Sandoval Signpost
An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988
  Up Front

Al Hurricane

Al Hurricane—featured performer in Town of Bernalillo’s recent dance/concert event to help fund community improvement projects

Bernalillo town news

—Ty Belknap

Representatives of the Town of Bernalillo are lobbying the current Special Legislative Session to include the entire town in Senate and House of Representatives districts. Redistricting occurs every ten years after the census is completed. In recent years, the West Side has been represented by different districts from the rest of the town. Mayor Jack Torres says that the town represented as a single “community of interest” would have a greater impact on the legislative process.

Sandoval County is also in the process of redistricting and the same issues apply—the town does not want to be split up for representation on the county commission.

Mayor Torres said that last month mechanical problems with Well 4 have been resolved and the town is no longer relying on water from Rio Rancho. It was a stroke of luck that the town had made a backup plan before the well pump broke down at the end of August. Torres also said that the ferric sulphate arsenic removal system has proved successful, and a permanent system will be added to all of the town’s wells. $237,000 has been allocated for design and installation. The system will be operated by town employees.

In other news, an estimated five hundred to six hundred people attended a town-sponsored dance and concert featuring Al Hurricane and Al Hurricane Jr.

Wind and rain failed to put a damper on a party that crammed a dance floor that had to be doubled in size to accommodate all the enthusiastic dancers of our community. Mayor Torres said that his office had received a lot of compliments on a very fun and positive event. He said that the town took advantage of the wine festival infrastructure, including the tent and fences that remained in place after the festival for a minimal investment. Profits will be used for what he called “mini-grants” for community improvement projects.

Torres said that before becoming an international star, Al Hurricane got his start performing at the Coronado Center on Camino del Pueblo. The historic building that burned down last year doubled as a dance hall and skating rink. Al suffered a heart attack two or three weeks before the September performance but recovered enough to tell jokes and stories, and to entertain the audience with a vintage performance.


Public hearing scheduled for the proposed reconstruction of the I-25/ US 550 Interchange

A public hearing for the proposed reconstruction of the I-25/US 550 Interchange will take place on October 4 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Bernalillo High School Gym, 250 Isidro Sanchez Road, Bernalillo, NM 87004

The proposed project will reconstruct the existing I-25/US 550 Interchange and will modify US 550/NM 165 from just east of the interchange to NM 313. The purpose of the proposed project is to reduce congestion within the interchange and on US 550 within the project boundaries, to improve access to businesses, and to improve bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

The public hearing will provide information about the project and the environmental assessment (EA) and will also provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the proposed project and the planned measures to mitigate impacts to environmental and cultural resources.  Comments specific to proposed bicycle and pedestrian facilities are also requested.

Project displays, information, and project representatives will be available starting at 6:00 p.m.  A presentation will start at 6:30, followed by a formal public comment period. A court reporter will be available during the comment period to record public comments.

The EA is available for review online at www.i25us550.com.


Volatile real estate market is affecting Sandoval County property tax rates

—Signpost Staff

The Sandoval County Commission met on September 19 to impose rates for the 2011 tax year. Property tax rates are set annually by the State Department of Finance and Administration (DFA). County commissioners are in turn legally bound to order the issuance of tax bills based on those rates. The Sandoval County Commission approved the rates set by DFA by a 3 to 1 vote on September 19. Rio Rancho Republican Commissioner Glenn Walters voted against the increase, expressing his dismay over how little power the commission had to influence taxes. The Sandoval County Treasurer will mail tax bills November 1.

Numerous factors are used to calculate property tax rates. However, the assessed value of property in a given area is the most significant factor, and changes in assessed valuations across Sandoval County—largely resulting from the sluggish real estate market—had a major impact on this year’s rates.

Overall, property values across Sandoval County dropped 4.6 percent over the past year, according to County Assessor, Tom Garcia. When property values fall in a particular area, the DFA responds by raising tax rates to ensure local governments have adequate revenue to provide services that have been promised to citizens.

