Sandoval Signpost

 

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Ballot asks voters to decide tax questions and amend constitution

~Signpost Staff

Sandoval County voters this election will confront a ballot with not just candidates but questions on bond issues, amending the New Mexico Constitution, and continuing a hospital tax.

The countywide tax levy, which helps support services at Rio Rancho’s two hospitals, has drawn both organized support and opposition while the bond issues for senior centers, libraries, capital improvements are largely flying under radar. The constitutional amendment to change how judges grant bond to criminal suspects has also been controversial.

Voters in 2008 overwhelmingly supported the hospital tax when Sandoval County was the largest county in the country without its own hospital. Soon thereafter, two hospitals seven miles apart—Presbyterian Rust Medical Center and UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center—opened and share in the tax that has raised, annually, between $13.3 million and $13.8 million.

If approved, the levy will continue at the rate of 4.25 mills, or $425 for each one hundred thousand dollars of taxable value, which is one-third of the full property value, minus any exemptions.

In Placitas, the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association (ES-CA) isn’t taking a position on the levy as its membership is split on the issue, President Ed Majka said during the organization’s September 10 candidate forum. “We’re on the fence at this time,” he added.

The political action committee Rio Rancho Yes notes that taxes won’t go up if the levy passes, while the Rio Rancho Tea Party points out that taxes will go down if the levy fails. Both organizations are fundraising for campaign expenses that include pro and con yard signs.

“The citizens of Sandoval County gave Presbyterian and UNM an eight-year commitment to bring hospitals to Rio Rancho,” former Rio Rancho City Councilor Chuck Wilkins wrote on the Tea Party website. “We honored that commitment. Now it’s time for these two multi-billion dollar entities to stand on their own.”

The hospitals’ administrators see it differently.

“The original intent as we’ve come to understand it is that the purpose was for us to be able as hospitals to bring up services that would likely be not profitable at the beginning being supplemented by the mill levy dollars in order for us to be able to provide the unique services that are needed for the community,” Rust Administrator Angela Ward told the Signpost.

Ward and Sandoval Regional President and CEO Jamie Silva-Steele said their administrations work to avoid duplicate services that can drive up the cost of health care. Where Presbyterian Rust has a cancer center, labor, and delivery, and a neonatal ICU, UNM Sandoval offers major surgery, cardiology, and a senior behavioral health unit.

Both have emergency departments. UNM Sandoval is working toward designation as a Level 3 trauma center, which requires a special team of doctors and nurses available on short notice around the clock. While Presbyterian Rust doesn’t accept all insurance, all emergency patients are taken in, although they may be transferred once they are stable.

Both hospitals have plans to expand and add services that could be delayed if the tax fails, Ward and Silva-Steele said. The facilities are credited with creating 1,300 jobs and a $428 million payroll while attracting other related services and jobs.

The statewide bond questions, if approved, would borrow $15.4 million for new and current senior facilities, $10.1 million for academic, public school, tribal and public libraries, $142 million for colleges, special and tribal schools, and $18.2 million for State Police, public safety communications and National Guard facilities. The bonds would be repaid by property tax levies.

The constitutional amendment would allow a criminal defendant to be denied bail if, after a hearing, a judge determines the person is a threat to public safety. It also would let other defendants be released without a bail bond if they show they can’t afford to pay bail.

Arguments for the amendment include keeping dangerous people off the streets and reducing jail populations by releasing people who don’t pose a threat, according to the state Legislative Council Service. Those opposing the amendment argue that bail bonds ensure that defendants show up in court. Also, they argue that releasing more people would put the public at greater risk

 
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