The dog days of summer found Bernalillo County government folks making some cool governance moves at recent Bernalillo County Commission meetings.
Bernalillo County Commissioners, or at least some of them, had the vision to approve paid sick leave for businesses located within the unincorporated areas of the county—such as the East Mountains and South Valley. That means the new ordinance does not affect the municipalities of Tijeras, Albuquerque and Los Ranchos. The new law will be phased in starting July 2020 and applies to businesses with more than two employees.
The Employee Wellness Act was not an entirely popular idea. A number of businesses spoke out against the measure. The president of the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry opposed the bill, saying it should be the job of the state or federal government to set such regulations. The owner of the Triangle Grocery on the east side of the Sandia Mountains said there were too many business restrictions already creating a hostile environment. Whoa! We guess all these individuals and businesses want sick people showing up for work.
Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada said he had not slept in a couple weeks thinking about the 300 or so businesses that will be impacted. Quezada also said he had been thinking of the workers who do not have a voice. The vote came down 3 to 2 with Commissioners Quezada, Debbie O’Malley and Maggie Hart Stebbins voting for the bill and Commissioners Lonnie Talbert and Charlene Pyskoty voting against it. It was no surprise Republican Talbert voted against it but Pyskoty’s nay was a bit of an eyebrow raiser. To her credit, she floated a failed amendment giving smaller businesses a break. Pyskoty—who represents the East Mountains—needed to fight for the tiniest of businesses in her area. Her district also includes a number of the high-end, gated, conservative neighborhoods.
The new rules require businesses with two or more employees to provide workers with one hour of accrued time off for every 32 hours worked. The bill does not entitle workers to accrue more than 24 hours of leave during the first year, 40 in the second and 56 in the third. Supporters said providing sick leave is a matter of public health and a basic human right for the lowest paid workers who generally keep things running for all of us.
Like another jewel in a crown of adobe, Commissioners approved buying 147.2 acres of the South Valley known as Anderson Farm Open Space. This is the largest open space acquisition the county has ever made. The property is also the largest tract of agricultural land remaining in the South Valley. The property was once part of the large Anderson Farm that includes Adobe Acres and Las Estancias.
This piece of open space has been used for farming and that use will continue as part of the County’s Cultivating Bernalillo County Initiative. The property will cost about $38,500 an acre for a total to not exceed $5.67 million. The money will come from open space mill levy funds reimbursing the general fund over the next few years.
Commissioners approved spending $2 million for phase two of the Carlito Springs Open Space project. This phase will renovate the main house, public spaces and the caretaker unit at this East Mountain gem that is on the State Register of Historic Places. Carlito Springs has been closed during renovations. It encompasses 179 acres and is named for the spring that follows from exposed bedrock tumbling through ponds, nourishing a lush riparian environment that includes gardens and orchards. The county estimates the work will be done by early 2022 when it will reopen to the public. Can’t go wrong investing in good dirt.
The county’s dedicated Animal Care Services staff is always looking for shelter volunteers and foster homes for dogs, cats, puppies and kittens. This is the perfect opportunity to provide temporary homes to vulnerable fur babies while they wait for their forever homes. For more information on how to help out contact Jolene Hewitt at 505-314-0293 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the most compassionate services the county provides is the unclaimed and indigent cremation burial. This years’ service will be held Sept. 19. The county partners with Daniels Family Funeral Services to honor these residents with a public memorial ceremony for those who are indigent or whose remains are unclaimed after two years. The county provides direct cremation to those who qualify. The public burials are open to the public. This year’s list is way too long—check it out at bernco.gov.
Bernalillo County’s Behavioral Health Initiative received national recognition this summer from the National Association of Counties. The accolades are for the many people who work to address mental health, substance abuse, addiction and homelessness in not only Bernalillo County but also the Middle Rio Grande region. Some studies have shown that nearly 50 percent of Bernalillo County residents need some sort of mental health or addiction treatment. The initiative and its programs that are beginning to come to fruition are funded by an one-eighth of 1 percent gross receipts tax passed by voters in 2014.