A divided Torrance County Commission voted to hold an August election for general obligation bonds of about $4 million.
The vote came toward the end of a contentious special meeting Monday called by commission chairman LeRoy Candelaria with only two agenda items, a discussion of a county ordinance governing solid waste and an action item on the bonds.
The meeting started out with a lengthy discussion of whether it had been properly called. Commissioner Julia DuCharme said that at its regular meeting the week before, the commission had instructed the county manager to set the work session during the next regular commission meeting.
She read from the state’s Open Meetings Act, first to protest the fact that an agenda not listing an executive session had been posted on the county’s website, but an agenda with an executive session was at the meeting. The county’s attorney Brandon Huss advised the commission to proceed without the executive session because of this.
DuCharme then challenged Candelaria’s authority to call the special meeting with a work session she said the commission had directed to another meeting. In that case, Huss said that because there had been no “action item” on the Feb. 24 meeting, that the commission had taken no formal action in directing the county manager to place the work session on the next regular meeting’s agenda. In legal terms, the commission only takes a formal action by a vote.
After consulting the clerk’s notes from the previous meeting and the agenda, Huss concluded that Candelaria was within his authority as chairman of the commission to call a special meeting.
Commissioner Jim Frost said, “I think it’s important to hold this meeting.”
Huss said even if a formal decision had been made to put the work session on a regular meeting agenda, it would not preclude the chairman from setting a meeting.
The meeting then turned to a revision of its 1994 ordinance governing solid waste, which soon devolved into a fight.
County manager Joy Ansley is one of three people on a committee tasked by the commission with coming up with a draft of revisions. The other two members of the committee are Leanne Tapia, a former commissioner, and David Saline. The three represent Torrance County on the board of the Estancia Valley Solid Waste Authority.
In an extremely complicated legal relationship, the county pays EVSWA for solid waste services, to the tune of about $800,000 a year. The Solid Waste Authority provides eight transfer stations around the county and bills county residents for those services at about $60 a quarter.
The Solid Waste Authority also operates the landfill east of Moriarty.
After Ansley offered a few different scenarios for consideration by the commission, all of which would require Torrance County to pay “tipping fees” to EVSWA, increasing its cost to about $1 million. Municipalities already pay this tipping fee, but the county has never paid it.
Part of the commission’s intent in revising the 1994 ordinance is to clarify the relationship between the county and EVSWA.
The Solid Waste Authority is a quasi-governmental entity, created by a legal document called a Joint Powers Agreement. Torrance County is one of several signatories to that JPA, which also includes Moriarty, Estancia, Mountainair, and other towns.
DuCharme turned the discussion from the ordinance to the committee, asking Ansley if Saline was “truthful.”
DuCharme then asked Ansley why county staff has not yet written up a Request for Proposals, or RFP, for services now provided by EVSWA.
The county’s purchasing director said she is “working on it,” but was not able to drop her daily duties for the RFP.
Ansley and Olivas have both said that in order to write an RFP that will give an apples to apples price comparison, it would have to include all of the same services now provided by the Solid Waste Authority. And they can’t just go to the Solid Waste Authority to ask them exactly what they do, because then EVSWA would not be able to bid on the RFP.
Ansley suggested that DuCharme meet with Olivas to tell her exactly what she thought should be on the RFP, but DuCharme said she shouldn’t have to do that, and it shouldn’t be a private meeting.
That led to about 45 minutes of wrangling over how to proceed.
DuCharme is alone on the commission in pushing for a looser definition of the services, with both Frost and Candelaria saying that the RFP needs to be for the same services so the county can compare the costs. DuCharme argued for a “flexible” definition.
“Don’t say eight collection stations,” DuCharme argued. “See how many the private haulers offer us.”
Frost said returning to the days when the county had large trash bins placed around the county would be “a disaster.”
The meeting was interrupted when Michael Godey, a regular fixture at county commission meetings and formerly a candidate for a seat there, made an inappropriate hand gesture toward Michelle Wells, who works in the county clerk’s office and was taking notes of the meeting. Wells stood up and asked Candelaria to address the issue.
Wells said she had asked Godey to stop talking when he made the gesture. Candelaria asked him to apologize, to which Godey replied, “Sorry.”
After almost an hour and a half, the commission turned to consideration of whether to put a general obligation bond on the ballot, and when.
A presentation by Eric Harrigan of RBC Capital Markets addressed the pros and cons of doing a special election in August versus putting it on the November general election ballot.
Pros, he said, are that county residents’ taxes would remain the same, “interest rate risk” to the county would be reduced, and there would be no other questions on the ballot.
Cons, Harrigan said, include the $28,000 cost for running the election, which would not be incurred if the item was added to the general election ballot, lower voter turnout, and less time to come up with projects.
The bond would cost property owners $33 a year for every $100,000 in property value, Harrigan said, and allow the county to issue bonds for $3.8 million.
DuCharme again questioned the county’s attorney on whether taking a vote on the item was legal, contending it was not listed as an action item; Huss said it was an action item and Candelaria called for a vote.
“I’ve said repeatedly my opinion on this,” DuCharme said. “I guess I have to say it again.”
She contended that the county could better spend the $28,000 cost of holding the election, which she described as a “gamble” because there is no guarantee voters would approve a bond.
An August election for a general obligation bond was approved by a vote of 2-1, with DuCharme voting no.