A colleague of mine at UNM recently told me that the upcoming election was “the most uninteresting” he could remember in all his years of observing New Mexico politics.
Perhaps, if the polls are to be believed. But the University of New Mexico and its campus in Rio Rancho will have a great deal at stake when voters cast their ballots between now and Nov. 4.
“Bond Question C,” of the state “2014 Capital Projects General Obligation Bond Act,” asks voters to accept or reject $141 million worth of funding for capital improvements to colleges and universities across the state. UNM’s share of these funds would be $32.5 million for two buildings of vital interest to both the university and our community: the Farris Engineering Center on UNM’s central campus, and the Health Education building at the Health Sciences Center.
For the past several years, Rio Rancho’s two high schools have been among the largest “feeder” schools to UNM’s engineering programs. Farris, the home of the Chemical, Nuclear, and Computer Science Engineering departments, was built in 1967 and is in desperate need of renovations to upgrade its teaching spaces and address safety issues.
At the other end of the campus, the Health Science Center’s critical need is for expansion. The acute shortage of doctors and nurses in New Mexico affects communities and health care statewide, including the two new and growing hospitals in Rio Rancho, the Sandoval Regional Medical Center and Rust Presbyterian. Last year, UNM’s College of Nursing turned away 143 qualified applicants because of insufficient space and resources.
Both these areas are of vital interest to UNM West and the community it serves. I’m sure Rio Ranchoans need no reminders of the importance of the technology and health care sectors to our economic base! And UNM West, too, needs these key UNM partnerships for our own plans for campus growth and development.
New Mexico general obligation (GO) bonds are the primary source of funding for building renovation and construction in New Mexico’s universities. They appear as a line item in your property tax statement — currently 1.36 mils in Sandoval County’s total property tax levy. About 20 percent of the state’s bonding capacity is up for renewal in any given election, which makes the total sum under consideration today less than 1 percent of your tax bill.
So to recap — if Bond C passes, it will provide $32.5 million worth of funding for programs critical to UNM West and Sandoval County, without changing the county’s tax rate. If the bond were to fail statewide, it would lower the tax bill on a $180,000 home in Rio Rancho or Corrales by about $15.
Please keep these figures in mind when you cast your vote on November 4 or in early voting. And don’t listen to the cynics. No election in a democracy is ever “uninteresting!” — not if you do your part.
(Wynn Goering is chief executive officer of UNM West in the City Center in Rio Rancho.)