Sandoval Signpost

 

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Placitas road awash with rocks from recent flooding Photo credit: Ty Belknap

ESCAFCA struggles with flooding

—Ty Belknap

Larry Blair, Engineer Advisor of the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (ESCAFCA), discussed flood control issues with the Signpost on September 16, following another weekend of flood events in the Town of Bernalillo. ESCAFCA was created by legislative action in 2006 and was intended to serve areas including Bernalillo, Algodones, and Placitas.

Blair said the two holding ponds built by ESCAFCA were helpful in mitigating damage in Bernalillo during the flood events of August and September. The South Hill Pond was built on Sandoval County easement off Hill Road. It catches floodwater from a large culvert under I-25. Water is then drained through an eight-inch pipe into the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) irrigation ditch.

Unfortunately, the ditch tends to breech, spilling water and mud across yards, into houses, and along the railroad tracks. Mayor Jack Torres, also an ESCAFCA board member, said last month that MRGCD was not maintaining its ditches, which are designed for irrigation, but provide a major channel for floodwaters. Residents pay taxes to MRGCD to maintain the ditches, which Torres says are in bad shape—uneven, narrow in places, and tending to become clogged with branches and trash. Blair said that Bernalillo has a lot of problems to solve. It is located in a low, flat area with Sandia Mountain draining from the east and no way to accomplish the ultimate solution of channeling flood water into the Rio Grande.

According to Blair, the Athena Pond off North Hill Road worked just as it was designed to do. Water flows into rows of underground plastic chambers and eventually, back into the groundwater. ESCAFCA plans to expand a network of storm drains that drain nearby neighborhoods into the pond. ESCAFCA is negotiating with landowners in hopes of building several more ponds. Another pond might be located at the former Fisher gravel mine just east of I-25. He said that ideally four or five dams like the Piedra Lisa Dam, which is maintained by the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District, should be built on the other arroyos flowing into the town, but ESCAFCA lacks the funding to even consider such large projects.

Placitas was removed from the coverage area by legislative action in 2012, following a lobbying effort by residents who questioned the need, effectiveness, and property tax cost of ESCAFCA. Floodwaters carried trees, tires, and other debris out of the hills north of the village, plugging culverts, eroding and blocking gravel roads. No roads washed out, however, and, thanks to a prompt response by county road crews, the problem was short-lived.

A large portion of Placitas drains into the Las Huertas wash which poses the major threat to Algodones, but there was no significant damage reported in recent flood events. ESCAFCA has no immediate plans in Algodones, dealing with lack of funding and more pressing need in Bernalillo and along the Rio Grande.

Blair said that a geotechnical study done in collaboration with the US Geological Survey indicated that the Rio Grande levies in Bernalillo are not adequate to hold up in a major flood event. Dire predictions of high water on the river in September did not materialize, but did bring attention to the threat. Replacing the levies is another costly proposition. Blair said that negotiations were underway to turn the levies over to MRGCD.


County considers economic development plan

—Signpost Staff

At a special meeting of the Sandoval County Commission, held on September 16, a draft five-year economic plan was presented by economic development consultant Mark Lautman. County Manager Phil Rios apologized that the plan was not ready by June as projected at a March 7 meeting of the Commission when a resolution established a task force to identify policy and processes for the development of such a plan. At that time, Rios was given the authority to assemble a task force that would consist of seventeen leaders from all parts of the community.

The task force resolution followed up on a February 19 workshop at which participants agreed that economically the county is getting worse in every area—that the populations are aging, and the number of families living in poverty is increasing.

At the September 16 meeting, Nancy Baker of the New Mexico Economic Development Department told the commissioners that money is well-spent on economic development plans, and that the state has programs to help fund economic development. NM Secretary of Tourism Monique Jacobson described the state’s current “New Mexico True” marketing campaign, which promotes tourism statewide. She said that $1.2 million dollars spent on the campaign had generated $3.6 million dollars in state and local taxes, and that growth in tourism jobs represented over half of the state’s total job gains in fiscal year 2013.

Jacobson said that Sandoval County was “an incredibly special place” that accounted for a disproportionate percentage of NM True ads that promote “adventure steeped in culture.” The county is home to Valles Caldera National Preserve, five Indian Pueblos, National Forests, National Monuments, Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, as well as many opportunities for skiing, biking, touring historic sites, soaking in hot springs, and fishing in a vast array of public lands.

