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  The Gauntlet
 

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letters, opinions, editorials

Signpost welcomes letters of all opinions. Letters are subject to editing for length, clarity, libel, and other considerations. Anonymous pen name letters will not be published. Attach your name and contact information. Send to: Signpost, P. O. Box 889, Placitas, NM, 87043 or email@sandovalsignpost.com.


Eastern Sandoval Citizen’s Assoc. (ES-CA) report

~Chris Daul

ES-CA, along with a number of other local groups, has been working with Senator Martin Heinrich, who has introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate that would prohibit mining on BLM lands. We are still waiting for the issuance of the Resource Management Plan, and while the bill is not law, it is hoped that BLM is taking notice and thinking hard about permitting sand and gravel mining on the Buffalo Tract.

The hospital tax, which is a tax paid by all Sandoval County property owners, is set to expire at the end of this fiscal year. The tax is a 4.25 mill levy, which approximates four hundred dollars per year on a house assessed at three hundred thousand dollars. The Sandoval County Commission approved a ballot question for this November’s election that would extend the tax for another eight years at the same rate. ES-CA    representatives have attended all of the public meetings and a number of comments are posted on the ES-CA Forum on the website (www.es-ca.org). The ES-CA board has also had both hospital administrators make presentations to the board. It is important for voters to carefully examine this issue before voting. ES-CA welcomes your comments and thoughts on this issue.

ES-CA will once again be hosting a candidates’ forum on September 10, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., at the Placitas Senior/Community Center. All of the invited candidates have stated that they will participate. The lineup is as follows: State Senate District 9—Incumbent Senator John Sapien and challenger Diego Espinoza; State House District 22—Incumbent Representative Jim Smith and challenger John Wallace; Sandoval County Clerk—Incumbent Eileen Garbagni and challenger Don Lemm; and Sandoval County Treasurer—Incumbent Laura Montoya and challenger Leroy Lovato. This will be your chance to hear all of the local candidates at one time and to ask questions.

The next ES-CA board meeting is scheduled for September 12, beginning at 6:30 p.m., at the Placitas Fire Station, 463 Highway 165. All are welcome to attend.


Editoral: End the Sandoval County Hospital Tax

~Stephen M. Barro

The Presbyterian and UNM hospitals in Rio Rancho have improved access to health care for many area residents and contributed to county employment and economic development, but it does not follow that they should continue to be subsidized by Sandoval County taxpayers. The hospitals now are well established and growing. The health systems to which they belong are two of New Mexico’s largest and richest institutions, each with ample resources to sustain and expand its hospital without further county funding.

The Presbyterian Health System, which includes both nonprofit hospitals and a major for-profit insurance company, had revenue of $2.9 billion in 2015. As of March 2016, it held cash and investments valued at $2.3 billion. Its 2015 income, after expenses, was nearly two hundred million dollars, and its CEO’s compensation runs four million dollars per year

The UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center is a component unit of the UNM Health System, which took in $1.2 billion in revenue in 2015. UNM, as a whole, had 2015 revenue of $2.6 billion and holds a $1.2 billion investment portfolio.

Compared with these impressive revenues, the Sandoval County subsidies—about seven million dollars per hospital per year—are tiny; they provide only one-fourth to one-half of one percent of each Health System’s annual receipts.

But the burden on county homeowners and businesses is not tiny. A family with a three hundred thousand dollar home will have paid over $3,300 to the hospitals from 2009 to 2016. If the tax is renewed, every homeowner will pay another two thousand, three thousand, five thousand dollars or more (depending on his or her property assessment) over the next eight years. The county’s total tax collections for the hospitals will reach $108 million this year, and that figure will more than double if the hospital levy is extended.

To deter voters from ending the hospital tax, Presbyterian and UNM officials have taken to claiming that the loss of subsidies could result in service cutbacks at the Rio Rancho units, but such claims would make sense only if each local hospital were on its own financially, not part of a multi-billion dollar system. In fact, Presbyterian views the profit-making potential of its Rust Hospital so positively that it is implementing a program to more than triple the hospital’s capacity. UNM has announced plans to expand services and build additional Rio Rancho facilities. Each system recognizes that its Sandoval County hospital is a good investment—with or without county subsidies—and each has both the means and the motivation to provide its hospital with the working capital it needs to reach its profitability goal.

