Millions in housing, more millions for healthcare and a trade trip to Singapore crossed the Bernalillo County Commission table since we last checked in with the busy bunch of regional administrators tasked with bringing Bernalillo county into the 21st century. Here’s a summary of what they worked on in Mid-February.
Commissioner Wayne Johnson is in the midst of participating in his last couple of commission meetings, as a commissioner, anyway. He will step down from the body effective March 1. Johnson, a Republican, was elected to the commission in 2010. He was appointed state auditor December 2017 by Gov. Susana Martinez after the Auditor Tim Keller won the Albuquerque mayor’s race. The Governor will also appoint Johnson’s replacement on the commission. The district represented by Johnson takes in parts of the northeast side of the county.
Bernalillo County residents looking for affordable or workforce housing will soon have some new digs to consider. Commissioners approved $23 million project revenue bond with DBG Properties LLC for the proposed Valle de Atrisco Family Apartments. The bond will go to build a 240-unit family housing complex on Dennis Chavez Ave. between 98th and 118th Streets on the county’s westside. The complex will offer 120 one-bedroom units, 72 two-bedroom units and 48 three-bedroom units to people with incomes at or below 60 percent of the median income.
Commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding with the University of New Mexico Hospital and the Indian Health Service. This is part of a long standing federal agreement between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bernalillo County to operate the hospital known as UNMH. This outlines how UNMH will use about $95 million generated annually in voter-approved property tax money. In 2016, voters approved the reissue of the mill levy that supports this project and the commission must revisit and reissue the memorandum every eight years.
Attorney Maureen Sanders explained the complicated document that covers a range of objectives for reporting, accountability, transparency along with addressing the need for primary and low-income care, Native American care. The memorandum addresses behavioral mental health and substance abuse care as well. Some of the highlights include working on increasing the number of primary care facilities; decreasing emergency room wait times; recruiting and training specialists in medical specialties critical to Native Americans and confer with the public-school system to consider the feasibility of school-based mental and medical clinics.
Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins will embark on a trip to a Singapore trade conference in April. But the approval to travel was not unanimous. Commission Chairman Steven Michael Quezada voted against the trip, saying if he were to make the trip himself, the media would portray him as corrupt. He went on to opine that when anyone from his district travels anywhere it becomes a media frenzy to make those from said district look corrupt. “If I do it I am a criminal and misusing taxpayer money,” he bemoaned. Apparently, he was referencing media coverage former commissioner Art De La Cruz received when he took a trip to Cannes, France for a real estate conference in 2016 that cost the county over $18,000.
The local Trade Alliance group recommended Hart Stebbins to attend the International Trade Fair for Wine and Spirits, which is billed as the largest trade fair in Asia. County Manager Julie Morgas Baca said Hart Stebbins was asked to attend because of her connections in the area. She will be with three other New Mexico business people showcasing their locally marketed wine, coffee and spices. Baca said similar commission trips have been taken in the last few years costing between $3,000 and $6,000, to places such as Israel, Brazil and Taiwan.
Hart Stebbins said she lived in Southwest Asia for a while. And still goes there at least once a year on her own to keep up her friendships and business connections. She said she does not think the trip will cost the full $3,500 that has been budgeted. “We will do everything we can to keep costs down,” she said.
Commissioners Lonnie Talbert supported the trip saying, “We want to be known internationally. We have been sitting around waiting for them to come to us. That approach doesn’t work.”
• After 5 years of no raises, Commissioners approved a 4-percent raise for white collar Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees union members. Each employee will get a $2,000 bonus as well.
• The Commission negotiated an 8-percent raise with the union representing all Sheriff Deputies and additionally, a one-time $3,000 bonus to every union member. The pay is retroactive to July 1, 2017.
• Commissioners received an official report about the new baby twin Dahl lambs, and a lot more, out at the Gutierrez-Hubbell House at 6029 Isleta Blvd. SW.
• Commissioner approved $7 million in Industrial Revenue Bonds for New Mexico owned Vitality Works, for a planned expansion of its manufacturing plant, laboratories and other facilities. Vitality Works makes medicinal and botanical supplements.
• Bernalillo County was one of 23 jurisdictions across the country that were issued letters by the US Department of Justice demanding it turn over immigrations enforcement policies. The county has until Feb. 23 to answer the correspondence. Commission Chairman Quezada said the county was not going to change its position with the threat of losing federal grant monies looming like the sword of Damocles, overhead. The county has been expected to receive only about $61,000 in federal justice grants, but the Commission’s stand on immigration may change that.