In his presentation of the county economic plan, Lautman stressed the importance of promoting these places as a destination where tourists stay (rather than a day trip from Santa Fe.) The plan suggests a $100,000 dollar investment in developing the tourist industry. But tourism alone was not the focus of the meeting. Lautman said up front, “The county is in economic trouble. We were really hammered by recession and drought. The county lost a third of its economic base in the recession. Many businesses in rural areas are close to the edge.” Lautman continued, “The county is getting poorer as the economic base is bleeding away as fast as anywhere in New Mexico. The advantages we had ten years ago have turned into liabilities.”

Rural areas have lost traditional sources of employment such as agriculture and lumber. Employment opportunities are increasingly concentrated in Rio Rancho, which is suffering a huge setback in the great recession, especially in the real estate market. Lautman’s report said that household income in Sandoval County has declined 22 percent in the last ten years. Rural areas have lost thirty percent of their economic-based jobs in the last five years.

The report recommends holding countywide discussions that would include both urban and rural concerns, focusing on stabilizing the current economic emergency. The task force agreed that the county unemployment rate is at least nine percent, possibly as high as thirteen percent. To bring unemployment down to four percent, 11,000 jobs need to be added over the next ten years. To accomplish this, the plan proposes investment in recruiting efforts, focusing on economic-based jobs such as health care, manufacturing, agriculture, and housing. E-based jobs stimulate employment in service industries.

Opportunities may open up as Obama Care brings revenue from out-of-state taxpayers to provide care for the large percentage of New Mexicans who previously had none. Intel could expand. The housing market could recover. The plan suggests an investment of $100,000 dollars investment in an “Innovation to Enterprise” program, which would help community members with business ideas to turn these ideas into businesses.

On the down side, Intel is about to cut four hundred jobs. Recovery in the housing market is very slow. There is a shortage of qualified workers. The county budget is in a bind, partially because of pre-recession expansion that included large investment in the new government complex and creation of a county fire department. Revenue is impacted by falling property values.

Property tax rates increased dramatically in 2009 after voters narrowly approved bond levies to fund two hospitals in Rio Rancho and the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority. Raising property taxes to further cover budget shortages would discourage growth. While economic development is key to getting out of the bind, there is currently no funding available for the proposed economic development plan, which calls for a budget of $875,000 dollars.

County economic adviser Rob Burpo offered a “quick overview” of the five-year plan in light of budget priorities. He encouraged commissioners to avoid pledging tax dollars for issues that are not directly involved in funding county government. Burpo stressed that the county is not bankrupt, but said that “uncertainty is the key word” going forward. State and federal funding is uncertain. Bond debt, which consumes a major portion of the budget, is volatile. Gross receipts tax revenue is unreliable. Burpo said that the five-year plan would be helpful in balancing the budget. He encouraged the commissioners to find little ways to save and retain revenue by reducing the budget without raising taxes or cutting services.

Commissioner Glen Walters said, “Going forward, our job is to craft something somehow—to do the right things to keep the county whole and not at risk. The situation might be tenuous, but we need to come up with some out-of-the-box creative thinking.” Commissioner Don Chapman praised the report, saying it was a good deal at a cost of only about $25,000 dollars. Commissioner Orlando Lucero called the workshop “an eye opener.” Rios said that a resolution supporting the economic development plan should be ready by the second commission meeting in October.


Bosque land use plan is in the works

—Sandoval County

Sandoval County and the Town of Bernalillo have launched a joint effort to create a plan for the long-term future of the portion of the Bosque that runs through Bernalillo.

The Bernalillo Bosque Area Plan (BBAP) is being developed at the request of County Commissioner Orlando Lucero, whose commission district includes the Town of Bernalillo.

“The Bosque is one of Sandoval County’s natural treasures,” said Commissioner Lucero. “We need to take steps to preserve it so future generations can enjoy its benefits in the same way that current and past generations have.”

The plan is expected to address a variety of issues affecting the Bernalillo Bosque area, including preservation of neighborhoods, residential design standards, water and wastewater utility service, and fire protection. As a first step toward creating the BBAP, county and town officials will take inventory of the resources currently in the area. Officials also will document how those resources—such as land, water, fire hydrants, and other utilities—are currently being used. They also will research the Bosque’s history, in hopes of finding clues about any past policies or practices that were helpful in preserving vegetation, water, and wildlife in the area.

Once the inventory is complete, officials will schedule public meetings to gather citizens’ input before drafting the plan. For information on the process, contact Makita Hill, Sandoval County long-range senior planner, at 867-7656, or email: mhill@sandovalcountynm.gov.


