Despite Ballot Mishap, Money Collected for Trades Education

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Jeremy Maestas ballot machine 9-30-16 RGB

Rio Arriba County Recreation Director and Española School Board member-elect Jeremy Maestas tests a ballot machine as part of preparations for the 2016 general election on Sept. 30, 2016.

Rio Arriba County officials will move forward with levying a tax to pay for the voter-approved vocational trade program at Northern New Mexico College’s El Rito campus, a couple weeks after the same question went missing from ballots in Taos County.

The question would allow school districts in Rio Arriba, Taos and Santa Fe Counties to have their residents taxed a percentage of the value of their property in order for the new trades program to get up and running. In exchange, local high school students could participate in the program.

A small portion of the Mesa Vista School District resides in Taos County

While Rio Arriba and Santa Fe voters overwhelmingly approved the mill levy, it did not appear on Taos County ballots, even though officials from the College had filed all the necessary paperwork.

Taos County held its election canvass meeting Nov. 13. Taos County Commissioner Gabriel Romero said beforehand that he expected the missing question to be discussed.

The canvass, however, only lasted for several minutes, with none five commissioners asking about the error at all.

County Clerk Anna Martinez had said in a Nov. 6 interview that she was responsible for the mistake, but did not specify exactly what went wrong.

She said a resolution for the error will be discussed Nov. 26 at the State Election Canvassing Board meeting.

In the meantime, Rio Arriba County officials will continue the process of implementing the new property tax, County Attorney Adán Trujillo said.

The decision to move forward, he said, was due to the relatively small amount of voters in the two Taos County precincts—which Martinez said was around 50—which would have little bearing on the overall results.

“I think that there would be a better argument for doing that if there were a sufficient number of Taos voters to potentially veto the whole thing,” he said.

Trujillo said another factor in the decision was the County’s need to send out tax bills to residents as soon as possible.

“We’re already behind schedule for issuing property tax bills as it is, because of these numerous ballot questions,” he said.

Northern President Rick Bailey said Nov. 13 that he expected Rio Arriba and Santa Fe Counties to move forward with collecting money from the tax. Trujillo said he also expected Santa Fe County officials to do the same.

However, Santa Fe County Spokesperson Carmelina Hart said Nov. 15 that County attorneys were waiting on direction from the Secretary of State’s Office before making any final decisions.

Office Spokesperson Alex Curtas said no decision regarding the election will be made until the statewide election canvass is complete. Afterward, he said, it will be up to affected parties to decide the best way to remedy the situation.

Bailey and other College officials have been organizing the formation of the program, which would be funded via a community college tax district, for the better part of a year.

The Boards of Pojoaque Valley, Española, Chama Valley, Jemez Mountains and Mesa Vista school districts each had to approve their inclusion in the tax district and also selected one member of each board to sit on its governing body.

It is unclear what effect the Taos County ballot situation will have on Mesa Vista’s inclusion on the tax district’s board.

The tax district, Bailey previously said, was devised as a method to resurrect the defunct trade programs once offered at Northern, which include courses for aspiring plumbers and electricians.

Once started, courses will be offered at the reopened campus in El Rito. Bailey said shuttles will transport high school students in all participating districts to and from the campus for courses.

The three-member State Canvassing Board consists of Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court Judith Nakamura.

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