An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988


“Canyon Storm,” by Arturo Chávez

“Canyon Storm,” 50”x80”, oil painting, by Arturo Chávez

Placitan Arturo Chávez takes top Western art award, again

Gerald Peters Gallery is pleased to announce that Arturo Chávez, represented in the Naturalism Department of the gallery, received the top award at the nationally juried Western Artists of America Exhibition on August 25, 2007, at the Hubbard Museum of the American West in Ruidoso, New Mexico. For the second consecutive year, Chávez was awarded the most prestigious award, the Best of Show, for a 50”x80”painting of the Grand Canyon, entitled “Canyon Storm.” [See cover art, this Signpost.] The award, sponsored by R.D. and Joan Dale Hubbard, includes a $5,000 cash prize. Additionally, Chávez was awarded a gold medal in the oil painting category.

Maria Hajic, Director of the Naturalism Department at Gerald Peters Gallery said, “Arturo Chávez is the only New Mexico-based artist out of the thirty artists represented in the Naturalism Department. Chávez is well known to local audiences for his monumental western landscapes, and we are proud to represent his work. I am glad to see Chávez gaining more national recognition.”

The show includes approximately one-hundred-twenty pieces of artwork, including oil paintings, watercolors, pencil sketches, and bronze sculptures. In addition to the Best of Show award, gold, silver, and bronze medal awards were judged in all media. The Hubbard is a Smithsonian-affiliated museum. The show will be on exhibit at the Hubbard Museum of the American West through October 14.

For more information, visit www.arturochavez.com or contact Jay Smith at the Hubbard Museum of the American West at (505) 378-4142.

ESCAFCA announces public meetings to present preliminary needs assessment

The recently-formed Eastern Sandoval County Flood Control Authority has performed a needs assessment to address flooding, poor drainage, soil erosion, and soil movement in the Bernalillo, Placitas, Algodones areas. ESCAFCA will be conducting three workshops to present the results of the Preliminary Needs Assessment and solicit input from the general public.

These meetings will be from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the following locations:

• Algodones Elementary School Gymnasium, 1395 Calle SanJose, Algodones, October 2

• Las Placitas Presbyterian Church, 7 Paseo de San Antonio, Placitas, Wednesday, October 3

• Bernalillo Town Council Chambers, 829 Camino del Pueblo, Bernalillo, Thursday October 4

The Preliminary Needs Assessment is available at www.townofbernalillo.org. For more information call Kevin at 830-5418.

A number of controversial issues surrounding ESCAFCA are presented in an editorial on page 31, this Signpost.

Sandoval Broadband reports progress

—TY BELKNAP
Sandoval County Information Technology Director Michael Hoag told the Signpost on September 19 that the controversial Sandoval Broadband had made significant progress since the County Commission breathed new life into the floundering project in July by agreeing to invest another $1.1 million.

Hoag said that Sandoval Broadband had “turned up” the wireless signal from downtown Albuquerque to the County’s administrative center at the courthouse. “We rebuilt the infrastructure from the ground up. We are using wireless Internet and have one of the better networks around,” he explained.

The County has published a requisition for proposals (RFP) in the Albuquerque Journal and the Rio Rancho Observer seeking contractors to build a “backbone” from Albuquerque to Cuba. They are planning a systematic approach to the acquisition of towers and radios—installed within a system of checkpoints and milestones—that would make the delivery of one hundred megabits of broadband achievable. It is estimated that the system would cost about $1.1 million to buy and $16,000 a month to operate. From the backbone, Internet service providers from the private sector could theoretically bring high speed wireless Internet service to all parts of the county.

“We want to notify the entire industry and get as much response as possible—both locally and worldwide,” Hoag said. “We will look for proposals dealing with the technical architecture of the program, the business model, time frame, maintenance, support, and price.” The RFP can be viewed online at www.sandovalcounty.com.

County officials are determined to go ahead with the project despite the fact that over the past two years, progress has been slowed by questionable management, lack of oversight by the County Commission, and possible fraudulent dealings with entrepreneurs and contractors. State Auditor Hector Balderas has been conducting a special audit for nearly a year that reveals problems with the project that now require a special forensic audit to determine if the problems involve criminal activity.

Scott Akrie of Netlogix—a company hired by the County to review and evaluate the feasibility of the project—presented his company’s findings to the Commission. He said that of the $1.2 million paid to the Dandin Group to build a system “backbone” to provide a broadband signal from Albuquerque to Cuba, the County had only a $1,000 radio to show for it. The rest was “vaporware” and did not exist. The County is working with legal specialists to sue the Dandin Group for fraud and breach of contract.

