Sandoval Signpost

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letters, opinions, editorials

re: general obligation bond issues on November 2

Four years ago, two general obligation bond issues passed within Sandoval County for the support of the 14 libraries within the county. Those bonds expire at the end of the year. A new set of general obligation bonds will be on this November’s ballot. The cost to the taxpayers of Sandoval County will be the same or less than what we are currently paying. We hope the people of Placitas and the county will support the new bond request for the libraries of Placitas and Sandoval County.

The general obligation bonds are restricted in their use: They pay for the purchasing of books and all media; they pay for computers, maintenance and repair, and Internet access; and they help pay for community education and training. Finally, the funds pay for the buildings’ security systems to keep volunteers and patrons safe.

The community uses the libraries for job searches, children and adult programs, research, and community events. 

Local donations are used to support the Placitas Community Library’s day to day operations. The donations are used for heating and cooling, building repairs, supplies, staff support, registrations and bank requirements, etc. 

Fundraising is a mainstay for most libraries. In Sandoval County, communities are helping keep the libraries operating with fundraising events. 

The monies requested in the general obligation bonds will ensure that the libraries remain a place for all community members, young and old alike. Without those funds, all of the things listed above would have to be done by local donations. While the amount varies by community, Placitas would have to generate $112,739 through local donations over the next four years.

Finally, Placitas is unincorporated. As with the other libraries, the Placitas Community Library cannot be maintained without the general obligation bond funds and the continued support of the local community. 

Please vote yes for the general obligation bond issues on November 2. Your communities need your support.

—Jim Pilcher, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Placitas Community Library

re: a summary of concerns about ESCAFCA’s finances

This is a brief summary of concerns that interested citizens/voters/taxpayers have expressed about the finances of the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (ESCAFCA). Among the matters addressed are ESCAFCA’s tax rates, the solvency of its bond fund, how it selects projects for funding, the degree of its reliance on its main contractor, and the paucity of information on how funds are being spent. The purposes of the summary are, first, to provide background information for citizens who will be voting in the upcoming ESCAFCA board election, and, second, to identify finance-related matters that ESCAFCA’s board of directors urgently needs to confront. 

1. ESCAFCA misrepresented what its taxes would be when it sought voter approval of its bonds. That ESCAFCA understated the amounts of additional taxes homeowners would have to pay if the bonds were approved is now old news, but some citizens may still be unaware of what occurred, so the point bears repeating: ESCAFCA claimed before the 2008 vote that the cost to a homeowner would be about $66 per year per $100,000 of assessed value, whereas the true figure was about $115 per year.

2. ESCAFCA has imposed higher taxes than needed to cover the bonds that voters have approved. Voters were asked to, and did, authorize $6,000,000 in bonds, but the debt service tax rates that ESCAFCA then set—2.448 mills last year and 2.444 mills this year—are much higher than needed to support a loan of that size. In fact, ESCAFCA set them high enough to cover an additional $12,000,000 in planned future bonds that citizens had never heard of, much less authorized. The tax rate needed to pay for the bonds voters did approve would have been only about 1.58 mills.

3. ESCAFCA’s property taxes impose an added financial burden on homeowners already impacted by the recession. Although many ESCAFCA residents were experiencing reduced incomes, unemployment, and declining home values when ESCAFCA set its initial debt service tax rate (summer 2009), the board members seemed to take little account of these adverse economic circumstances when they imposed more-burdensome-than-necessary levies (see item 2) on local property owners.

4. ESCAFCA’s ability to make required debt service payments has been eroded by the economic downturn, but the board has neither recognized the problem nor developed contingency plans. Because of lower than expected growth in the tax base and reduced rates of tax collection, ESCAFCA’s 2011 year-end bond fund balance (the “reserve fund”) is projected to drop to only a minor fraction of the level deemed prudent. If economic conditions worsen, ESCAFCA’s 2011 tax receipts could fall short of what it needs to cover required principal and interest payments. But ESCAFCA has yet to demonstrate awareness of the problem or to consider possible solutions, which include such things as reducing project outlays and deferring or eliminating further bond issues.

5. ESCAFCA has selected projects for funding in a completely nontransparent manner. ESCAFCA has approved and is funding a set of so called priority projects, which supposedly were chosen from among a larger number of candidates, but it has never identified the candidates, nor presented the benefit and cost estimates (if any) on which the selections were based, nor revealed the selection criteria. Not surprisingly, this has given rise to speculation that the project list was simply negotiated behind the scenes by officials of ESCAFCA and the concerned local jurisdictions.  

