The city plagued with ruptured water lines, flooding and drainage issues, and dilapidated streets, won’t be receiving any of the millions available to government entities this year from state Capital Outlay (CO) funds, because the Request for Funding forms were sent without legislators’ signatures.
According to Michelle Jaschke, a researcher with the State Legislative Counsel Office, there are no records of requests filed for CO funding for the City of Truth or Consequences for the 2020 legislative session.
The “Sentinel” received word this week that no funding requests had been sent, and contacted City officials on Feb. 27 for confirmation.
Mayor Sandra Whitehead said via telephone, “I have to look into this, but I don’t think it’s correct (the question about the funding request not being sent). I was under the impression these (requests) were delivered to Smith (Sen. John Arthur Smith) and included several items dealing with the water and electric system infrastructure.”
Sen. Smith, as longtime chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is considered to be, other than the governor, the most influential person in state government.
Mayor Pro-Tem Kathy Clark said City Manager Morris Madrid and Whitehead had designated her as a spokesman for the City on this issue. Both Clark and Whitehead were surprised when asked about the funding requests not being received. Clark said she would contact other officials and call back with information, which she did promptly.
“This is the comment,” said Clark. “The City did follow the instructions, and we do not know what the hang up is, as these were submitted electronically and by U.S. mail.”
Both of Sierra County’s state elected officials say they went to City Hall in T or C to remind City Manager Morris Madrid about the deadline to get the sponsoring legislator’s signature to authorize the request. Both said they were told by the receptionist Madrid was in a meeting and unavailable, so they left without seeing the manager.
CO requests must be signed by the elected officials from the district they represent to be funded. Sierra. County, Elephant Butte and Williamsburg requests were all completed and signed on time to be funded, after representatives for those entities personally delivered the forms for that purpose.
Capital outlay funds are used to build, improve or equip property used by the public, including roads, museums, playgrounds, schools, irrigation ditches, hospitals, and lands.
These funds are nonrecurring, or one-time, money. Capital outlay funds can only be used for government-owned facilities. Funded through three sources: general obligation bonds, severance tax bonds and nonrecurring general fund revenue, the amounts vary from year to year depending on the economy.
The state also issues bonds for state transportation projects, funded by the New Mexico Finance Authority, and other projects, and typically those bonds are repaid with other revenue. General obligation bonds are repaid through property taxes and must be approved through a general election. As a result, that money is only available in even-numbered years.
General obligation bonds support projects for higher education, senior citizens, public schools, and libraries.
Severance tax bonds generally are repaid with revenue from taxes on oil, gas, coal and other natural resources “severed” from the land. The amount available through severance tax bonds is dependent on the health of the oil and gas industry.
Sen. Smith said the state benefitted from a record $900 million in oil and gas revenues for the 2020 Fiscal Year, and is projected to have $800 million for 2021.
“Oil and gas contribute just under $4 billion, or 46 percent, in appropriations for statewide infrastructure projects,” Smith said.
Rep. Rebecca Dow said, “Although Sen. Smith and I reached out before the capital outlay request deadline, neither of us were asked to sign the forms that must be completed by each eligible agency before funds can be allocated. As a result, when Sen. Smith and I met to distribute capital outlay, not one single project for Truth or Consequences was available to allocate funds to.
“All was not lost,” said Dow. “I did work with Main Street to fund the Foch Street Renovation. (Main Street Director) Linda DeMarino submitted a grant to the state last year, and that grant required a match. After meeting with the Main Street agency, they approved leveraging my $250,000 transportation allocation (from another funding source) to that grant request. The balance of the grant is to be funded through the general fund and is around $600,000.”
Sen. Smith said, “Rebecca and I sat down and didn’t have anything from the city requesting funds, so we just went through and tried to take as much as we could from various funding sources; from this and that, to try to get as much fully funded as we could.”
When Smith stopped by the City office a week before the deadline he spoke with the mayor of Williamsburg, who happened to be there, and reminded her of the deadline for her requests.”
“We also tried to get the hospital district approved, which had to be in a special message to the governor, but it was late coming down, and during a 30-day session it has to be considered ‘Germaine,’ or relevant, to actions related to the taxes or the budget.”
CITY MANAGER RESPONDS
City Manager Morris Madrid called the “Sentinel” back Feb. 27, and said there had to be some mistake, and that he had sent the forms for funding. His office provided three requests for CO funds he said were submitted: one for $57,750 to plan, design and construct playground and park improvements at Ralph Edwards Park; one for $100,000 for planning, design and construction of drainage improvements citywide; and another for $740,500 to plan, design and furnish a proposed multi-generational facility for the Sierra Joint Office on Aging (Senior Center).
Madrid was out of the office with an illness when the “Sentinel” went to press, but Traci Burnette, grant and project coordinator for the City, said to her knowledge Madrid drove the request forms to Santa Fe for signatures.
Both Smith and Dow said they were never approached in Santa Fe or elsewhere and asked to sign CO requests.
“He may have left those forms elsewhere with some state office, and if so, we need to find out where so Sen. Smith can see if there is some way to find some funding for these projects,” said Dow.
A more in-depth article with additional information will appear in next week’s “Sierra County Sentinel.”