Hoag heads a recently formed five-person oversight committee consisting of experts from UNM, Intel, and Cisco. He said that the committee will be involved in the entire life cycle of the project, not just the building of a backbone. The project aims to provide Internet service and is already involved in programs to improve health care and education in even the most remote areas of the county. Last month, Congresswoman Heather Wilson said that she is making progress in securing $200,000 in federal funds for the telemedicine part of the project.

In order to avoid the problem of “vaporware,” Hoag said, “The County will procure all equipment, tag it, and distribute it. We’ll take an active role in the installation and maintenance of the signal.”

Bridge collapse injures two

County spokesman Gayland Bryant said that the collapse of a bridge over the normally dry Rio Puerco injured two women early on the morning of September 2. The bridge was being renovated by the county when it was undercut by floodwaters and fell about ten feet.

Ironically, Bryant said, after the bridge disaster in Minnesota, all county bridges were inspected and deemed safe. The bridge is on County Road 279 just off US 550. Residents of Torreon and San Luis must find alternative routes until construction is completed, probably by the end of October. They can drive past the landmark El Cabezon and drive gravel roads to San Ysidro or take a one-hour detour north to Cuba. If the Rio Puerco is not flooding, residents can drive on a temporary dirt road through the arroyo.

Bryant stated, “We realize that this is inconvenient for residents, and the county will fix the bridge as quickly as possible.”

BLM Resource Management Plan soon to be updated

—LAS PLACITAS ASSOCIATION
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is planning to issue an updated Resource Management Plan (RMP) in October of this year that will include five thousand acres to the north and east of Placitas. The BLM issues updated RMPs infrequently — approximately every twenty to thirty years, so it presents a real opportunity for input into how we want the land to be used. This process gives interested groups and individuals an opportunity to have their opinions heard. The BLM expects to have the updated RMP approved in 2011. The five thousand acres near Placitas is a part of the Rio Puerco Management District, which includes approximately five million acres.

According to BLM sources, there are many competing interests for our five thousand acres. These include residential development, mining interests, a possible energy corridor, livestock grazing, and all-terrain vehicle use. The advocates of these interests will be active in pursuit of their goals, so it is important for those in Placitas who want to preserve open space to also use this opportunity to speak out now.

The BLM will hold public meetings in our area and is open to written comment by interested groups. A representative of the BLM will meet with groups who request such a meeting. This outreach to the public is termed the “scoping process.” BLM is required by law to consider the public input gathered through the scoping process when making their land use decisions, so public participation makes an impact.

It is important that the residents of Placitas participate in the decision-making process. Las Placitas Association will be presenting a written plan to the BLM. The association favors conservation-oriented land uses that stress open space, wildlife habitat, low-impact recreational use, and watershed health. Las Placitas Association will be sending a mailing to the residents of Placitas seeking input so that we can speak for our community.

Needless to say, this is a unique and wonderful opportunity to speak up to preserve the rural character of our community, including the quiet and dark skies that are so important here. We at Las Placitas Association look forward to a robust response to our mailing and a large attendance at the public meetings.

NM Wine Festival draws record crowds

Bernalillo’s Twentieth Annual New Mexico Wine Festival broke records with an estimated attendance of twenty-seven-thousand people. The festival, held for three days over the Labor Day weekend, seems to get more popular every year.

Town of Bernalillo community development director Maria Rinaldi credited the Rail Runner special weekend service for part of this year’s success. “The train brought people from the entire Albuquerque metropolitan area,” she said. “Imagine what it will be like when the Rail Runner goes to Santa Fe in a couple years. The wine festival is becoming a real Bernalillo tradition.”

The festival has not only helped to put Bernalillo on the map, but it is also an economic boon to the area. Rinaldi said that the town benefits from gross receipts taxes collected at the festival, and that area restaurants and shops also see a huge increase in business. “Local entrepreneurs like people who provide parking also benefit,” she added. “Cheerleaders sell bottled water as one of several fundraisers. We try to make the festival better every year.”

County Line—Property tax rates

—DON LEONARD, CHAIRMAN, SANDOVAL COUNTY COMMISSION
As a property owner, I know the “sticker shock” that occurs with the arrival of the annual property tax bills. In Sandoval County, however, property owners will see lower tax rates for all areas but one when the dreaded tax bills start arriving in early November.

Lower property tax rates were approved by the County Commission on September 13 and reflect the diligence of the Commission and County staff to continue improving services to residents while also controlling costs to taxpayers.