Acequias de Placitas survives another summer

—Ty Belknap

According to Acequias de Placitas board president Burt DeLara, the water system for the Village of Placitas survived another summer of the mega-drought without hauling water in to supplement dwindling output at the main spring. The monsoon rains did little to increase spring flow, however, because the springs rely on slow recharge from winter snow pack on Sandia Mountain.

DeLara said that a resident who was apparently using large quantities of water earlier in the season forced operators to shut water off for the entire system during the nights. After supply to the house was cut off, the system has remained on, despite the fact that spring flow has decreased from nineteen to twelve gallons per minute during the summer. Increased awareness of the need for conservation by other users also helped.

Acequias plans to use funds from a $250,000 dollar capital outlay, provided by the state legislature, to replace aging pipes, add meters, and drill a well. Delara said that the board has hired an engineer to help locate the well, which will hopefully tap into water supplies in the complex system of faults that supply water to the springs.

“Nobody who pumps from wells in the area is exempt from the need to conserve water,” said Delara. “The faults spread out in all directions and when the springs dry up it indicates that the water table is dropping. Nobody wants to sue for senior water rights. Hopefully a good snowpack will bring a comeback in water supplies.”


A bit of tax relief, courtesy of ESCAFCA

—Stephen M. Barro

Area homeowners who pay property taxes to the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (ESCAFCA) are about to see a smidgen of tax relief, thanks to a sharp drop in the tax levied for paying off ESCAFCA’s bonds. The new 2013 bond tax rate, 0.920 mills, is 58 percent less than the 2012 rate of 2.201 mills. This rate reduction applies not only to Bernalillo and Algodones homeowners still under ESCAFCA jurisdiction, but also to Placitas homeowners, who, though liberated from ESCAFCA two years ago, must still pay taxes to service previously authorized ESCAFCA debt.

ESCAFCA’s bonds, issued in 2009 and 2011, will not be fully paid off until 2023. So why is the bond tax rate dropping sharply now? The reason is that ESCAFCA “front loaded” its bonds, structuring them so that much larger principal and interest payments were due in the initial years of bond repayment than in later years. It did this to give itself room to borrow more money in 2013 and thereafter—a plan since abandoned. Now that the front-loaded phase is over, the required bond payments, and hence the required bond tax rate, have diminished.

Of course, ESCAFCA taxes account for only a small fraction of the property taxes paid by area residents. Most Placitas homeowners will face a total property tax rate of 25.339 mills in 2013, consisting mainly of taxes imposed by Sandoval County and the Bernalillo school district. The ESCAFCA share will be only 3.6 percent of this total. (It was 13 percent in 2009, the first year of ESCAFCA taxation).

Homeowners in Bernalillo town, who must also pay a 3.125 mill municipal tax and a separate 0.66 mill tax for ESCAFCA operations, will face a total rate of 29.124 mills, of which the ESCAFCA share will be 5.4 percent.

The bottom line: taking into account that the drop in the ESCAFCA bond rate will be partly offset by a slight rise in the County rate, most Placitas homeowners will see a total property tax rate that is 1.107 mills lower in 2013 than in 2012—a 4.2 percent decline. This translates into a reduction of about $108 dollars in the tax on a home valued at $300,000 dollars in both years—not exactly a life-changing event, but at least a bit of good cheer for the holidays.

[Data source: New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) tax rate certificates for tax years 2012 and 2013].


Floods, cell doors, and desalination

Signpost Staff

Prior to the September 16 community development workshop, the Sandoval County Commission unanimously passed a second resolution in a month, declaring a flooding-related disaster. The resolution read, in part:

“Whereas, extensive damage has been done to roads and other infrastructure by widespread flooding across the County’s jurisdiction, the areas affected include but are not limited to the watersheds of the Los Conchas and Thompson Ridge fires, the Jemez River Valley, the Rio Puerco Watershed, areas south of Cochiti and areas west of Rio Rancho in County Jurisdiction. This damage is inhibiting safe ingress and egress, which has resulted in difficulty providing emergency services and negatively effects the health and welfare of the citizens of Sandoval County; and

“Whereas, additional precipitation received will result in further flooding, causing an increased probability of undue human suffering and hardship and threaten the safety, health, welfare, and well-being of citizens, and economic function of Sandoval County, and

 “Whereas, without assistance, the County does not have the resources to completely and effectively address continued severe weather events; and

“Whereas, the overall thunderstorm damage has resulted in undue human suffering and hardship and threatens the safety, health, welfare, and well-being of approximately four hundred households so far and,

“Whereas, all locally available public and private resources and forces available to mitigate and alleviate the damage are deemed insufficient to cope with the resulting situation, initiate repairs, and meet restoration requirements… [the County Commission declares a disaster] for the purpose of exercising necessary emergency powers and expenditure of available resources, and requesting aid, assistance, and relief programs and funds available from the State of New Mexico.”

