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Official: City may still get money

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By David Giuliani

At least one city official is holding out hope that it can get back a $1.2 million state appropriation for a water project that it lost recently.

In a news release on Jan. 15, the city announced that the state Water Trust Board, which is part of the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority, pulled back the money. That was after the city had changed the purpose for the funding once and then wanted a time extension to meet the grant’s conditions.

But last week, George Du Four, the city’s utilities director, said the board’s decision isn’t final.

“It’s not a done deal until it’s voted upon by the state Legislature,” he said, urging the city to talk with state lawmakers from the area.

Du Four, who was placed by Mayor Tony Marquez on unpaid leave late last week, said the city has been asked to complete a preliminary engineering report in connection with the money.

The $1.2 million grant has been a major subject of City Council meetings over the last couple of months.

The city had originally planned to use the money for a project to pipe the water distribution system for the Storrie Project Water Users Association. In return, the association was to have given the city the rights for more water storage in the lake.

In 2007, however, City Manager John Avila worked without fanfare to change the purpose of the money to install effluent and sewer lines along Cinder Road. He had the behind-the-scenes encouragement of local businessman and former Councilman Carlos Gallegos, whose development on the north side would benefit from such lines.

Avila never presented the effort to change the money’s purpose during a council meeting. He said he kept the council in the loop, but council members contend that wasn’t the case.

In March, a month after Avila resigned, the Water Trust Board approved the changed intent for the money. Utilities Director George Du Four attended the meeting, but he has said in recent months that he didn’t know where Cinder Road was and thus didn’t know what Avila was attempting to do.

In his report to the council last week, Du Four explained past administration actions as part of the reasons for the confusion with the money.

Councilman Cruz Roybal took exception to Du Four’s use of the words “past administration” at last week’s council meeting.

“With the exception of Mr. (Councilman Andrew) Feldman, we are all past administration,” said Roybal, noting that Du Four was hired months before Avila resigned in February.

Mayor Tony Marquez proposed the formation of a committee to make recommendations for Water Trust Board projects. But most on the council didn’t like the idea.

Councilman Andrew Feldman said he opposed the idea because he didn’t want to create another layer of bureaucracy. He said the utilities department could handle the issues.

Councilwoman Diane Moore agreed, saying that the public already had avenues to provide input.

Councilman Morris Madrid thanked the mayor for seeking the council’s input in forming a committee, saying it was well within Marquez’s powers to go ahead and form a panel.

“I appreciate your inclusiveness,” Madrid said.

He said he had no objection to a committee’s formation but could see Feldman’s points.

At the end of the discussion, Marquez asked Du Four to keep the community informed on the progress in getting back the money.