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The city has struck a $6.7 million deal to buy the Poole property on Albuquerque’s West Side.
Now the question remains: Where exactly will it find the money?
The fate of 23 acres overlooking the Rio Grande wetlands has sparked significant community interest and debate. Neighbors have tried for years to stop a planned residential development on the bluff; however, their technical appeals have repeatedly failed, and Gamma Development ultimately obtained site plan approval for a 69-home project.
But even amid Gamma’s forward march, city officials have consistently said they would like to buy the land – located at the east end of Namaste Road – to preserve as public open space.
They finally made headway in negotiations earlier this year.
The city recently confirmed an agreement was in progress, and Albuquerque Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael last week revealed key details regarding the price and timeline. He told a City Council committee on Feb. 10 that the owner had agreed to sell it for $6.7 million and that the parties are scheduled to close on the sale March 19.
“I think we have an opportunity here to do something really special for the community,” Rael said.
The city has almost $4.6 million available through a state appropriation but still needs about $2.2 million more to complete the purchase.
Where the city will find the money is not yet clear, as a funding option Mayor Tim Keller recently proposed to City Council contradicted city ordinance.
Keller recently asked the council to pass legislation allowing his administration to take up to $2.2 million from the city’s Open Space Trust Fund, if necessary.
The fund’s current market value is approximately $12.7 million, including about $11.7 million in principal.
But both City Councilor Isaac Benton and representatives from the city’s Open Space Advisory Board warned last week that such use would violate a city ordinance that prohibits the city from tapping the trust fund’s principal. Only the fund’s interest and investment earnings can be used for purchases.
To remedy what he called that “oversight,” Benton presented an amendment to Keller’s proposal that lets the administration use $2.2 million from the city’s general fund or other “lawful” sources. A council committee approved the change and the updated bill is now headed for the full city council.
The amendment “basically said ‘We’re supportive of the purchase, but you’re going to need to find another source of funding,'” Benton said.
A city spokeswoman disagreed that Keller had erred in proposing the city use up to $2.2 million from the Open Space Trust Fund, saying the council could have amended city ordinance to carry out such a plan.
“This was always the option of last resort, however, and the good news is that the Administration is confident that the city has adequate funds without needing to touch the OSTF principal,” Jessica Campbell wrote in response to Journal questions.
The city has not settled on the exact sources of the $2.2 million, but Keller administration officials and council staff have begun discussing options.
And they are casting a wide net.
Council Services Director Stephanie Yara told the council committee there is some unused 2011 Economic Development Department money, some available interest earnings in the Open Space Trust Fund and also some lodgers tax bond money intended to buy balloon landing sites that the city could apply to the purchase.
Among the potential sources, Yara said the city can find enough money.
“We could make up the $2.2 million that’s been requested,” she said.