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Signed legislation benefits Rio Rancho, Sandoval County

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Gov. Susana Martinez last week signed several bills adopted in the 2014 legislative session that will have a direct impact on Rio Rancho.

Martinez approved almost $3 million in capital outlay that will help the City of Rio Rancho pay for the replacement of water lines, make a down payment on a new well, fund Westside Boulevard improvements and purchase eight new police vehicles, according to city spokesperson Peter Wells.

The governor also approved $230,000 for improvements at The ASK Academy, $200,000 for facilities at the Cibola Little League and $60,000 for A Park Above, according to a list on the legislative website.

Sandoval County will receive $125,000 to open a small business innovation center at the El Zócalo Complex in Bernalillo, county spokesperson Sidney Hill said.

“The idea is to create a place where aspiring entrepreneurs could come to get advice from seasoned business professionals, along with other assistance, for turning their ideas in actual businesses,” Hill said.

The state budget also includes $10 million for local economic development projects. County Commissioner Don Chapman said he hopes the county will use the funds to implement its recently-approved economic development strategy.

The state budget signed by Martinez includes funding for an additional judge in the 13th Judicial District, which could mean a new judge in the county’s judicial complex. Hill said the county would “find space to accommodate an additional judge.”

The Paseo del Volcan Loop Bypass received $344,000 from capital outlay. The state has spent nearly $2 million to purchase rights of way the last two years, according to Rep. Tim Lewis, R-Rio Rancho.

The project will eventually connect Rio Rancho’s City Center with Interstate 40 and NM 550 and could have “the biggest impact on the economy in Rio Rancho ever,” Lewis said.

The capital outlay bill also includes $680,000 for Rio Rancho Public Schools to improve visitor access at elementary schools.

“The funding will help us enhance security at several of our campuses,” RRPS spokeswoman Kim Vesely said.

Lewis said public school educators across the state will see pay raises. RRPS teachers will see a 3 percent across-the-board increase; educational assistants will get a 6 percent boost. Most other state employees will also receive a 3 percent raise.

Martinez vetoed a $2,000 addition to minimum starting salaries for tier 2 and tier 3 teachers, but kept it in place for tier 1 teachers, Lewis said.

RRPS is still reviewing line-item vetoes in the state budget. The district could restore the boost in starting pay for upper tier teachers, notwithstanding the veto, but Vesely said RRPS had not yet made a decision.

Jason Harper.

Jason Harper.

Kindergarten 3-Plus and pre-kindergarten programs will each receive $4 million to $5 million more than last year, according to a document provided by Lewis. Those funds, along with a $1 billion increase in federal funding for Head Start approved last month, will boost early childhood education in Rio Rancho.

Erica Stubbs, director of children’s services at Presbyterian Medical Services, which operates the two Head Start sites in Rio Rancho, said the increase makes up for previous funding cuts.

Tim Lewis.

Tim Lewis.

“While we did not reduce enrollment in Rio Rancho in response to our sequestration cuts, we continue to look for ways to serve families in the community,” Stubbs said.

The faculty and staff at UNM West, CNM Rio Rancho and Highlands Rio Rancho Center were supposed to receive a 1.5 percent salary increase, according to UNM West CEO Wynn Goering.

Instead, UNM received about only 60 percent of the funds needed for that across-the-board pay raise and “the university will need to allocate almost an additional $1 million to make it happen,” Goering said.

Craig Brandt.

Craig Brandt.

Several notable bills from local lawmakers escaped the governor’s veto pen. Rep. Jason Harper and Sen. Craig Brandt, Rio Rancho Republicans, carried a bill that allows local school districts to determine which courses and activities, such as JROTC and marching band, fulfill the state PE credit requirement for high school graduation.

Lewis successfully co-sponsored a bipartisan bill to establish the National Human Trafficking Hotline number. “We now join 19 other states who have this much-needed law,” he said.

Harper amended a lottery scholarship bill in the final hours of the legislative session.

The proposal from Harper, to which Brandt also contributed, guarantees the scholarship will cover a set percentage of tuition for all eligible college students.

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