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Placitas Residents Blast ESCAFCA

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — State Formed Political Subdivision for Three Occasionally Flood-Prone Communities

Some folks say it’s just a pricey white elephant.

Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority, the political subdivision of the state formed to take care of three occasionally flood-prone communities in eastern Sandoval County, is the target of critics who say there’s no need for it to exist.

Officials with Sandoval County and the Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority say they don’t want the responsibility for flood control for Algodones, Bernalillo and Placitas either.

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Residents of Placitas continue to blast ESCAFCA for publicizing misleading information about the amount of property tax they would have to pay to support the authority, saying the work could be done by Sandoval County or SSCAFCA.

“This is just another sleazy way in which a county has figured out how to outsource an obligation and leave the mess to the taxpayers,” Placitas resident Mike Neas wrote in a letter published on www.placitascounty.com, a website that airs residents’ views about issues that affect Placitas.

ESCAFCA was created in 2007 through a bill sponsored by Rep. James Roger Madalena, D-Bernalillo. Sandoval County lobbied for the legislation after unusually heavy summer rains in 2006 caused flooding in Algodones, Bernalillo and Placitas.

Initially county officials wanted SSCAFCA to take the responsibility. In October 2006, the Sandoval County Commission approved a resolution to extend the boundaries of the SSCAFCA, which provides flood control for Rio Rancho and Corrales, to include the three communities.

SSCAFCA board members later rejected the proposed expansion based on a study of the area’s tax base and flood control needs, board vice chairman Mark Conkling said.

He said the three communities cover a large area with a small population, little infrastructure, and drainage issues influenced by runoff from the Sandia Mountains. Those characteristics were so different from the more heavily populated communities of Rio Rancho and Corrales, “It became onerous to try and make the differences manageable,” Conkling said. SSCAFCA’s recommendation was, “We think it best if you are your own flood control district,” he said.

The way the flood authority was created means it lacks the tax base to be self-sustaining, said ESCAFCA board member Bob Gorrell, who lives in Placitas.

“I am experienced in capital management, and I can tell you that there is no way that this can work,” Gorrell said. He is executive director for the state Public School Facilities Authority which oversees capital expenditures by school systems in New Mexico.

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Gorrell said the county should hire an engineer dedicated to flood control and step up planning and development efforts to address flood control.

“That would bring down the scale of operational costs,” Gorrell said.

County public work crews did respond to storm related flooding emergencies in Placitas and unincorporated areas of Rio Rancho in 2006. However, Commissioner Donnie Leonard said the county’s role is “reactive” rather than “preventive.”

“We could become the agency that does it (flood control) but we’d have to pass a bond. Either way, the taxpayer would have to pay for it,” Leonard said.

What galls Neas is the amount property owners in the ESCAFCA district are paying to support the authority.

Before the November 2008 election, when it sought voter approval to issue $6 million in bonds for flood projects, ESCAFCA posted on its website and told the Journal that the bond would increase annual property taxes by $66 for a home with an assessed value of $100,000.

The flood authority’s bond counsel has since acknowledged that was a low-ball figure, based on questionable assumptions.

ESCAFCA also never publicized the fact that property owners would pay an additional amount for the flood authority’s operational budget.

The operational tax levy was based on the budget approved in 2009, after the election. When the Sandoval County Commission approved the 2009 tax rates, the estimate for the total increase was $115 on property assessed at $100,000 — $82 for the bond debt and $33 to cover ESCAFCA’s operational costs.

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