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 Feb 5 - 11, 2009 
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Council Watch

Burning the Almost-Midnight Oil

By Carolyn Carlson

Two wheels were missing during the Monday, Feb. 2, meeting, but the Albuquerque City Council plowed ahead without Councilors Michael Cadigan and Sally Mayer, who were excused. The Council sent the city administration a message to provide proof that the red-light camera program is effective. The resolution says within 60 days the administration will deliver all available information supporting or refuting the claim that the cameras prevent accidents and save lives.

The meeting worked its way past 10:30 p.m., with the Council deferring much of its business until future meetings. A whopping 52-item consent agenda was passed, giving approval (or at least a nod) to grants, appointments and reports on various goals, such as longer library hours, improving roadway pavement markings and increasing attendance at city film festivals.

The City Council approved $14 million in bonds for the renovation of the old Memorial Hospital on Central at I-25. The developer plans on turning the building, rumored to be filled with ghosts, into a hotel.

Send your comments about the City Council to carolyn@alibi.com.

Snack Money

Issue

General Mills asked the city to approve $100 million in bonds for a 176,000-square-foot snack manufacturing plant at its cereal-making location on Paseo del Norte. The company has been making cereal here since 1991.

During the application process, nearby businesses objected to the proposed truck route, which would have allowed a projected 200 truck trips per day to cut through the Alameda Business Park and would impact the Alameda Little League playing fields. General Mills executives sat down with city staff and the concerned groups, and a compromise routing traffic away from the businesses and the kids playing ball was worked out.

The local plant employs about 190 full-time employees, and the expansion will add an estimated 60 positions that pay $40,000 or more. The company said it plans to hire city residents for 90 percent of the new jobs.

Keith Bone, general manager of the plant, said Albuquerque is the top pick, and the company should make it official mid-February. General Mills will pay off the bonds, not the city.

Council's Take

With Councilors Cadigan and Mayer absent from the meeting, the other seven elected officials unanimously approved the bonds. One by one, councilors gave shout-outs and thanks to everyone involved in resolving the truck traffic and other concerns with the original proposal.

Councilor Rey Garduño urged Bone to give 100 percent of the new jobs to local folks and questioned whether "making snacks is so complicated" that the company would have to bring in outside management candidates.

Bone said his company would look for Albuquerque residents to fill management positions, but the company will be bringing in some managers from other General Mills plants.

The proposal's sponsor, Councilor Debbie O'Malley, said this project is a good example of what Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRBs) are designed for—supporting manufacturing jobs. Councilor Ken Sanchez said this was a tremendous investment in the city's economic future.

Reporter's Take

O’Malley’s right. It’s a feather in Albuquerque's cap for General Mills to find the city's labor force, location and profitability good for its business. IRBs have been called "corporate welfare" by critics, but they are not only for big industry. Local companies needing more than a couple million to grow can take advantage of them as well. For instance, the aging Downtown hotel queen La Posada received about $8 million in city IRBs to help with an overall $22 million renovation.

What snack food would the expansion produce? General Mills isn’t saying for sure. After many years of working near the cereal plant, I became fond of the sweet aroma of Count Chocula, Cheerios and Lucky Charms.

The snack plant would require an additional 153,000 gallons of water daily. The existing plant uses about 167,000 gallons per day. Combined, that’s more than 300,000 gallons a day. For reference, 325,000 gallons would provide a family of four with enough water for one year. General Mills says relatively little water will actually be consumed by the expanded facility. About 90 percent of the total water will be dumped back into the city's sewer system, and 10 percent will be used in the product. Sounds good, but the factory’s water will come from the pristine aquifer because General Mills needs the purest H
20 available. Meanwhile, city residents will be drinking supposedly cleaned-up river water.
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