When one weighs the heavy burden on county taxpayers against the marginal and unneeded contributions to UNM’s and Presbyterian’s massive budgets, the conclusion is clear: extending the subsidy is unjustified, and voters should reject the hospital tax on the ballot this November.

Stephen M. Barro, PhD, is a retired public finance economist living in Placitas.


re: A call to action for a Placitas Recreational Park

Placitas residents live in a great community that offers a semi-rural life, a national forest, and a rich art culture. The development of community resources is hindered since Placitas is unincorporated so that funding community resources competes with all Sandoval County initiatives. The community pays for a disproportionate share of taxes per resident to Sandoval County and receives less per resident than other areas of Sandoval County. Through hard work of Placitas residents, projects such as the Senior Community Center and the Placitas Community Library have received funding from Sandoval County, the State, and the Federal governments. It is now time for Placitas to receive funding for a recreational park for its residents.

Placitas has a diverse population ranging from children to elderly citizens. Currently, the only access to many recreational facilities in Sandoval County is to drive to Bernalillo or continue on to Rio Rancho. People in some areas of Placitas have a drive of over thirty minutes to reach recreational facilities. In the past, citizens have tried to obtain funding for recreational facilities, and although Commissioner Bill Sapien was very supportive, nothing was ever realized from community efforts. Recently, some residents have again moved to find support and funding for recreational facilities in Placitas. Senator John Sapien, Representative James Smith, and County Commissioner James Dominguez have expressed interest and support to work together to find funding for recreational facilities.

A major issue is how to obtain land to site future recreational facilities. Ideally, the land would be centrally located in the Placitas Village, although other suitable sites would be considered by the planning group. There is no publicly owned land in Placitas. Both Representative James Smith and Commissioner James Dominguez have suggested that a donation of land would help in the development of a recreational park. Any donations by individuals or businesses would be greatly appreciated.

We envision that the recreational park would include at least a picnic area, basketball court, a skate park, and tennis courts. Sandoval County would need to review the funding proposal and prioritized it with other county capital request. Future community needs and potential use are important factors in the county review. Suggestions for the recreational park by Placitans would be greatly appreciated by the planning group and can be can be forwarded to jwillsnm@gmail.com

—John Wills, The Placitas Recreational Park Planning Group


re: Deserted by T-Mobile

We have been T-Mobile customers for about ten years. T-Mobile is the only carrier that provides coverage where we live.

Our T-Mobile WiFi Cell Spot router provides great reception at home. But in many areas in Placitas that used to have strong network coverage, such as La Mesa and Sundance Mesa, the reception is now No Service or spotty service at best.

After a long private messaging conversation on Facebook with a T-Mobile support person, I was informed that the tower that used to provide 3-4G service to our area is no longer working. And she did not see any indication that it was going to be fixed or a new tower established.

I feel totally deserted by T-Mobile. But because of where we live, changing carriers is not an option. I’d like to know how many other T-Mobile users have experienced this service degradation. Perhaps if there are enough of us, we can demand our coverage back. If you email the Signpost, they will forward your responses to me.

Additionally, after sending an email to John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, I received the following response. So it appears the ball is in the court of the Ranchos de Placitas HOA.

—Gary W. Priester, Ranchos de Placitas

Hello Mr. Priester,

Thank you for allowing me to contact you this morning. As we discussed, the engineers are currently aware of the impaired coverage in the area. We do have a known issue in Placitas. Our primary service site in the community is on a community-owned water tank.  We have not been able to contract the site to our fiber provider because they have no facilities in the area. We are currently working with the community to allow us to add an additional dish to the tower which will significantly improve coverage in the area but have been unsuccessful. If you have additional questions please feel free to reach out to me directly.

—Christopher Padilla, Specialist, Executive Response, Office of the President/CEO


re: Placitas generosity

Once again, the Placitas community has demonstrated immense generosity. Mid-July the Coronado Optimist Club with our Cub Scout Pack and partners at the Placitas Post Office initiated a one-month School Supplies Collection Program for Bernalillo Middle School. 

In May, Jacque Manghan, the principal at BMS, asked the Optimists Coto help with school supplies and gave us a list of needed supplies. We submitted an article to the Signpost, posted the list on our club website (optimist19.wixsite.com/coronadoclub), made personal appeals to friends, and put out our yellow boxes in mid-July.