6. ESCAFCA has offered no evidence that the benefits from its chosen projects will justify the costs. In principle, a project merits funding only if there is a reasonable expectation that the benefits—meaning mainly reduced damages and losses from floods—will exceed the project’s cost, but ESCAFCA has not presented, and apparently has not produced, any benefit estimates for the projects on which funds are now being expended. Absent such information, the ESCAFCA board has had little basis for prioritizing projects, and the public has little reason to believe that ESCAFCA is using its money effectively.

7. ESCAFCA has initiated projects that would require large-scale external funding to carry out, but without any indication that such funding will be forthcoming. The projects on ESCAFCA’s “priority” list would require several times the funding that ESCAFCA can raise from its own sources. The viability of the larger projects is contingent on major financing from such public bodies as Sandoval County, the town of Bernalillo, the state of New Mexico, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. None of these agencies has committed to any such funding. ESCAFCA is paying for preliminary work on these projects, even though the lack of outside money means that some or all may never reach fruition.

8. ESCAFCA has been directing all its project money to a single private contractor and seems intent on relying on that same contractor indefinitely for all engineering work. All ESCAFCA project outlays at least since 2008 have consisted of payments to Wilson and Company, Inc., a major engineering firm, under a multiyear, task-order contract. The contract started small, but since has been extended and greatly enlarged without any competitive process. This arrangement is no doubt convenient for both parties, but it reduces transparency and accountability and denies the public the potential benefits of competition with respect to both costs and technical approaches.

9. ESCAFCA appears to exercise little oversight over the contractor’s activities and uses of funds. ESCAFCA seems to allow the contractor to write its own task orders, to take the lead in formulating, prioritizing, and designing projects, and to develop cost estimates that receive little scrutiny. It is not evident that the company’s work is being evaluated in depth within ESCAFCA, and none seems to have been subjected to independent outside review. ESCAFCA has not made the contractor’s products (studies and designs) available to the public. Such arrangements leave the contractor rather than ESCAFCA largely in control and do not establish accountability for the use of public funds. 

10. ESCAFCA’s project budget provides no meaningful information to board members or the public. One would expect an ESCAFCA “project budget” to indicate how much is being spent and will be spent on particular projects or activities, but the present budget only shows outlays for such broad generic functions as studies, design, right-of-way, and construction. ESCAFCA has provided no backup documentation linking these functions to projects. This opaque presentation is essentially useless. It appears designed more to obscure than to reveal how ESCAFCA’s project funds are being used.

11. ESCAFCA does not treat its own project budget as a serious decision document. A budget adopted by a public authority, whether federal, state, or local, normally expresses the governing body’s decisions about how money shall be spent. It constitutes a directive to administrators, not a mere suggestion. Material changes usually require the governing body’s assent. ESCAFCA’s project budget, however, seems to be viewed as a sort of impressionistic sketch, which the administrator (and perhaps even the contractor) may reshape at will. To govern effectively, the ESCAFCA board has to exercise authority over spending, which means, among other things, turning the project budget into a real instrument of control over ESCAFCA’s use and allocation of funds.

—Stephen M. Barro

re: Camino De Las Huertas

The landscape of Placitas reminds me of an ancient tapestry with its juniper-lined roads peppered with purple and yellow-colored flowers alongside the wild grass and sage bushes. But some days, the road is just one blur of images and geometric figures, due to my mind wandering about the everyday stuff that sometimes puts me in a funk. Like bills, household annoyances, the beagle-cross chewing a hole in the front door due to her thunder rage, and my need to find a second job because in this economy, one job isn’t hacking it.  

A couple of weeks ago, I was pulled over by Officer (name withheld) on Camino De Las Huertas for the second time because I was going 35 mph in the 25 mph zone. We all know who he is because I would wager that most of us have in the last month been pulled over by him. He hides in the sunflowers and the weeds right in front of the community senior center like a rattlesnake, waiting for a poor soul who is going slightly over the 25-mile speed limit, which has recently been changed to 30 miles an hour. Go figure. I believe, dear Placiteños, it was a setup by our dear county officials to collect as much money from us until the speed limit was changed because I have not seen the officer now for the last month.

In all my years of living in Placitas, I have never ever seen an officer parked every single day for a week in front of the community senior center. And then the speed limit changes, and the officer is no longer there. As he said to me, he was only doing his job as he wrote out my second ticket in the last week, and my tears did nothing to dissuade him from issuing me the ticket and lecturing me that he was just trying to keep the village safe. Yeah! His job was to pull over everybody and anybody who was going slightly over the speed limit, so the county can make an extra buck off of us.

