather together to catch up on each other’s lives, eat too much food, watch some football, and fall asleep on the couch while their kids chase each other around the yard, play video games, and terrorize the family dog.

But what about those people who don’t have a friend or family’s house to go to, who have to work that day, or who don’t know how to cook a turkey? Do they just sit home and pop a TV dinner into the microwave or heat up a can of turkey noodle soup? They don’t if they’re anywhere near the McDonald’s restaurant on Highway 528 and Peggy Road in Rio Rancho.

For the last sixteen years, McDonald’s owner Julian Garza has teamed up with the Felician Franciscan Sisters who sponsor the St. Felix Pantry on Barbara Loop to provide a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to anyone who is alone, needs food, or just wants a place to go to on Thanksgiving Day. Last year, approximately 375 meals, plus an unknown number of take-out meals, were served. The meals consisted of hot turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, peas and carrots, hot rolls, and lots of decadent desserts. The amazing thing is it was all free.

According to Sister Mary Edna Esquibel, president of St. Felix Pantry, “The seventeen year tradition of St. Felix Pantry and our neighboring McDonald’s working together to do something for those who find themselves alone on Thanksgiving was a joint inspiration of St. Felix Pantry’s founder Sister Mary Genevieve Ryskiewicz (now retired) and Mr. Julian Garza. Sister Genevieve came to Rio Rancho in 1976 and started a mini St. Felix Pantry in the convent garage. Later, the pantry was moved to the two large buildings it now occupies on Barbara Loop.

In 1994, Mr. Garza approached Sister Genevieve about doing something special for people in need on Thanksgiving. She went along with him, and ever since, he has donated all the drinks, paper goods, and silverware used at the dinner.”

Last year, Mr. Garza told a Rio Rancho Observer reporter, “It warms my heart that so many people can come to my restaurant and receive fellowship and food. The sisters at the pantry really do a wonderful job and need to be supported in the community. This is only one of the events that they do. They continue on a daily basis to… feed the poor.”

The pantry newsletter states, “St. Felix Pantry was born of a love for the poor and an incessant need to feed the hungry. Officially categorized as a nonprofit, charitable organization that distributes food and clothing to the needy, the pantry consistently demonstrates that it is much more. It is a living, breathing body of many hearts and hands dedicated to serving and lifting up our brothers and sisters in need.”

Although the majority of food for the Thanksgiving dinner is prepared in advance by pantry staff members, more than 50 volunteers, including many Rio Rancho city officials such as Mayor Thomas E. Swisstack and Rio Rancho Department of Public Service Spokesman John Francis, give up part of their holiday to serve the meal on Thanksgiving Day. “We usually run two shifts,” says Sister Mary Edna. “Some people serve, some clean up, others make sure everything keeps running smoothly. It’s all very festive, and everyone seems happy just to be there. It’s like we’re one great big family.”

In addition to the Thanksgiving dinner, in past years the Felician Sisters have also sponsored an annual Polish dinner every January in the Father D’Arco Hall of St. Thomas Aquinas Church on Sara Road. In order to appeal to more palates, the menu this coming January will be expanded to include Italian and Southwestern foods. As in previous years, there will also be live music, dancing, raffles, and lots of socializing. Tickets for this event must be purchased before the dinner and are available from the Felician Sisters’ Convent on Meadowlark Lane, St. Felix Pantry on Barbara Loop, or the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish office.

The Thanksgiving dinner (no tickets or reservations) will be served from 10:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the McDonald’s restaurant at 1390 Rio Rancho Drive, just north of Meadowlark Lane in Rio Rancho. Although not required, donations to St. Felix Pantry will be appreciated. For more information about the dinner or volunteering to help out, contact St. Felix Pantry at (505) 891-8075. They are easiest to reach Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. until noon. And, if you’re in the neighborhood on Thanksgiving Day, drop in, grab a cup of coffee and piece of pumpkin pie, and make some new friends under the Golden Arches, where everyone is welcome.

