On representation in Torrance County
As mentioned previously, as county commissioner representing Torrance County’s District 3, I would like to take the opportunity to briefly inform the public regarding various issues that are of importance and interest. The second issue I would like to reference is representation. By representation, I mean the manner and means by which residents of the county, municipalities, and land grants are afforded adequate representation on any issue and in any of the governing boards that serve the public. Providing adequate representation can be very challenging in the County due to the complexity of issues, scarcity of willing participants, and lack of buy-in from communities. However, as public servants, we are enjoined to garner buy-in, cultivate interest in issues, and discombobulate the hopelessly complex. Of special interest to me is the need for maximizing inclusion of communities in decision making and coordinating regional efforts so that progress is more readily attainable and action easier to foment. Such progress requires an equalizing realignment that empowers communities more fully and balances the distribution of power in the County so that it is better shared. It begins with the adoption of a five-member commission and as such, I remain an advocate of the expansion of the Board of County Commissioners from three to five members in order to bring fairness to an existing imbalance in representation at the County Commission, whereby the City of Moriarty is firmly planted in and well-positioned to influence two of the Commission Districts, both when it comes to voter turnout during elections and in practical matters. Thus, the existing system of representation gives the City of Moriarty a disproportionately influential voice when it comes to any issue. It is a fact that no other municipality nor land grant has the same opportunity to influence more than one commission district in such manner. That is not to say that the City of Moriarty is the ultimate factor in Torrance County nor that their influence is negative nor assured, but it is to say that our northern powerhouse is always well poised to strengthen their position on any issue. Therefore, the potential for centralizing power in the northern part of our County is always great and as good Americans we should always strive to build governmental systems that better share power and never work to concentrate it amongst a few. Expansion of the Board of County Commissioners requires a unanimous vote by the County Commission.
In a separate matter, our land grant communities of Manzano, Torreón, and Tajique present a unique opportunity to expand our notions of participation and representation because as political subdivisions, they are entitled to the same respect and consideration given to municipalities. As such, I feel strongly that our land grants should have a voice in decision-making and that their buy-in should be sought on all issues, as with any other municipality and school district. In past decades, our land grants have been relegated to political oblivion, but times have changed and a new generation of land grant leaders have introduced a plethora of reforms that have resulted in state-recognition as political subdivisions and increasing self-determination towards positions of self-reliance. As public servants, we should encourage and aid such worthy efforts at strengthening our oldest and beautiful land grant communities. As such, I have sponsored effort at the County in creating the Torrance County Land Grant Advisory Council, which is intended to enhance intergovernmental partnerships and serve as a communications conduit to bring focus to the needs of our historic communities of Tajique, Torreón, Manzano, Abó, and Punta de Agua.
Finally, I have always believed that public comment is an integral and enjoyable feature of public meetings. In the past, County Commissions have sought to limit public comment at meetings in efforts to clamp down on dissenting views and criticism. I feel those actions proved the corollary of the theory and practice of repression, that it deepens antagonism, stimulates resistance, and ends by creating conflict. As public servants, our mission is to try and bring people together and never to exacerbate the gulfs that may exist amongst us. I feel strongly that we should give people the maximum opportunity to express themselves at meetings within reason and introduced the insertion of public comment during each agenda item at meetings. That shift towards openness and inclusion has gone unchallenged, even as the commission has changed membership and if the public attends a commission meeting, they can rest assured that they will be given their chance to express themselves if I have anything to say about it, and I do.
Javier Sanchez, Torrance County
On Torrance County roads and solid waste disposal
For several election cycles I’ve noticed many candidates use the Estancia Valley Solid Waste Authority and the Torrance County Road Department as a means to get elected. No need for rhetoric, we need facts for our community! Our community needs to come together, recognize value, and give credit where its due. There is a notion that there is corruption in the organization, and that the fees associated are unfair. I have personally lived in several other states where my trash gets picked up and our system in Torrance County is really good. There is always room for improvement in everything we do, but I’ve learned a lot from our system that County Residents have access to.
The County Fees are determined by the County Commission indicated in Torrance County Ordinance 94-12. Those fees can only be adjusted by Commissioners. EVSWA has the ability to provide input on how much its costing them to do business but the fact is that fee structure is resolved by the Commission. The fees are billed quarterly at a normal rate of $60.50. There are several discounts that qualified residents can be recategorized into, those are; Vacant Exemption (0.00), Low Income (30.25) and Private Hauler (20.17). These service options are really great for residents. I think that a full rate of $20.16 per month is a very fair price to charge because you get to throw so much material. EVSWA will allow residents to throw 2.5 yards of household waste per week and also include some recyclables. I live in town and I can only throw half a yard of trash per week. EVSWA will also include; cardboard, metal, 2 tires, used motor oil, used antifreeze, batteries, light bulbs, ash, household paints and chemicals. Not to mention they also have a SWAP area where residents can leave an item that still has value like an old piece of furniture and a person in need can take it for free. There are limits to how much you can take, but this is a great way to help our community members.
If you compare services, private haulers can charge at least $20 per month just for recycling. I think the value that residents get is more than fair. Some might argue that you have to take your trash to the station and that costs money and time. I’m not sure that people on rural roads want big trucks driving their roads. People live in the country because of its rural nature, convenient services like private hauling may not be desirable. The County Road department works really hard to keep the roads maintained as it is and if we start driving big trucks on those roads, we may be making it harder to maintain. I don’t see an added value to bring those types of services to all residents. If you live near a paved road maybe this might be an added value for the convenience. If you look at Santa Fe County’s pay as you throw program, they allow you to throw trash in trips. Those increments are; 1 trip ($18), 3 trips ($27.50), 6 trips ($55), 12 trips ($110.00). If you have a very limited amount of trash where you throw trash once a month you might save $2 but collecting trash for that long doesn’t appear to be ideal. There is not one set method that will work for every single person and I’m confident that our system prevails every time not because a single person or small group takes credit. This system prevails because of the service that is provided.
Property liens result when a customer fails to pay on their account. Trash services are a utility and if you don’t pay in a municipality the water gets shut off. If residents don’t pay for their trash service that is required by federal, state and local mandate why is placing a lien on your property seem unfair? When you don’t pay your property taxes a lien is placed on that property.
With road maintenance pertaining to maintained roads and those that are not maintained are specified in the Road Departments policy. That map is reviewed on a yearly basis. Routine Maintenance includes pavement asphalt, chip seal, grading, shredding, dust control, replacement of base coarse, installation and repair of drainage structures, snow removal, pothole repair, signage, resurfacing, weed control, and mowing. This seems like a lot to manage especially when you have limited staff and equipment. The road department covers 846 miles of gravel road and 97 miles of chip seal with a 17-man crew and two vacancies.
NMSA 1978 67-5-5 through 67-5-21 indicates the details on petitioning for establishing a County Maintained Road. Those outlines are described in the Road Policy in the Procedure for Vacating or Accepting a County Maintained Road. Road priorities for snow removal are clearly indicated which included essential access for emergency services and bus routes.
The fact is that there is a very limited amount of taxes that is for road repair and stem from Gross Receipts tax. So how does the Road Department maintain all the roads? Annually, the Road Supervisor applies for state funding which are considered projects. These project applications account for a majority of what they expend on an annual basis. Knowing this fact, I need to go spend money at a local gas station in Torrance County in order for my roads have access to more funding for maintenance. Next time you need to put gas, use gas stations in our County. They contribute to funding in the Road Department.
Public services are provided to the public and I want to thank those public servants who work diligently. They ensure that our roads are maintained and our trash is disposed of in a regulated manner.
Sarah Lucero, Candidate for Torrance County Commission