Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Council to consider bonds for facilities

Copyright © 2022

A major facilities spending plan the Albuquerque City Council killed last year has been reborn — thanks in part to a councilor who helped defeat the previous version.

Council President Isaac Benton last December voted against Brook Bassan/Klarissa Peña legislation to borrow $110 million for various building and infrastructure improvements. But he now has joined Bassan and Dan Lewis to introduce a similar proposal that the council will vote on next week.

The trio wants the city to issue $100 million in new bonds to complete, or put money toward, 16 projects throughout Albuquerque.

The biggest portion — $20 million — would fund affordable housing. Large shares also would go toward the long-awaited North Domingo Baca swimming pool, widening Paseo del Norte and Unser, and creating a new West Side public safety facility. Each of those efforts would get $15 million.

The 2021 Bassan/Peña proposal died on Dec. 6 when it failed to get support from a council super-majority. Their plan was to sell the bonds without getting voter approval, a method that requires agreement from seven councilors. The legislation failed on a 5-4 vote.

Benton had voted with the opposition. He said the timeline bothered him because there were several “lame duck” councilors making the decision. Four of nine councilors in office at the time of the vote were going to be replaced less than a month later.

Benton also argued that the city should focus on operating costs rather than building projects, specifically by putting more money into ongoing rental assistance vouchers.

But now that the council has passed an operating budget that will significantly increase rental voucher spending next year, Benton said he is more comfortable with the large infrastructure investments.

“I received (council) support for the vouchers so that makes me more amenable to this deal,” Benton said.

Bassan — who said she “never intended to let (this idea) go” — said she feels confident that this version will succeed because the council’s budget committee already has voted unanimously in support and because the legislation’s sponsors took input from other councilors about what projects they wanted to include.

“Working with the other councilors, I think, is really significant in being able to see changes (around the city). I think taxpayers want to see projects for their money,” said Bassan, who noted that the $15 million allocated for North Domingo Baca’s swimming pool should be enough to finally get the facility built based on existing estimates.

The city would repay the bonds with gross receipts taxes — the tax assessed on the sale of most goods and services. It will take 20 years and the city will owe $5.7 million annually to start and $12.95 million per year toward the end, according to the city’s chief financial officer. It would not raise taxes because the city has existing borrowing capacity after paying off some old bonds last year.

At one point, Mayor Tim Keller had proposed using some of that bonding capacity to finance a new multiuse soccer stadium where New Mexico United would play. But city voters overwhelmingly rejected the $50 million stadium bond during last November’s election.

Shortly afterwards, Bassan and Peña introduced their proposal to use the bonding capacity for a $110 million infrastructure package.

Some of the projects on their 2021 list — like affordable housing and the North Domingo Baca pool — are included in the new version. But the latest legislation also reflects input from the four councilors who took office Jan. 1.

Lewis, for example, said he wanted to prioritize the Paseo del Norte and Our project in his district rather than the Cibola Loop Multigenerational Center, which would have received money under last year’s proposal. The West Side councilor said the city already has $10 million available for the road work and that a potential $15 million infusion will complete the needed funding.

He said the road widening would serve a “massive part of our city that’s in desperate need of more infrastructure,” and that he’d pursue funding for the multigenerational center from other sources next year.

Councilor Louie Sanchez, who also took office on Jan. 1, was able to get some projects he wanted funded on the new bond list. He sought $1 million for trail development and planning at the Poole property — a newly acquired open space property in his district — and $1.5 million to upgrade the city’s Shooting Range Park.

“It’s so far outdated; it’s going to really help the police and also help the public,” Sanchez said of the park.

Sanchez’s district would also get $3 million for West Mesa Aquatic Center updates and $500,000 for Ouray Boulevard improvements.

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