Old Sandoval County Courthouse

Sandoval County Line

—Orlando J. Lucero, Chairman, Sandoval County Commission

The “Old” County Courthouse, 711 Camino del Pueblo, on the main street of Bernalillo, was built in 1928 and remodeled several times over the past seven decades. In the late 1940s during one of the remodeling projects, it was discovered that the land where the courthouse lies belonged to the federal government, so the at-large congressman petitioned to have the land transferred. For whatever reason, several years passed before the federal government transferred title to the county. The building is currently being updated and soon will have new occupants.

District Attorney Lemuel L. Martinez, whose district includes Cibola, Sandoval, and Valencia counties, will be the primary occupant in the building. The D.A.’s Sandoval county office employs 15 attorneys, seven administrative support staff, and 16 professionals, including investigators, victim advocates, and other related services. The district attorney will be on the second and third floors of the building, with a receptionist on the first floor. The main entrance for the D.A. will be on the west side of the building. 

Another current occupant of the building, the county’s DWI Prevention and Substance Abuse Program, is on the first floor (east side entrance) and will continue to serve the community from this location. The mission of the program is to reduce DWI crashes and fatalities, to decrease alcohol-related repeat offenses, and to provide culturally specific prevention and intervention efforts that best meet the needs of the offender. The staff works with schools and community groups throughout the county to foster prevention and education and to provide information on the harmful effects of alcohol and tobacco use and the benefits of healthy living. They work in collaboration with law enforcement to reduce automobile accidents by funding DWI blitz events, warrant busts, and sponsoring and providing literature at community events. The program works closely with the four school districts in the county and has a strong focus on prevention, especially with teenagers. There is collaboration with other programs, such as 4-H and other groups, which provide youth with alternatives and constructive behavior options.

The Sandoval County Extension Office will also be housed at 711 Camino del Pueblo. This program is operated by New Mexico State University (NMSU). Master Gardener training is one of their primary programs. Master gardeners provide local residents with information and on-site expertise on soil issues, insect control, gardening-related problem analysis, and much more. The extension service also works on community projects such as landscaping medians, community garden plots, helping gardeners with abundant harvests to connect with community-based food distribution programs, and similar social programs. Livestock, animal care information, and consultations are also available. The Sandoval County Extension Office has a large library of reference materials for residents interested in our soil and climate conditions, plus how-to booklets on canning, baking, and other resource materials. The extension service plans to offer more classes at this new location.

The county applied and received a federal stimulus grant to retrofit the lighting to a greener and more efficient system. To prevent heat or cooling losses, vestibules in the west and east-side entrances of the building are being built. The building did not have hot running water, so these funds will be used to install point of contact water heaters. Of course, the building will be painted and cleaned. Given the variety of programs being housed in the building, the county is installing a camera and access control system. There will also be physical separation between the D.A., the DWI program, and the extension service office.

As the county commissioner whose district includes downtown Bernalillo, I am working with staff to assure that the remodeling program is on schedule. Our goal is to have the building ready for full occupancy by the end of this calendar year. I am certain that our new tenants will bring new customers to the local businesses.

ESCAFCA candidates debate projects, taxes

—Orin Safier

The three candidates for the East Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (ESCAFCA) board of directors held a candidates forum on September 30 at the Placitas Community Center. It was hosted by the Placitas and Sandoval Chambers of Commerce and moderated by the League of Women Voters. The candidates are Doris Faust and JoAnn English from Placitas, and Debbie Kilfoy, the incumbent, from Bernalillo. On November 2, voters in Algodones, Placitas, and parts of Bernalillo will vote for two of these candidates to fill two seats on the board.

The existence and business of ESCAFCA have been widely controversial ever since property owners received their tax bills in 2009, which included mil levies for ESCAFCA far in excess of what had been promised. Newly appointed director Bob Gorrell has attempted to institute reforms that would bring more transparency and rationality to the fiscal and administrative workings of the authority.

