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Almost all of the nearly $ 12 million in Albuquerque’s long-standing Open Space Trust Fund are currently sacrosanct when city officials are looking to buy property – something an outgoing city council may want to change before leaving office.
Fourth-term city councilor Don Harris, who voted against re-election, recently revived a proposal that would allow the city to use the trust fund’s capital to purchase land, easements and rights of way, or existing open space in the city City to improve. The current ordinance makes this impossible and limits the use of the city to the interest and capital income of the trust fund. It has raised around $ 1.3 million since 2017.
Harris, who made a similar attempt to amend the regulation six years ago, argues that the fund’s relatively low returns are not keeping pace with land appreciation. Access to the client would make the city more nimble when it came to maintaining the open space. He cited the Poole property – 23 acres on a cliff above the Rio Grande wetlands – that was earmarked for residential development before the city bought it for open space earlier this year. Most of the $ 6.7 million purchase price was covered by state legislation, but Harris said the city would have to “crawl” to find the remaining $ 2.2 million.
“The Poole property would have been gone in a year if we hadn’t done anything, and because we couldn’t use the trust fund without changing the regulation, we had to look at other things,” he said. “That kind of scrambling may not be possible the next time something like this comes up.”
The city has more money to buy open space, particularly the 2% it receives from the biennial general bond program. This year’s program raised $ 2.8 million for this purpose. The open space portion is currently only guaranteed until 2035, but Harris’ legislation would make it permanent.
Harris, who is leaving office at the end of the year, tried to expedite a council decision by calling a vote two weeks after his bill was passed on Nov. 3, but Councilor Isaac Benton questioned that timetable. A slim majority in the council approved Benton’s motion to send the bill through the council’s normal committee process.
At the time, Benton expressed concern that the city’s volunteer Open Space Advisory Board – which makes recommendations to the council – had not yet discussed the bill.
He said in an interview that he was also concerned that a four-member council, to be replaced on Jan. 1, might make what he called what he called a “subsequent” amendment to the city’s open space ordinance. There is a possibility that the draft law will be submitted to the final vote in the Council in December.
“Nothing prevents us from discussing the future of the fund, but not with lame advice,” said Benton. “I find it very strange and it definitely raises questions about what the motivation is.”
Harris, meanwhile, said councilors have “the right to make politics” until they leave office. He said he was unaware of any specific acquisitions the city would make once the trust fund’s capital became available.
City Parks and Recreation Director David Simon does not say whether Mayor Tim Keller’s administration supports the proposal, noting that the council has the power to set guidelines regarding the trust fund.
“If passed, we look forward to reviewing the bill, taking into account the history of the OSTF, existing city ordinances and the public contribution,” said Simon in a written statement.