During that single month, our Program Chair David Gardner estimates that Placitas donated between eighty and one-hundred pounds of school supplies. We are flabbergasted by this astounding outpouring of kindness. I hoped we could help, but my expectations weren’t high. Your open-hearted sharing was beyond my hopes. I should have had more faith since I know this wonderful community. 

Thank you so much,

—Suzann Owings, Coronado Optimist Club


re: Recycle!

I walk almost every morning in Ranchos de Placitas and La Mesa. Frequently, I see large collection bins filled with broken-down cardboard boxes. I have no idea what’s in the bins, but I know the boxes can be recycled at our own recycling center every Saturday morning from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. The center also recycles #1 and #2 plastic containers, paper, even batteries and ink jet printer cartridges. They will take and share bubble wrap and Styrofoam peanuts.

For a complete list of what can be recycled, visit their website www.PlacitasRecycling.org. The recycling center, just in case you missed it, is on the north side of Highway 165, just before you reach I-25. There is even a collection bin there for cast off clothes.

—Gary W. Priester, Placitas


A world of piñon, a vanishing world

—Leo Romero, Writers on the Range

When I bought land west of Santa Fe in the late 1980s, it felt like home to me even before I physically moved there in 1992. What made it home were the piñon pines, that forest of short, squat trees. But when my wife first came to New Mexico after growing up in the East, she was somewhat taken aback by the sight—maybe even a little shocked to see what she described as “polka-dot hills.” 

Yes, from a distance pinõn pines can look like spots on a hillside, separate from each other; years of drought have done that in places. But decades ago, there were actual forests of piñon, well, at least suggestions of forests: I could hike to open land west of my property and at times walk through dense groves of piñon. That was my idea of heaven, having a home in the middle of a piñon forest, living with the piñon jays.

Then, within eight years, catastrophe stuck. It wasn’t a forest fire, which would have been localized, but a far-ranging disaster across the entire Western United States. It seemed as if overnight, trees that had been a vibrant green suddenly took on a gray pallor. Needles dried up, and the trees were soon standing dead, brought down by an infestation of bark beetles. Usually, the trees could fight off the burrowing bugs by forming sap that drowns them, but because of the ongoing drought, the trees lacked the moisture to do what they had been doing for so long. 

Many of the trees were tall, and considering how slowly piñon trees grow, some were old before I was born. I recalled the times that I had seen sap running down their trunks of the trees, never realizing that the trees were battling for their lives. Those past skirmishes had been successful because there had been an occasional easing of the drought. But when too many dry years piled up, the trees could no longer summon the sap they needed. The bark beetles got the upper hand. And this wasn’t just happening west of Santa Fe, where I live; the destruction was occurring throughout the West.

Hundreds of years ago, the Anasazi Indians must have experienced a similar period of continuing drought. Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde and so many other ruins we visit today are witnesses to what happened. The Ancient Ones packed up and moved when their landscape began to vanish.

When I was growing up in northern New Mexico in a Spanish-American community—a time before we were called Mexicans, Chicanos or Hispanics—piñon trees were often a subject of conversation. Every summer, people would ask how the pile of wood in the backyard was coming. Were you going to have enough wood for the winter, and was your firewood piñon, with its cleaner fire and aromatic smoke?

Piñon nuts were another topic of interest, especially as the fall approached. Local lore said that good piñon crops happened just once every seven years or so, but the people I knew were always optimistic. So much depended on the rainfall. Good rain at the right times allowed the piñon cones to fully develop and produce a crop. Yet more often than not, the monsoonal rains came too late, or the moisture petered out, or the rain shied away entirely. 

Of course, we realized the weather wasn’t the same everywhere. In some other place, the weather conditions might be just right, so people frequently quizzed anybody they met who came from somewhere else: “Heard of any piñon?” If you bought piñon nuts at the store, they were very expensive, and if they came all the way from China, they never had the same sweet flavor. 

After years of not tasting piñon, your mouth watered for it. Maybe it was a craving we inherited from the Indians, just as we inherited many things from the first Spanish colonists, who came to New Mexico, to the tierra adentro, the far land. Many of my ancestors would have had seafood as part of their daily fare before they left Spain. In the Western United States, we learned to love corn, squash, chile, and, yes, piñon nuts. They were a real treat and incredibly nutritious for their small size.

For a while, I am proud to say, I lived in a piñon forest. I looked at the trees fondly; they brought good memories. Now, I realize how quickly things can change if the climate changes. The trees you love can dry up and die before your eyes.

Leo Romero is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in New Mexico.

 
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