LAS CRUCES — The city kicked off the public input process for the 2022 general obligation bond election at two meetings March 16. This case, city voters will be able to choose which public projects will be financed through the GO bond program.
After the first two meetings, affordable housing was the funding request which stood out above all.
Two meetings were held at Doña Ana Community College on Wednesday, with the afternoon meeting drawing about twice the number of participants as the evening one. They were the first of 11 meetings planned to solicit public feedback on the GO bond projects — including two planned virtual meetings. They were hosted by Architectural Research Consultants, one of the firms hired by the city to put together proposed projects using public feedback.
For more information on those meetings, go here.
In 2018, voters approved four GO bond-financed projects which cost $35.6 million — trail improvements, a new animal services center, improvements to parks and sports courts and a new fire station on Valley Drive. The projects are funded through the city’s issuance of general obligation bonds, which are backed by a temporary increase in property taxes. The bonds are typically paid back over 10 to 15 years.
To maintain the current level of property taxes established through the 2018 GO bond election, Las Cruces city councilors must propose and approve a $23 million package of projects, which in turn must be approved by the voters of this general election, Nov. 8.
On Wednesday, community members who spoke called for one area to receive funding more than any other — affordable housing. They cited it as a long-deferred promise from the city, a means to assist the homeless and low-income populations and a necessary step to combat rising rents and shortages of units.
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Daniel Sanchez, 32, is a Las Crucen who currently works as an organizer for NM CAFé. He said investments in affordable housing will reduce crime and reduce homelessness.
“I think it’s easy for people to say, hey, pick yourself up by your bootstraps,” Sanchez said. “If you have all these obstacles in your way and one of them being ‘I don’t got a home.’ If I don’t got a home, I can’t get a job, because I can’t put down an address.”
Beth Bardwell, who chairs the local League of Women Voters’ affordable housing committee, said the ideal plan would be for the city to put $6 million of GO bond funding into its Affordable Housing Trust Fund. But Bardwell is part of a local coalition which would also like to see the city commit GO bond money toward affordable housing in each subsequent cycle for the foreseeable future.
“One or two projects isn’t going to fill the need we have,” Bardwell said.
Jo Galvan Nash, a Las Cruces resident and another member of the League of Women Voters, said housing is a basic need which has existed in the city for a long time but continues to get worse.
“It needs to be a commitment that the city begins with every election,” Nash said. “It’s part of the health of a community and the success of a community to house people in attainable housing that’s affordable.
Mary Martinez White, a League member and board member of the Community Service Corps, said “we’re creating poverty by not doing something about housing.”
Another contingent vying for funding came more out of left field — the Las Cruces disc golf community, which had members in attendance during both meetings.
Ryan White, the vice president of the Las Cruces Disc Golf Club, said current public facilities the club must use are insufficient, with only four baskets and parkgoers and a playground often in the way.
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White said local disc golfers want the city to invest in an 18-hole course so Las Cruces can host tournaments. He said many other major cities in New Mexico have one or more courses, such as Carlsbad, Albuquerque, Hobbs, Lovington and Truth or Consequences. He also said they’re relatively cheap, citing one in El Paso which cost about $10,000 to build.
Las Cruces city councilors are expected to vote on a resolution finalizing the projects that will appear on the 2022 GO bond ballot this summer.
Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, [email protected] or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.