LAS CRUCES – Residents appeared before the city council Monday to push for the inclusion of their preferred projects on the ballot in this year’s general obligation bond election.
This November, Las Crucens will go to the polls to decide which projects will be paid for through GO bond financing. GO bonds are issued by the city and paid back through a temporary increase in property taxes.
In 2018, city voters approved four GO bond-funded projects for a cumulative $35.6 million.
During a Las Cruces City Council work session June 13, councilors heard an update from Architectural Research Consultants, a firm hired by the city to solicit and survey the public to come up with a slate of potential GO bond project ideas, as well as estimate costs and help the city arrive at a final project list.
Following multiple public feedback mechanisms, including an online survey, in-person and virtual meetings and email canvassing, ARC presented to councilors with some of the top-rated suggestions for bond-financed projects.
Affordable housing, a new fire station, expansion of the East Mesa Public Recreation Complex and city park improvements topped the list. The fire station was estimated to cost $11.5 million to complete, and advocates want at least $4 million to $6 million dedicated to housing. City park improvements totaled an estimated $32 million, and it would cost about $36 million to finish the East Mesa sports complex.
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The council has said it does not want to raise property taxes as a result of the new bond cycle, so the council must approve $23 million or fewer in projects. John Petronis, President of ARC, told the council that means they will need to be selective in their proposed distribution of funding.
“There’s more requests than available money,” Petronis said.
A coalition of residents advocating for the council to put affordable housing investments on the 2022 GO bond ballot attended Monday’s work session. The coalition is calling for up to $6 million to be allocated to the city’s Affordable Housing Land Bank and Trust Fund, which currently has no dedicated funding source.
“Time to include bonds that are for a basic need,” said Jo Galvan Nash, a member of the coalition. “There’s too many people struggling in our community for food, utilities, gas and housing. It’s already a crisis in Las Cruces.”
“We can’t get by on just a couple projects,” said Sharon Thomas, a coalition member and former city councilor.
The city could use GO bond money to support a number of anticipated affordable multi-family housing developments, Housing and Neighborhood Services Manager Natalie Green said, or to acquire land to support affordable single-family housing.
“I envision a variety of things that targets that full housing spectrum and not one specific project,” Green said.
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“I think it’s important that the general public are aware that it’s just not going to sit in this fund for months and months,” District 1 Councilor Kasandra Gandara said. “We have an obligation to use it within the timeframe that we have said we want to use it.”
Monique Lopez, who serves with the housing sector for the Resilience Leaders of Doña Ana County and is a member of the housing coalition, said funding for housing will help residents “survive and thrive” and spoke about her past experience struggling to afford housing.
“This not only affects those individuals that are unsheltered, but it affects single-income families, disabled individuals on a fixed income like Social Security, as well as numerous other individuals trying to sustain housing in our community,” said Erin Boyd, housing programs coordinator for Mesilla Valley Community of Hope and a coalition member.
“We have landlords in our community right now that are charging $600 for an efficiency unit,” Boyd said. “So how can an individual that’s on a limited income … of $841 in Social Security benefits afford to sustain without affordable housing options? That’s not sustainable for somebody to continue to live every day.”
Eight new pickleball courts were approved in the 2018 GO bond election as part of the East Mesa Public Recreation Complex, which is currently under construction. Local players told the council they’d like to see the city invest in the complex’s expansion this fall, which would include the addition of more courts to meet growing demand. A master plan for the complex was approved by the council in 2020.
“Our primary objective for our community is that we just want to increase the number of pickleball courts or venues throughout the city,” said Becky Dominguez, president of the Organ Mountains Pickleball Club.
“This is a good bang for your buck in investing in recreation in the city,” said Gerry Rittenbery, who said pickleball is a great game for all ages.
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Assistant City Manager Ikani Taumoepeau said the council could approve proposed projects and costs as early as July 18. The council must submit final language for the ballot items to the Doña Ana County clerk by Aug. 23. Whatever the council approves will still need to be okayed by city voters, who will go to the polls Nov. 8 to decide on the bond questions.
The city is planning an additional work session on the GO bond projects on June 27. An bilingual online survey to gather input on project ideas is still open until June 19.
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.