Governor Susana Martinez had declared a state of emergency on September 14, which freed up $750,000 dollars of funding for recent flood disasters statewide.

In other news, the county commission approved $275,000 dollars to repair cell doors at the Sandoval County Detention Center. Funding was provided by a 2013 legislature capital outlay. These repairs will increase jail capacity and revenues.

The Albuquerque Journal reported on September 7 that an Arizona developer had received approval from the County’s Planning and Zoning Commission for a water treatment facility designed to produce 100,000 gallons of water daily from deep, brackish water found in large quantities east of Rio Rancho for either residential, irrigation, or industrial use. The County spent six million dollars on exploration wells as part of an agreement with an Arizona corporation, since gone bankrupt, to provide water for a master-planned community which was to include 30,000 homes, an airport, golf course, and industrial area. The county commission approved the master plan in 2006. Rio West was hailed as another windfall in the County’s economic expansion, which came to a halt with the 2008 recession.


Bernalillo Town Council notes

—Karen Lermuseaux

At the September 23 Bernalillo Town Council meeting, David Gatterman from the Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority gave a presentation about the draft of the MS4 permit. He summarized the information and encouraged the Town to participate in a Sampling Cooperative. Doing so would allow the Town more time to meet the requirements of water quality that is discharged into the Rio Grande. The EPA is currently evaluating the public comments received from the release of the draft permit in May of this year. Gatterman advised that there are seventeen political subdivisions in the Rio Grande Valley, of which several Federal entities and pueblos that are exempt from meeting the proposed guidelines. An abundance of information was passed along, including some amount of speculation, and the Council was left with lots to consider regarding the water quality requirements that will come eventually.

Andrew Edmondson, Jr. was hired as the new public works director, and Joann Pacheco was hired as a police officer. Both received unanimous approval from the Town Council.

Director of Community Planning and Development Maria Rinaldi presented a report on Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan projects. The Council made a list of the top projects that will be presented by September 30. The top projects included water system improvements, drainage-plan and storm-water improvements, roadway improvements, Canon del Agua watershed improvements, Rotary Park improvements, Phase Four and Five of the streetscape improvements, senior center improvements, and railroad safety crossing improvements. The projected costs of the improvements over a five-year period would be approximately $42.9 million—the majority of which is not funded. The Council bantered around a bit, but agreed to include Rotary Park and the senior center as top projects.

Denise Silva spoke to the Council about concerns regarding the “holding pond” at the east end of her family property. The pond was built by the Department of Transportation many years ago, and has had no upkeep. After all the recent rains and flooding, the pond is full. It had to be pumped out twiced during the last storm. The threat of mosquitoes and West Nile virus is real, and the stench and algae are also a concern. There has also been erosion of the west side of the pond where it adjoins the Silva property.

Mayor Torres reported no new info regarding meetings with Sandia Pueblo about Sandia Gas. The gas station and convenience store on newly acquired tribal land within city limits pays no gross receipts taxes. A meeting with the Governor of Sandia is scheduled for the coming week.

Mayor Torres advised the Council that a draft letter was being sent to FEMA regarding the designation of the Town as a flood zone. Torres said that there was no threat of the river breeching its banks along the Town boundaries during the recent rainfall.


Placitas Star Party shines

On October 26, the Placitas Community Library, Las Placitas Association (LPA), and the Albuquerque Astronomical Society (TAAS) will co-host a free public astronomical viewing event at the Placitas Community Library, (453 Highway 165).

The event is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. and will officially end at 10:00 p.m. Volunteers will be on hand to assist the pubic and astronomers with parking. Amateur and professional astronomers, or anyone with a telescope, are encouraged to arrive before 6:00 p.m. for setup in the paved parking area found along the southern side of the library. Visitors will be directed to park in the gravel lot immediately west of the library, by a parking crew.

LPA reminds partipants to dress warmly and to use red flashlights, since white light knocks out the night vision needed to see stars and deep sky objects. Red cellophane works well to redden your white flashlights.

This event is weather-dependent and will end by 10:00 p.m.


Meeting and stargaze

On October 4, at 8:00 p.m., the Rio Rancho Astronomical Society will host its monthly meeting and stargaze at Coronado State Monument—weather permitting. Telescopes provided by members of the Rio Rancho Astronomical Society will show views of Venus, Saturn, various nebula, star clusters, and galaxies. The public is invited to attend both events. For more information, log on to www.rrastro.org, or call 220-5492.

 
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