The sole exception to the across-the-County drop in tax rates is in my community of Corrales. There, tax rates will be higher to pay increased bond debt for voter-approved initiatives—tax increases that voters approved to fund projects both for the Village and for APS, the school district serving Corrales.

We all know homeowners who readily cite dramatic increases in their properties’ values of ten percent or more each year. Yet, increases in home values for tax purposes are limited to increases of no more than three percent annually, regardless of escalating higher market values. In that regard, while tax rates are lower, property owners in some areas may see slight increases in their total tax bill due to the escalating value of their property.

Sandoval County is mailing about one-hundred-ten-thousand tax bills with a net taxable value of $2.869 billion. That increase of $875.5 million in a critical component of property taxes reflects our County’s staggering growth. It also mirrors the diligent, ongoing efforts of County Assessor Rudy Casaus and his staff to get new construction on tax rolls as quickly as possible and equitably assess tax values of non-residential property and vacant land on market conditions.

County Treasurer Lorraine Dominguez is preparing and mailing tax bills. Then, the Treasurer is responsible for collecting taxes imposed by all agencies in Sandoval County—cities, schools, the state, CNM, and such “specials” as improvement districts and flood control agencies. Only a small portion of the total taxes collected by Sandoval County—about twenty cents of each dollar—pays for County programs and services, with most of the taxes—about eighty cents of each dollar paid—going directly to school districts, municipal governments, and other taxing entities.

The tax rate allocated to Sandoval County government is the same no matter where you reside in the County—about $193 for a home valued at $100,000—or $16 less than last year. An additional $41 is paid to the state.

Other components of the bill will vary from city to city, among school districts, and by other agencies. While those local variables are beyond the County Commission’s oversight, they do mean that tax bills, too, will vary from one area of Sandoval County to another.

In Rio Rancho, based on a home valued at $100,000, property taxes will be $954, or about $21 less than last year. Taxes on the same-valued property outside Rio Rancho’s city limits but still within the Rio Rancho School District will be $688, also about $21 less. In Bernalillo, owners of a $100,000 home will see a tax bill of $709 or $19 less, while taxes on an equally-valued home in Placitas or Algodones will be $621 or $17 less.

Taxes on a $100,000 home in Jemez Springs will be $741, or a reduction of $17. Taxes on a same-valued home in San Ysidro will be $794, or $13 lower. Owners of a $100,000 home in the unincorporated areas of the Jemez Mountains will receive a bill for $615—a drop of $18—and homeowners in Cuba will be billed $773, or about $3 less.

Finally, due to higher bond debt approved by voters, taxes on a $100,000 home in Corrales will be $789, or an increase of $60 over last year, while taxes on a similar-priced home in that portion of Corrales that was once in Bernalillo County will be $1008 or, again, about $60 higher. Those bills will include $45 for the Village’s bond debt and $345 for Albuquerque Public Schools, plus taxes for flood control authorities, where applicable.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Leonard can be mailed to him C/O Sandoval County Offices, PO Box 40, Bernalillo, NM 87004.

NM Environment Department asks consumers to check for botulism-tainted foods after Sandoval County man’s death

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) asks consumers to check for recalled Castleberry’s food and pet products tied to botulism after a man hospitalized for a case of that poisoning died recently. The products are sold under several names, including Kroger, Meijer, Austex, Bloom, and Thrifty Maid.

The recalled products also include such brand names as Big Y, Best Yet, Bryan, Bunker Hill, Castleberry’s, Cattle Drive, Firefighters, Food Club, Food Lion, Goldstar, Great Value, Lowe’s Foods, Morton House, Paramount, Piggly Wiggly, Prudence, Southern Home, Steak n Shake, Triple Bar Ranch, Value Time, and some Natural Balance Eatables dog food varieties.

The Department of Health confirmed that a fifty-two-year-old Sandoval County man who had been hospitalized in Albuquerque for a case of botulism has died. The Department of Health did not confirm that the man’s botulism diagnosis was linked to the recalled food items, but the man had shopped at a store that sold several recalled canned goods.

“Consumers should make sure Castleberry food and pet food products are no longer in their cabinets or refrigerators,” said New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry. “NMED Food Program Staff has visited stores and other food establishments to remove the products from shelves, but we believe the products may still be in consumers’ homes. Botulism poisoning is a serious and potentially deadly illness.”

The recall of food and dog food manufactured by Castleberry’s Food Company of Augusta, GA began in July. Those products may contain hazardous botulinum toxin, which can be fatal.

The recall is not complete, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. There are reports that these hazardous products may still be on store shelves. Retailers and food service providers should continue to remove and secure recalled products. NMED continues to remove those recalled products during routine inspections. Consumers who have the products should discard them.

