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2 lawmakers fight for respite center in Bernalillo County

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Two state lawmakers allege in a lawsuit that Bernalillo County is improperly using state capital funds to build a mini-gym in the South Valley rather than a respite care center, as intended.

Reps. Miguel P. Garcia and Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, both D-Albuquerque, announced the lawsuit in a news conference Friday at the parish hall of Holy Family Catholic Church. South Valley residents Santos and Viola Abeyta are also petitioners in the suit, which seeks to halt the county from spending the money “contrary to legislative intent.”

Garcia told reporters the county had dumped the community’s plans for an adult day care and respite center “in the sewer.”

“When we heard this,” he added, “our hearts fell to the ground in agony and disbelief.”

In interviews, Bernalillo County executives denied misusing the funds. The project under construction at the “South Valley Multi-Purpose Family Services Center” complies with the language in state appropriations, they said.

Deputy County Manager Vincent Murphy said a “multi-purpose room” is being built that could be used for volleyball and basketball, but it will also have the capacity to be turned into a respite-care center if needed.

But at this point, he said, the county isn’t inclined to spend $1.2 million on a building that would be used to accommodate 15 respite clients.

“It’s too narrow a scope,” Murphy said. “It’s really not a mission (or) business the county wants to be in.”

Garcia said a respite center was always planned. It’s mentioned in an architectural rendering he released.

Ortiz y Pino added: “This represents, we think, a serious breach of trust with the county administration.”

He said there’s a great need for respite care in the South Valley. Family members need a place to take relatives who are suffering from severe Alzheimer’s or physical disabilities, Ortiz y Pino said.

“There are so many people in the South Valley who need this resource,” he said.

County Manager Tom Zdunek said the county doesn’t currently provide respite care elsewhere. Doing so could come with some liability, he said, and it isn’t a responsibility to be taken lightly.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for late August.

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