Madrid: City may lose money

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By David Giuliani

City Councilman Morris Madrid expressed doubt this week that the city would be able to meet a deadline to get more than $1 million from the state government.

“We may have to wave goodbye to that money,” he said.

Other city officials, meanwhile, are holding out hope that the city will get the $1.2 million from the state Water Trust Board, which is part of the New Mexico Finance Authority.

The controversy over the money has been a big subject at City Council meetings over the last month.

At a meeting Monday, Madrid said he was frustrated that the council still hadn’t resolved issues related to the money after discussing the subject three times over the last month.

The city has requested an extension to meet requirements in connection with the money, but the state board has yet to act on the request. The board’s meeting for last week was canceled.

City staff recommended that the city continue with the process of requesting proposals for an engineering firm in connection with the money.

In 2006, the state Water Trust Board approved $1.2 million for a study to install pipes for the Storrie Project Water Users Association. In return, the group would ultimately give the city more water storage rights in Storrie Lake.

But last year, then-City Manager John Avila started working to change the purpose of the money for sewer and effluent lines along Cinder Road. He said recently that he kept the council in the loop, but council members have said they weren’t.

Avila, who resigned as city manager in February and lives in the Albuquerque area, showed up at Monday’s council meeting to explain the change in scope for the funding.

He said the city had originally hoped that it would get water storage rights in exchange for piping the water system for the Storrie Project. But he said that during negotiations with Storrie leaders, the city found that Storrie officials wouldn’t make this exchange happen. He called it a bait-and-switch tactic.

Instead, Avila said the city decided to change the project to include effluent and sewer lines along Cinder Road. He has said before that the effluent line could ultimately go to the Storrie Project, so its members could spread the treated wastewater over their alfalfa fields.

Rob-ert Quintana, president of the Storrie Project, has said before that the city never told him that it had planned to change the scope of the state money.

In a previous council meeting, Councilman Andrew Feldman argued that the change of scope was a political favor to Carlos Gallegos, a local businessman, who along with Ron Diehl, has a 32-lot north Las Vegas development that could benefit from a sewer line.

Gallegos denies such an allegation, saying that he didn’t know the money would come from funding originally intended for the Storrie Project. He said the sewer line would benefit the community’s economy because it would spur development on Las Vegas’ north side.

Avila said he didn’t want to touch on the negative aspects of the controversy. However, he said the city was at a critical point and that he feared the city would lose the money. He noted that the state was facing a $500 million shortfall and was looking for areas of its budget to cut.

No one asked any questions of Avila during the council meeting.