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SF council OKs El Castillo bonds in 6-3 vote

SANTA FE – Over the objections of some councilors and members of the public who expressed concerns about equity issues, the Santa Fe City Council on Wednesday voted 6-3 to authorize issuance a $80 million industrial revenue bond to finance construction of a new senior housing facility.

El Castillo retirement home plans to build a 68-unit independent living facility downtown at Paseo de Peralta and Old Taos Highway. The facility, to be called La Secoya, will be located at the former site of Ghost Ranch II that is owned by the Presbyterian Church.

This rendering shows El Castillo’s planned expansion at Paseo de Peralta and Old Taos Highway in downtown Santa Fe.

Councilors JoAnne Vigil Coppler, Chris Rivera and Renee Villarreal voted against the proposal, each one citing equity and affordability.

Villarreal said one reason she opposed the project was that El Castillo wasn’t allocating any units for affordable housing.

“I have a hard time with that,” she said, and then, fighting back tears, related that her uncle died in another senior living facility because the family couldn’t afford to house him in a place that had the resources that El Castillo does.

Asked by Rivera what the “buy-in” fee was to become a resident at one of El Castillo, CEO Al Jahner said the range was from $98,000 to $420,000 depending on the size and model.

Rivera said he agreed with one person who spoke during a public hearing before the council vote that the facility segregated people based on income.

Citing a New Mexico Supreme Court case from two years ago that ruled that El Castillo didn’t meet the criteria of a non-profit, as well as its investment assets of $15 million, Vigil Coppler suggested El Castillo would probably build the facility without the city’s help.

The bonds come with a property tax waiver, although El Castillo has agreed to pay the equivalent of taxes to schools for the entire 30-year life of the bond issue and to the city, county and state for the last 25 years. The bonds also are lower-cost financing for recipients, an offshoot of the fact that investors who buy the bonds don’t have to pay state or federal income taxes on interest earnings. There are gross receipt tax waivers for some expenses.

The majority of councilors and Mayor Alan Webber framed the proposal as an economic development project.

Webber, who has been in office 18 months, said the city hasn’t fully utilized some of the economic development “tools” at its disposal. He said IRBs were a “financing technique” and, citing another form of equity, said it would be unfair to disqualify El Castillo when it met all the city’s criteria to be eligible for industrial revenue bonds.

Addressing concerns by opponents about loss of property taxes, Councilor Signe Lindell said the city, county, state and school districts currently aren’t receiving any property taxes from the site because it is owned by a tax-exempt church.

At the public hearing, three people spoke against the proposal and five current or future residents of El Castillo spoke in favor.

Although the project is expected to create 600 to 1,000 construction jobs, new permanent staff positions would only total 17 to 22.

In a recent letter to the city, Santa Fe County government expressed concerns about the loss of property taxes it would experience due to the method of financing. At a County Commission meeting on Tuesday, County Manager Katherine Miller said the county doesn’t have veto power in the matter. “The decision is in (the city’s) hands,” she said.

Although the project is expected to create 600 to 1,000 jobs, new permanent staff positions would only total 17 to 22.

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