It’s important to note, however, that an increase in the tax rate does not necessarily mean property tax bills will automatically increase. The assessed value of property once again plays a prominent role in that equation. “If the assessed value of an individual piece of property has decreased over the past year, it’s possible that the owner of that property will actually see their tax bill go down—rather than up—even if the tax rate increased,” notes Larry Polanis, Chief Finance Officer for the Sandoval County Treasurer’s Office.

For that reason, Sandoval County officials are not making any general statements as to how the newly imposed rates will affect individual property owners. “There really is no way to determine whose bills will increase or decrease—or the amount any increase or decrease,” Polanis said. “We would have to look at those factors on a case-by-case basis.” The calculation of individual property taxes, however, is not complicated.

Different districts within the county will see different tax rates increases depending on different tax obligations within each district such as school, roads, and flood control authorities. A good part of property tax is voter imposed. Tax rates in parts of the county took a big jump in 2009 due to voters approving mil levies for hospitals in Rio Rancho and the Eastern Sandoval County Flood Control Authority. Taxpayers in one district do not pay for the obligations of other districts. Rio Rancho does not pay for ESCAFCA, and Placitas does not pay for Rio Rancho schools.

Polanis did say that for property owners in Placitas whose assessed value remained the same from 2010 to 2011, tax amounts would increase by about 3 percent. They should not expect a decrease just because Placitas is no longer included in the operations of ESCAFCA following legislative action last session. They will continue to pay the ESCAFCA debt services obligations until the current debt is extinguished. Polanis said, “If you vote for it, you have to pay for it.”

Deputy Assessor Christy Humphrey said that when County Assessor Tom Garcia took office last December, he was faced with 13,000 protests of assessed property value. Most of those protests resulted in a nine to ten percent decrease. She said that her office seeks—and is mandated by statute—to assess property values as equitably as possible based on market values in each particular neighborhood. The Assessor’s Officer provides the assessed value to the Treasurer’s office for determination of tax liability.

Most Placitans who protested saw a decrease in property values and will probably see a decrease in tax liability this year. Property values will be reassessed next year. It is too late to protest to the county at this point, but property owners who are current on their tax payments have until January 10, 2012 to file a protest in District Court. Homes bought during the real estate bubble are probably overvalued. Assessed values of homes owned for many years might still be increased up to three percent a year until the assessed value reflects market value.

Again, the equation demands that if overall assessed value of goes down, the tax rate goes up in order create revenue for government services. It is a mathematical process rather than a political one—unlike in the federal government.

For questions about how the assessed value of property is determined or how to file a protest in District Court, contact the Christy Humphrey at 867-7596. Sandoval County residents with questions about their tax bills can contact the Treasurer’s Office at 505-867-7581 or 1-800-332-8022.


Sandoval County settles with fired County Manager Vigil

—Signpost staff

On September 14, the Sandoval County Commission agreed on a settlement agreement that will pay former County Manager, Juan Vigil, to settle a breach of contract lawsuit. Vigil sued the county for breach of contract when he was fired in February, just two months into a two-year contract. Vigil fell into disfavor with the two commissioners from Rio Rancho when he pushed Intel to pay property taxes.

County Public Information Officer, Sidney Hill, said that an insurance policy will pay the settlement, minus an unspecified deductible. He also said that with Phil Rios doubling as acting County Manager and Public Works Director with a salary of $115,000 per year, the county’s savings will far outweigh its expenses in settling the case. The county is not presently looking for permanent manager.


History of Bernalillo—Part III

Bernalillo in the 19th Century

—Martha Liebert

As the 19th century began, the Bernalillo census showed 64 families . Many family names appeared repeatedly such as Pereas, Salazar, Garcia, Chavez, Gutierrez, Sisneros, and Archibeque.

For these families, at the time, the major industries were raising sheep and wine making. Bernalillo was a small agricultural-based community, where households were fairly self sufficient, and the barter system prevailed since coinage was not widely available. Most families lived out of their gardens and had a few animals. Sheep was the medium of exchange. Life was much as it had been 200 years before, very simple, living at a basic level of survival with few luxuries.

