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County Commission debates economic incentive ‘standards’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Whether Bernalillo County should pump incentives into a new gas station project is fueling a philosophical debate among elected officials.

The County Commission on Tuesday voted to introduce an ordinance that — if approved at a future meeting — would provide $1.46 million in gross receipts tax reimbursements to Pilot Travel Centers LLC to help cover infrastructure costs for its planned location near the Interstate 25 and Broadway Boulevard interchange.

But the introduction passed on a narrow 3-2 margin, with Commissioners Debbie O’Malley and Charlene Pyskoty voting in opposition after questioning the necessity of incentivizing a company with hundreds of stores around North America and a reported annual revenue near $30 billion.

“I know that $1.4 million can go toward a lot of really good stuff in my community — programs in my community, behavioral health (initiatives), things like that,” Pyskoty said. “I’m also having a problem because I know you guys have such a successful business you can absorb the cost; I think a lot of my programs just can’t.”

Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada sponsored the legislation, touting the project as a way to bring new jobs to his district that he said normally gets “the concrete plant and the asphalt plant, and the auto yards,” and this was something different.

“I know some of the arguments may be they’re a national chain, they’re not a local chain, but, for me, it’s more about the goal of the South Valley and really changing what kind of industry we can bring in,” he said.

The travel center would include a 24-hour convenience store, 19 fueling stations (including seven for over-the-road trucks) and a McDonald’s, according to county records.

It would have 73 jobs and indirectly create 22 more, according to the county summary.

Commissioner Walt Benson said the job creation, coupled with the fact that the county is essentially repaying the company a portion of the taxes the gas station generates, made it worthwhile — partly because a Pilot executive told the commission the project would not proceed at all without incentives.

“What is the alternative? We can say ‘no’ and then what happens? (The lot) remains dirt,” Benson said before voting in favor of the ordinance’s introduction.

But O’Malley said the jobs, while welcome, are not the kind the county typically incentivizes and could set a troubling precedent. According to the county’s summary of the proposal, most of the 35 McDonald’s jobs will pay $9.35 an hour — less than the state’s minimum wage, which Benson noted would require updating — while the bulk tied to the travel center pay $13 per hour.

O’Malley said if the county started to grant incentives to every company with similar paying jobs, it would no longer have a tax base.

“What are our standards with regard to subsidizing businesses? We have to have some, and this to me just doesn’t qualify for those standards,” she said.

Commissioner Adriann Barboa said she wrestled with her decision, but ultimately voted in favor of the legislation, swayed in part by Quezada’s assertion that it is good for his community, despite her hesitation in supporting incentives for a company with billions in annual revenue.

“I feel like (I’m between) a rock and a hard place,” she said. “I hope supporting Commission Quezada’s ideas and vision for his district doesn’t come back to bite me.”

Barboa helped kill a secondary incentive for the travel center later in Tuesday’s meeting when she joined O’Malley and Pyskoty in opposing Pilot’s request that the county waive about $58,000 in impact fees for the project.

Ross Shaver, a Pilot vice president in charge of development, had told the commission earlier in the meeting that the company would “walk away” if it did not get both incentives, but it remains unclear if that is the case.

Shaver declined to answer Journal follow-up questions Wednesday, citing company policy, and instead referred all questions to the corporate headquarters. The company did not immediately answer questions emailed to a spokesperson.

SECURING SPOTS: As Bernalillo County prepares to move to its new administrative headquarters later this year, officials are planning for one more related expense: parking.

The new $68.1 million Bernalillo County @ Alvarado Square project includes a nearby 49-space parking lot that will be free for visiting constituents.

But the County Commission has authorized two new lease agreements to provide parking for elected officials, executive-level employees, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office personnel, motor pool and fleet vehicles. Together, the deals provide about 207 spots and cost about $100,000 annually.

Parking is not an entirely new expense; even at the county’s present home — the Civic Plaza building it shares with the city of Albuquerque — it spends roughly $64,000 annually for about 62 spaces and guest parking, according to numbers provided to the Journal.

But moving to BC@AS at 415 Silver SW will consolidate over 800 employees from various county sites and increase parking needs.

The new agreements include:

• 100 spaces at a City of Albuquerque-owned garage at 113 Fourth NW. Each spot will start at $40 per month, but increase to $45 in fiscal year 2023.

• PNM Resources for 107 spaces at 501 Silver SW. Spots will start at $47 per month, but rise by $56 in year three of the agreement.

Jessica Dyer:

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