On Monday, I had gotten a ticket going up the road. This time, I was coming down. Oh, I was red-eyed mad, but I only mumbled a thank you and how I would be living on Ramen noodles for the next six weeks. As I drove away, I watched him pull over another driver, and I thought, what is the meaning of all this, besides getting a ticket? I am still mad about it all, but it made me start thinking about the road itself.

The way my mind works, I thought well, maybe I do need to slow down—to personally see my road and really see why I love this place and the serenity I feel when I drive home from a busy day at work. So I did a little experiment that I would like to share that quieted my soul, made me see that slowing down has its advantages, and helped me realize the big picture of things.  And mull over the little messages that are sent to us daily by the universe, or in my case, in the form of two speeding tickets.

I took a notebook with me while I drove my morning route to work. I went the speed limit and at times slightly under it, to the annoyance of several drivers who were not too pleased with me. But as they also knew that Officer “So and So” would be waiting for them at the foot of Camino De Las Huertas, they backed off and slowed down. Now, the road was not that crowded (I had gotten up early, so I would make it on time to work), and I was able to drive and stop to write down my thoughts and impressions of the road that leads to and from my home.

As I drove out my gravel road, I thought about how the sage brushes remind me of little bouquets popping out from under the sand-colored earth and how maybe this is how the ocean floor appears.

I smiled when I made a right hand turn onto Camino De Las Huertas and passed the school buses, wondering if someone still lives in the houses or if they have been abandoned. I haven’t seen any activity there for over a year. I took the curve nice and easy—no speed racing for me today. I lowered the radio and rolled down my window, taking in the fresh morning smell of juniper, sage, and dirt that tickled at my nose from last night’s torrential rains that flooded my garage and caused my dogs to howl all night, even though I brought them in the house!

And now in front of me, the hilltops remind me of dragons’ backs, spotted with wild flowers and sage. I always think they will come alive, and sometimes, when the sky is setting and the bright orange and pink colors intermix with the hills, I think I see them move. I pass over the creek and look down at it; despite all the rains we’ve had, there is not even a trickle of water, and I wonder if we are going to have a harsh winter like we did four years ago.

One of the palomino horses that lives behind the gray-colored adobe wall has his big head resting on the ledge, looking out to the panoramic view of the Jemez Mountains. That noble horse always makes me smile, even on the days that Officer “So and So” gave me a ticket. I stop at the top of the hill and take in the road ahead of me. I like how all the homes seem to be perched on their own bluffs, looking out to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains like eagle nests. There is a peacefulness with how the colors from the adobes—some with blue doors and others red—merge into the natural landscape, making it all one. But as I pull back onto the road, I see several homes for sale.

I continue to drive down the juniper-lined road; every once a while, I’ll pull over and write a thought down. I am making the time to see what I have seen for six years, and every time I drive up and down this road, I see something different.  In some places, there are big boulder rocks mixed in with the junipers, and right before Pine D Ranch Road, you see the natural rock formations of rust and yellow-colored stones with sage and juniper dancing around them. 

Today, I have given myself the chance to reflect upon it. I like the neatness of the homes. I like how some families put up signs with their last names and others have potted plants in front of their doors. I like the zigzag trail path that I have thought about hiking with my dogs, but have never made time to do so. I will before the end of summer.

I make my way up the hill and look down to the rust-colored adobe homes to my left that are seated on their own small hills. I wonder if this is some kind of commune because all the homes seem to match, and they fan out to one another with porches and gravel paths that all interconnect. I then brake as I go down the road right at the big rust-colored jackrabbit statue because I am approaching the track of road where I sometimes get a little lead footed, and we all know that Officer “So and So” will be waiting in the bushes. I slow down to fifteen miles an hour, and as I pass the community senior center, there he is. I wave to him, and he gives me a nod. As I reach the foot of the road at the stop sign and look up into the hilltops, I think that maybe on my way home tonight, the wild horses will be in my front yard, backlit by a majestic sunset that colors the sky and matches my bewilderment to the sense of awe I feel whenever I sit back and take it all in. I say this is mine to view, to find comfort in. This place is my serenity, my home, my daily adventure. And despite the setup by the county to get more money out of me, I will not let it take away from the experience of living in a place of remarkable beauty.