Symptoms of botulism poisoning in humans can begin from six hours to two weeks after eating food that contains the toxin. Symptoms may include double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, and muscle weakness that moves progressively down the body, affecting the shoulders first and then descending to the upper arms, lower arms, thighs, calves, etc. Botulism poisoning can also cause paralysis of the breathing muscles which can result in death unless assistance with breathing (mechanical ventilation) is provided. Individuals who show these symptoms and who may have recently eaten one of the Castleberry’s products currently under recall should seek immediate medical attention.

If your pet has consumed some of the dog food affected and is showing some of those symptoms, contact your pet’s veterinarian. If you have any of the canned pet food items in the list, you should discard those products.

For more information and a complete list of recalled products, call NMED Communications Director Marissa Stone at (505) 827-0314 or (505) 231-0475, or NMDOH Communications Director Deborah Busemeyer at (505) 470-2290. You may also visit www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fsbotul.html.

Former Rio Rancho mayor leaves town

The Albuquerque Journal reported that former Rio Rancho mayor Kevin Jackson has moved his family to an undisclosed location in Pennsylvania.

Jackson was cruising along as the popular new mayor when he ran into trouble for misspending city funds. He resigned under pressure in July, blaming enemies with “nasty politics and personal agendas.” Rio Rancho is apparently not pursuing him, as he has embarrassed the City of Vision enough already.

There is, however, an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the Inspector General for federal Health and Human Services, along with the FBI and state police. Jackson allegedly misspent public funds as the head of Best Choice, a nonprofit that promotes abstinence-only sex education and healthy marriage. He allegedly mismanaged federal grant funds and was also charged with check fraud.

As a board member, Jackson’s wife was instrumental in the Rio Rancho school board’s short-lived directive requiring schools to teach creation theory as a counterpoint to evolution.

Lawyer B.J. Crow told the Albuquerque Journal that he talks to Jackson several times a week in regards to the ongoing investigation, although he had no information about how the investigation was proceeding. Crow says he doesn’t even know where the Jacksons have settled. It would obviously be bad for business if the former mayor’s past were to follow him to his new home.

Letter to New Mexico Delegation stresses need to fund transit operators throughout state

The Chair of the Mid-Region Transit District sent a letter to New Mexico’s Congressional Delegation expressing the Board’s disappointment over the recent decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration (FTA), to allocate all $438 million of the fiscal year 2007 Bus and Bus Facilities discretionary funds to just seven U.S. cities—none in New Mexico.

“It’s disappointing to me that one-hundred-percent of our state’s federal tax receipts earmarked for public transportation went to just seven large U.S. cities,” says Wayne Ake, the Chair of the MRTD Board and also Mayor of the Village of Bosque Farms. “New Mexico’s rural transit providers and transit operators face serious challenges in improving and expanding transit services for our growing urban areas, and unfortunately, we will not see one penny of that money.”

New Mexico’s transit providers had submitted approximately $20 million in requests to come out of the fiscal 2007 FTA budget for new vans and buses to replace aging vehicles. Mayor Ake’s letter went on to urge New Mexico lawmakers in Washington to “…assist in restoring a more reasonable and rational approach to the 2008 Federal Transit Administration budget process.”

“We realize that the FTA was trying to aid the larger cities with some money that could really make a difference,” says Ake, “but we need them to also understand that communities in New Mexico have pressing transit needs, and they could truly benefit from a broader disbursement of those funds.”

Mayor Ake has stated that transit is an important element of our state’s overall transportation network. Ake and the MRTD Board have offered their assistance to New Mexico’s Delegation in helping the FTA understand the need for funding smaller metropolitan and rural transit services.

New Mexico Rail Runner Express offers special weekend service to Balloon Fiesta

The New Mexico Rail Runner Express will be offering special service for the opening and closing weekends of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. People can ride the train to the Los Ranchos/Journal Center station, where they can hop on a shuttle bus that will take them right onto Balloon Fiesta field.

To take the special New Mexico Rail Runner Express to the Balloon Fiesta, you must first purchase a Rail Runner/Park and Ride/ Balloon Fiesta Admission pass online at www.balloonfiesta.com or in person at the Balloon Fiesta offices at 4401 Alameda Boulevard NE. Passes will not be available for purchase at Rail Runner stations or at the Rail Runner website.

Those wishing to ride the Rail Runner on Balloon Fiesta weekends, but not attend the Fiesta, can purchase a $2 day pass just to ride the train on those days (October 6, 7, 13, and 14). These tickets can be purchased online at www.nmrailrunner.com or on the platform at any of the Rail Runner stations.

 

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