Bond issue vote to expand county jail
Director, Sandoval County Detention Center
A critical public-safety issue before voters in the November 5 election brings together two seemingly diverse groups: property owners and people charged with crimes. It also is a concern of long-lasting importance to all county residents.
Sandoval County has a critical need for additional jail cells. About thirty-five more cells are needed now and 160 more will be needed over the next few years. The mood of residents to “get tough on crime,” and the county’s phenomenal growth are causing a large increase in the number of prisoners that are being held in the County Detention Center. In fact, the county currently is holding more prisoners today than studies projected we would be housing by the year 2008—six years from now.
The least costly way for taxpayers to solve the problem is by issuing a $7.5 million general obligation bond that must be approved by voters. That would pay to build 160 more jail cells and expand common facilities. If voters pass the bond issue, property taxes for the next twenty years will be increased by $14.36 a year, based on a home valued at $100,000.
“Renting” jail space elsewhere—the only other alternative we have—would cost taxpayers about $1 million a year for the thirty-five cells we need now or almost $4 million annually for the 160 cells we will need over the next few years. Renting beds would require the county either drastically cut services to all county residents or increase property taxes by as much as $51.20 a year, again based on a home valued at $100,000. Briefly stated, we can build secure cells for far less than the cost of renting beds.
Do I have a vested interest in passing the bond issue? Absolutely, and for more reasons than most people!
I am a county property owner and, either way, my taxes will have to increase to house more prisoners—either by $14.36 a year for the general obligation bond to build more cells or by almost four times that amount to pay for rental of cells. Secondly, I live in Rio Rancho just across NM 528 from where the county jail has been located for many years, and, like all residents, I want it to be as secure and risk-free as possible. Finally, I run the jail, a facility that is recognized as a model for efficiency and safety, and I am responsible for the safety and welfare of officers, inmates and the public.
Jail overcrowding is a severe threat to public safety. Too many prisoners in too little space also increase dangers to detention officers and civilian staff. Overcrowding results in a higher risk of disturbances, assaults, suicides, and escapes, all of which expose county taxpayers to costly liability. State and federal laws also require Sandoval County to provide adequate space for prisoners. Otherwise, the courts will become involved in jail operations, increasing the costs and possibly ordering the early release of prisoners.
To help hold down the costs of our jail, Sandoval County entered into an agreement in 1992 with the federal government. Under that agreement, the Department of Justice pays Sandoval County about $2 million a year, or about 60 percent of the total cost to operate the jail. In exchange for that federal money, we provide secure housing for up to eighty federal pretrial detainees, or about one-third of the jail’s average daily population. That contract has saved county taxpayers $22.2 million in the past decade and will continue saving residents at least another $20 million over the next ten years.
The bond issue to pay for this needed expansion of the Sandoval County Detention Center appears as the last item on the ballot for the November 5 General Election. If I can provide any additional information regarding the importance of the bond question and how it affects public safety, please call me at 867-5339.
Library book bonds on November 5 ballot
Director Rio Rancho Public Library
There will be two library bond measures on the November 5 ballot that affect people’s access to books and other library materials and technology. Sandoval County voters will consider Bond #1, which authorizes $2 million dollars to upgrade library collections at the county’s 13 public libraries. Bond #1 funds will be distributed to the thirteen public libraries in the county on a per capita basis. The money will be spent over a 4-year period, beginning in July 2003.
The Bond #1 funds can be spent on books, CD’s, videos and other library media, automated systems upgrades, computers, digital information resources, and facilities enhancements.
According the Tommy Hughes, Sandoval County bond attorney, Bond #1 will not raise property taxes, since it replaces an older bond that is being retired. If Bond #1 does not pass, property owners may see their tax reduced by up to $6.60 per year for a home with a fair market value to $100,000.
The Sandoval County Library Bonds were first passed in 1994, then again in 1998. These bonds have been the primary source of funds to purchase books and technology for the county’s libraries since July 1995. Since that time, book circulation at the Rio Rancho Public Library, which is the largest in the county, rose from 191,000 books per year (1994/95) to close to 442,000 books per year (2001/2002). Close to half of Rio Rancho’s book circulation are children’s books. Rio Rancho’s book circulation continues to grow at a rapid rate, as does use of the library’s in-house public Internet stations and on-line resources.
State Bond “C” on the November ballot authorizes $16 million dollars to be spent for books in New Mexico public school libraries, technology and collection upgrades for our public libraries, and materials for college and university libraries. A taskforce appointed by the New Mexico State Legislature found that over 70 percent of books in science, history, social studies, computers, and geography used in New Mexico public school libraries were published before 1990. G.O. Bond “C” is designed to address this problem. The last state G.O. bond for library books was in 1994.
New Mexico public libraries can use these funds for books or digital information technology access, Internet stations and other technology.
If all five state bonds on the ballot pass, State G.O. Bond “C” will raise property taxes for a home with a fair market value of $100,000 by $1.95 per year. Both Sandoval County Library Bond #1 and State Library Bond “C” will appear at the end of the ballot on November 5th. Because this will be a long ballot, voters are urged to take advantage of early voting at the Sandoval County Courthouse in Bernalillo, beginning September 26.
For further information, please contact Library Director Toni Beatty at 896-8817.
Judging your judges
When voters go to the polls on November 5 they will decide the future of eighty judges throughout the state of New Mexico. Unfortunately, as most voters know nothing about these judges or their performance, they may make uniformed decisions that have significant consequences.
The Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission was established in 1997 by the Supreme Court of New Mexico to provide judges with information to help them improve their professional skills as judicial officers and to provide useful, credible information to New Mexico voters on judges standing for retention elections.
This fall sixty district court judges, sixteen metropolitan court judges, two court of appeals judges, and two supreme court justices will run in retention elections. Felix Briones Jr., an attorney in Farmington who chairs the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, says, “This is an objective evaluation process. We have gathered hundreds of surveys and interviewed the judges to prepare written summaries and make recommendations for or against retention, or no opinion.” Final narrative summaries and recommendations will be released no later than forty-five days in advance of the general election.
This statewide program is important to the state’s constitutional requirement that judges stand for retention election and receive at least 57 percent voter approval to remain in office. For information about the Judicial Performance Evaluation program, call Felix Briones, 325-0258; Louise Baca, 827-4960; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Secretary of State urges voters
to study ballot questions
New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron is urging voters to access the website at www.sos.state.nm.us for a complete list of all candidates and questions on the November 5 general election ballot. The complete list as well as position statements for and against the Constitutional Amendment and General Obligation Bonds are available to educate voters.
“As taxpayers we will all be affected by the outcome of these questions. It is also extremely important to study these issues prior to election day to avoid unnecessary delays at the polls,” Vigil-Giron said.
The general election ballot will also list judges running for retention. Voters will vote yes or no for retention of the judges. Internet sites are available at most local libraries. Voters without internet access can call the Office of the Secretarty of State at 1-800-477-3632 to receive information by mail.