—Jennifer Houston, Placitas 

re: the grim reaper has paid a visit

I love early autumn. It’s my favorite time of year. The daytime temperatures hover around perfect and make garden chores and dining alfresco a treat. The nights are just cool enough to warrant a light blanket. The deep blue, chamber of commerce skies are filled with fluffy, white clouds. Fiery sunsets end the day. And cheery sunflowers wave friendly greetings from the side of the road, joined by tall stalks of globe mallow and a variety of graceful weeds, courtesy of the summer monsoon rains. Soon, the aspens near the very top of Sandia Mountain will turn golden and glorious. What could be more perfect? In fact, fall puts me in such a mellow state that I am almost able to forgive my impatient fellow Placitan who rides my bumper, flashing his lights all the way down 165, even though I am steadfastly holding to the posted speed limit.

But there is one thing that jolts me out of my autumnal euphoria. I speak of the grim reaper. No, not the skinny dude in the black-hooded cloak with the long scythe over his shoulder. I mean the one who works for Sandoval County, drives the farm-green mower, and denudes the wild flowers that hitherto, and all too briefly, grace the side of the road.

I can understand the logic for clearing the sides of the highway. The encroaching flora that spills onto the roadway nudges cars towards the center of the road, closer to the oncoming traffic. (But is it any closer than those nettlesome, unpredictable bicycle riders who ride two abreast up and down 165?) And I understand that it is not personal—at least I don’t think it is. (Is it?)

But just as the sunflowers reach their glory, I know and fear the annual, loathsome visit of the motorized grim reaper. I know the hours and days are numbered for these bright golden sentinels that lull me into such a sense of well being.

Is it too much to ask the good workers of Sandoval County to spare the sunflowers? Just long enough to let us enjoy these colorful harbingers of fall for just a week or two before hacking them down to the ground (and strewing the grisly remains alongside the road)? The county must have more pressing needs that they could attend to, letting the fall spectacle linger for just a moment longer.

—Gary W. Priester, Ranchos de Placitas

re: Tom Aageson, a New Mexico treasure

Tom Aageson has been executive director of the Museum of New Mexico Foundation for the past eight years. He is leaving his post after serving brilliantly. Bud Hamilton, newly appointed board chairman for the foundation, described Tom as “an individual with superb management and interpersonal skills.” Anyone who knows Tom would agree. In Tom’s words, “I am stepping down to address the challenges of poverty for people in our great state of New Mexico.”

Vicki and I met Tom several years ago. We were exploring options to ensure that our estate would in some way be perpetuated. We invited Tom and Shelby Tisdale, director of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, to our Placitas home to view the collection and other assets. Tom recommended the Maggy Ryan Legacy Society as a way to bequeath our charitable trust in care of the Museum of New Mexico Foundation. Thanks to Tom and Shelby, our estate is now part of the foundation’s “living legacy,” benefiting the future of New Mexico’s public school children and programs that support their success.

Tom has always been a visible and approachable director. He has hosted many events for the foundation in Albuquerque, acknowledging local membership and bringing the foundation’s resources to other parts of the state. We were there when he and the foundation hosted Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion fundraising show at the Santa Fe Opera. It was fun listening to Tom describe how he and Garrison spent the day at Encantada Resort and Spa. The show was a great success. When my mother and sister visited us, Tom was quick to suggest having lunch at Encantada to celebrate our membership in the Maggy Ryan Legacy Society. As always, Tom was a gracious host to my family.

His vision and leadership efforts to build the New Mexico History Museum came to fruition last year. It was a great day for the state of New Mexico. Thanks to Tom, we got to meet one of our mutually favorite baseball stars and a generous supporter of the foundation: Johnny Antonelli and his family.

Our paths began to take interesting directions during the 1960s. Tom was pursuing his M.B.A. at Columbia University when Students for a Democratic Society decided to shut down the campus. He spent the day on a rooftop watching the drama unfold. I had just served two years in the military during the Vietnam War and in the summer of 1969 decided that Woodstock would be a good place to settle for a couple of days. We both chuckled when we found out that our lives were beginning to take a particular focus, and many years later, New Mexico would be our final destination.

Tom has always been supportive of our interests in Native American and Hispanic cultures. Thanks to the foundation’s quarterly publication, El Palacio, and regular MNMF e-mail updates, we can pretty much complete our event calendar month to month. Tom often sends us personal, complimentary notes supporting our interests in the arts and especially Native American crafts and Mata Ortiz ceramics.

In a recent El Palacio publication, Bud Hamilton wrote that, “…replacing Tom will not be easy.” Tom has chosen his next challenge. We know he will continue to be a part of our lives, and we look forward to a long and warm relationship. 

—Ron Sullivan, Placitas






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