All the candidates agreed that ideally the Sandoval County government should be handling flood control issues in unincorporated areas. Kilfoy said, however, that the county either lacks the resources or has no desire to deal with these issues. Though we can complain that another agency should not be necessary, if a catastrophic flood event were to occur, and we were unprepared for it, then it would be cold comfort to blame the county. English and Faust would work instead to have the county take the major responsibility for flood and drainage issues because the county has far more taxing authority, qualified personnel, and other resources than ESCAFCA will ever have.

The candidates were asked what they consider the single major flood control project to be in the ESCAFCA area. English and Faust both identified the recertification and possible rebuilding of the Rio Grande levees in Bernalillo. English said that a levee breach there during a major flood event could be catastrophic for Bernalillo. Both Faust and English said that a quantitative cost/benefit analysis should be done to determine if this project is worthwhile and feasible, and if so, the majority of ESCAFCA’s efforts and funds should be directed towards that project. Kilfoy, however, does not consider the Rio Grande at Bernalillo to be in danger of major flooding. It has held through all the years, she said, and has dams upstream to control flooding. FEMA does not agree, however, as it has judged the lack of certification for the present levees to place considerable portions of Bernalillo within the floodplain, resulting in high insurance premiums for property owners. 

Kilfoy believes that the single most important project for ESCAFCA is the Las Huertas Creek in Placitas. Some damage has been done to private property due to flooding there, and there are underground and exposed gas pipelines that might rupture during a flood event. English and Faust acknowledged that a portion of Camino de las Huertas was washed out in 2006, but said that road building and maintenance is the responsibility of the County Public Works Department, not a separate flood control authority. Also, the companies that own the pipelines and the state agency that regulates pipeline safety should be primarily responsible for these safety issues.

A property owner in the ESCAFCA area paid four times the amount of tax for flood control than did an Albuquerque owner with the same assessed value and two times as much as a Rio Rancho owner. The candidates were asked how that greater tax burden could be justified. Kilfoy said that there is a smaller tax base for ESCAFCA, so more taxes are required of each individual property owner. Faust said that this does not justify such high taxes. There needs to be far more cooperation on projects from the county, which has a broader taxing authority. English said that one main reason for the high tax rate is that ESCAFCA officials decided on a tax rate that would cover $18 million in bonds over a long period, rather than just the $6 million of bonds that were voted on in 2008. This was not adequately disclosed to the voters. If ESCAFCA revises its borrowing plans, and especially if it does not add to the $3 million bond debt that it presently has, then taxes could be lowered significantly in 2011/2012.

How can ESCAFCA reestablish the trust it lost when it misled the voters about tax rates in the last election? English said that the board needs to apologize to the voters, and that she will work to lower the rates. Faust said that she will work to bring more transparency to ESCAFCA business, as well as greater fiscal responsibility. Kilfoy said that she does not know why the misleading figures were given to the voters. She and others on the ESCAFCA board were misled, along with the voters.

An analysis of the tax payments from the three areas covered by ESCAFCA, done by Placitas resident Steve Barro, estimated that 9-10 percent came from Algodones, 21 percent from Bernalillo, and 69-70 percent from Placitas. Is it fair for Placitas to pay the lion’s share, when the bulk of ESCAFCA projects are outside Placitas? English said that fairness is not the issue. Each director is a member at large and works for all the communities in the ESCAFCA area. Faust said that Placitas residents want to be good neighbors, but ESCAFCA needs to maximize the project funds from government agencies, such as the Army Corps of Engineers, so that the burden does not fall so heavily on individual property owners. Kilfoy said that this was how the state legislature set up ESCAFCA, that voters approved the $6 million in bonds, and that there needs to be a sense of community.

If a new bond issue is up for vote two years from now, will voters approve it? Kilfoy said that they will. All the major complaints about ESCAFCA, she said, have come from a small but vocal group, but most people in the area are pro-ESCAFCA. Faust and English strongly disagreed. The recent vote on the bond for the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District was defeated by a wide margin. This indicates that voters now negatively view this type of bond issue. It is not just a small disgruntled group that is unhappy with the recent tax increases and how they have been justified.





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