Rio Arriba County voters will have to decide the fate of six bond and mill levy questions in the upcoming November election.
The three separate mill levy questions are for funding in the Española School District, the Mesa Vista School District and for the newly-created Northern New Mexico College tax district.
Rio Arriba County is including three bond questions on the ballot to fund the creation of a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility, build and repair roads, and for a sort-of down payment on a community youth center.
Early voting starts Oct. 8.
Hutchinson, Shockey, Erley & Co. Financial Advisor Leo Valdez told the Mesa Vista School Board during their Aug. 28 meeting of the importance of informing the public how bond money will be spent.
“Elections will fail if you don’t tell people what you’re using the money for,” he said.
Española School District, along with McCurdy Charter School and La Tierra Montessori, is campaigning for voters to keep in place a two mill levy known as Senate Bill 9, the funds from which can only be used on capital improvements for students.
In a presentation before the Jemez Mountains Electrical Cooperative Board of Trustees, Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez said this money can be used to by chairs for students, but not chairs for a teacher’s lounge.
“We have a lot of aging facilities, a lot of aging infrastructure,” she said. “It’s really important that the funding is there, otherwise the money starts to come out of our operating budget.”
Exactly what needs to be fixed at each of the District’s 13 school sites remains unclear.
Chief Operating Officer Dan Romero said the list of projects include repairing libraries, playgrounds and athletic fields.
He said, however, that the District has yet to make a list of capital improvements specific to each school site. The lack of specificity is not concerning, he said, because all schools in the District have a need for repairs.
Mesa Vista Superintendent Albert Martinez said the District’s list of Senate Bill 9 related repairs come from its 2018 Facility Master Plan, including repairing and replacing air ventilation units at Mesa Vista Middle High School. He had said the existing units were not cooling down the building.
District officials also want to replace old doors and windows at the High School, which Martinez said prevent temperature controls from working.
The High School lacks in various security measures, Martinez said, and will need extra lights and security cameras. Board members had expressed concern over multiple break-ins at District schools over the summer.
Martinez said the District will also need to have its entire electrical system examined.
State law forbids either district from using school funds to campaign in favor of the mill levy. Instead, district officials can encourage the public to go to the polls and vote, but not how they should vote.
Mesa Vista will host forums to talk about Senate Bill 9 with the public, Jaramillo said. Other Senate Bill 9 projects include repairing parking lots and vandalized street lights.
Both districts’ mill levies would be recurring, as the property taxes are already in place. They tax $2 of every $1,000 of taxable value on a piece of property.
Northern New Mexico College, on the other hand, will have a brand-new two mill levy on the ballot with the aim of providing funding for the College’s upstart community college branch.
Northern formed a community college tax district with five local school districts: Española, Pojoaque, Chama Valley, Mesa Vista and Jemez Mountains, which allows Northern to ask voters to fund the community college.
Northern President Rick Bailey said money collected from this new tax would fund the plumbing, pipe-fitting and electrician programs offered at the community college along with classes at the College’s El Rito campus and provide transportation for local high school students taking dual credit classes at the College.
“Without the passage of this mill levy, it will be incredibly difficult for the College to constitute career education programs,” he said. “We can’t rely on tuition and fees as the funding mechanism for this.”
The County is including three bond questions on the ballot for a total of $30 million. The first question is for $12 million for construction and repairs to County roads and the purchase of roads equipment. The second question is also for $12 million to plan, design, build and equip a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility. The third question is for $6 million for the design, construction and acquisition of athletic facilities, including a gymnasium and other indoor and outdoor exercise facilities.
There are 46 roads listed in this bond question.
The roads in District 1, represented by James J. Martinez, are County Roads 69, 77, 78, 79, 81, 93A, 101, 103 and 240.
The roads in District 2, represented by Leo Jaramillo, are County Roads 1, 18, 19, 22, 23, 24, 41, 42A, 43, 47, 55, 57, 130, 130A and 138.
The majority of the 46 roads are in District 3, represented by Danny Garcia, and are 142, 168, 194, 280, 297, 319, 324, 326, 327, 328, 342, 352, 356, 357, 362, 370, 379, 402, 405, 425, 426 and 443
County Economic Development Director Christopher Madrid said the money from this bond can only be spent on roads included in the actual ballot question.
Madrid did not know the amount that would go into purchasing roads equipment, except to say the “vast majority” is for construction.
The money can also be used for things like the installation of culverts, building bridges and paying engineers, Valdez, who is also the County’s financial advisor, said. Roads equipment purchased with this money can be used anywhere and is not limited to use on the roads listed in the bond question.
The list was created with input from the commissioners, Public Works Administrator Napoleon Garcia and management.
“It would be a major improvement or a major thing for all my constituents that at least we address areas of bridges, areas of base course at least on some of these roads,” Danny Garcia said.
Madrid said that the County roads crews will not do any of the work, instead, the County must hire contractors, and go through the formal Request for Proposal process to get bids for the projects.
The need for the $12 million to build a skilled nursing home and rehabilitation facility arose after the unexpected closure of the Española Valley Nursing and Rehab Center at the end of last year, Madrid said.
Officials got to the $12 million number after some preliminary architectural design work done by NCA Architects, which Madrid said was done pro bono.
The facility will have a similar number of beds, about 100, to that at the now-closed nursing home, as well as have the same number, about 90, of staff.
There will be rooms for people who need around-the-clock care and assistance, as well as space for people who will only be there temporarily after a surgery or medical procedure.
The cost of the facility is a little higher because County officials want to build an upscale environment where patients and their families can comfortably spend time together.
“We understand that many of the residents at the old nursing home were placed in other facilities outside of our County, out of town,” Martinez said. “We understand that a lot of people lost their jobs because of the closing of the old nursing home so the residents came to us and said, ‘What are you going to do about it?’”
Madrid said the question for $6 million for athletic and exercise facilities is the most open-ended and vague of the three, but this was by design.
“When it came to, for purposes of the bond language it is athletic facilities,” he said. “Really what we’re talking about is athletic facilities for youth and family. There, we don’t have an, admittedly, we don’t have a very clear, clear vision and $6 million doesn’t get you where you need to be if you’re looking at the type of facility that Taos, Santa Fe or Hobbs has.”
Instead, the $6 million would be part of money in a public-private partnership to build a youth and family facility, he said.
If the bond passes, one possible partner is the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation.
Foundation CEO Jenny Parks said the vision for the facility is to create a world class recreation center where everyone from the community can go.
Parks said the initial $6 million will also allow the County to show legislators and the state that the people here are investing in themselves.
Madrid said the community would help design the facility through a series of public meetings and would include input from people and leaders at Santa Clara Pueblo, Ohkay Owingeh and the city of Española.
If all three bond questions pass, property owners in the County will see an additional 2 mills added to their property taxes for about the next 20 years.
Taxes are charged on one-third of a property’s value as assessed by the County Assessor’s Office. This means a home assessed at $150,000 is only taxed on $50,000 of its value.
The additional 2 mills would raise this home’s taxes by about $100.