All this was about to change and this somnolent valley was soon to be inundated by the last of the great migrations. The Native Americans had come a thousand years before, followed by the Europeans from the South in three large expeditions from 1540 to 1695 and now the Americans from the East arrived, first in a trickle in the 1820’s but then, as the Santa Fe Trail opened, a flood of immigrants changed life in the valley forever.

In 1871, Nathan Bibo came from Prussia and opened the Bibo and Co. Mercantile in Bernalillo. It served as a market for local farmer’s produce and provided a mill for grinding wheat and corn. He acquired land from the Pereas and expected the town to “boom” when the railroad came through. The arrival of the railroad in 1880 increased the flow of newcomers wildly and changed the political face of the area dramatically. Commercial and industrial economies changed as well. With the railroad, came the commercial revolution in the form of mercantiles and with them, the use of coinage. However, when the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe came to Perea to buy land for a division point shop and roundhouse, he priced it at $425 per acre for land that was selling for two to three dollars an acre. So the Santa Fe went south and located in Albuquerque instead, which made it “boom,” and Bernalillo remained a small town.

Perea lived in a family compound at the north end of Bernalillo. He was worth $2 million by the mid 1800’s, and was a member of a large influential family of bankers, stockmen, and businessmen who sent their sons to St. Louis to Jesuit schools. He had large land holdings and hundreds of thousands of sheep and was known as the “sheep king”. He employed hundreds of men as shepherds, shearers, carders, spinners, and weavers in all aspects of the wool trade. Perea sent huge caravans of wool wagons to St. Louis and brought back trade goods for the local market. The sheep industry was the first and most important in the Rio Abajo. In colonial times, flocks were more valuable than land, and society was divided into two distinct classes, sheep owners and sheep tenders. As the owner of over 200 thousand sheep in the 1860s, Don José Perea used the Partido system. This system meant a specific number of ewes were given to a sheepherder in return for agreed amounts of lambs and wool for a period of three to five years. The herder had to absorb all losses from weather, Indian raids, wolves, and stampedes, putting him in constant debt and virtual slavery to the owner. This system perpetuated the peon class.

The breed of sheep was the Spanish Churro, a small (55–80 pounds), tough animal who could survive the harsh climate and the long trail from Mexico. Their mutton was good but their wool was long and coarse. Churro rams had two to four horns, sometimes more. Sheep were valued at fifty to seventy five cents per head, and fleece at three to four cents per pound.

At the time of the civil war, the Pereas visited Washington, sized up the situation and determined that the North would prevail due to its industrial might, so returning home they enlisted their fellow New Mexicans to come out for the union. When the Confederates made a dash up the valley, they burned the Perea warehouses in retaliation. During the reconquest, Governor De Vargas had brought four thousand head to distribute to returning colonists, but Indian raids by Apache, Navajo, and Comanche tribes kept flocks reduced. In 1795, for example, ten thousand ewes were stolen in the Rio Abajo alone. These raids were an insurmountable problem. Still, by 1846, there were flocks as large as forty thousand head in the Rio Grande Valley.

In 1849, the California gold rush opened up the market and in 1857, the largest sheep drive of one hundred thousand went to California over the Old Spanish Trail.       

From the 1790 census it was determined that one third of all heads of households were involved in woolen textile production. From this we can assume that there were many other family members involved in working with the wool as well. During the 18th and 19th centuries most clothing was made of wool.

These home industries produced enormous quantities of goods for trade. In 1840, for example, twenty thousand handmade woolen goods and fourteen thousand pounds of wool were shipped to Mexico.

With these huge numbers of sheep, overgrazing became widespread, and its effects are still felt into this century. It was commonly said that the native grass was “belly-high” to a tall horse between Bernalillo and Santa Fe in those days. Today it is nothing but desert from the Rio Puerco to east of the Sandias.

In 1814 (some records say 1824) Sandia Pueblo loaned a tract of land (for five years) to twenty Hispanic families who were too poor to buy land, so that they might make a living. They built their homes and farmed there. This site was called “Las Cocinitas.” This and “EI Llanito” formed two Bernalillos. EI Llanito was later called Los Gallegos for the three brothers who settled there. It was later called Chaparral.

Land between the church and the Cocinitas was virtually uninhabitable in 1889 because the water table was so high. It was basically a malaria swamp until well into the 1920s when the conservancy ditches were dug, dropping the water levels. The religious center was at the north end of town and the commercial center with the mercantile and bars was at the south end with little in between. There have always seemed to be two Bernalillos.

The Cocinitas was settled by the Garcias, and the Duran and Chavez families. Many were able to subsist on the land. By 1866, the fertile valley of the Rio Grande had 250 square miles of fruits and vegetables in cultivation.

The wine industry dated from colonial times. In the mission building period of the 1620s the priests introduced mission grapevine cuttings in the pueblos and Spanish settlers planted them on their ranches. Many families made their own wine. Some of the first vineyards in the country were in the Bernalillo area and wine production flourished in the sandy soils of the region. The arid climate was just right with hot days and cold nights, which stressed the plants and produced the best wine grapes. In 1854, W.W. Davis, U.S. Attorney General of Territory of N.M. toured the region and wrote “At Bernalillo we enter the wine growing region of N.M., which extends south to El Paso. Grapes of a superior quality are cultivated. Several thousands of gallons of wine are made yearly for home consumption and little gets to market.”

In the early 1870s, the order of the Christian Brothers came into Bernalillo and planted several thousand grape cuttings in the area of the Catholic church, our Lady of Sorrows. They opened the Lasalle ranch and La France winery. They hired a French wine-maker, Louis Gros Senior as manager of their wine operation. He produced over ten thousand gallons of wine a year for the Christian Brothers. He stayed with them until the 1920s, when he left to start his own vineyard and winery. In 1870s, Nathan Bibo described his first planting of 400 vines in Bernalillo’s apparently barren looking sandy foothills: “They produced the sweetest early grapes on vines so overloaded that the branches were breaking down. Harvest as early as August 10th.”

In the years that followed however, devastating floods and droughts completely upset the market. The soil became waterlogged and became alkali due to the high water table and lack of drainage. Not until well into the next century did the industry recover.

In 1844, Bernalillo became the seat of government under the Mexican Republic. By 1849, Santa Ana county was created. Things were starting to escalate at a rapid pace now. In 1857, Archbishop Lamy established the Bernalillo parish and called it Nuestra Senora de Dolores. Jose Leandro Perea donated the land for the church and the complex for a convent for the Sisters of Loretto. This was the first education available in the area and, as such, was one of the most important additions to the community of Bernalillo and the surrounding area.

With the flood of immigrants came gold seekers and a great mining boom followed. All these were in the neighborhood and affected Bernalillo.

In 1881, the Bernalillo News, a local paper, reported a gold strike in the Sandias, because so many businesses had moved in. Billiard halls and saloons sprang up as did hotels and blacksmiths and banks and mercantiles but the “boom” was short lived and gradually business fell off. From 1900-1903 there were only three new businesses: Malletts winery and Silva’s saloon and winery. The population was about 750 at the time.

The 1890s were a wild time with lots of fly-by-night(operations that came and went quickly). Perhaps the largest and most important was the Cochiti Mining District at Bland and Albermarle which returned over one million dollars in gold and silver but cost more than that to get it out. This boom town lasted from 1890 to 1910 and was a sizable community. It was a factor in creating the new County of Sandoval in 1903, which had been Bernalillo County. With the great influx of folks into Albuquerque via the railroad after 1880, the political picture changed drastically.

The 19th century was a period of incredible growth and change as the population exploded and mineral wealth was tapped, the nature of the area became altogether different. The coming of the American forces and the Court of Private Land Claims perhaps affected the local people more than any other thing. Speculators of all sorts took advantage of an illiterate population and injustice ran rampant everywhere. People had been used to centuries of raids on their goods, but this was another kind of raid on the very land itself, more sophisticated and complicated with legal traps from which we had no protection So while some threats and dangers were lessened, others took their place, and life was still uneasy by the turn to the 20th century. By 1880 Bernalillo’s population was 1200.
   

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