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Wasteful spending

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By Optic Editorial Board

A report issued last week by Legislative Finance Committee auditors raises troubling questions about the state’s capital outlay process.

The bottom line: The state spent about $600,000 to renovate and preserve an abandoned school house in Ribera in San Miguel County and then turned around and sold the unfinished building for $39,000 to the non-profit group that donated it in the first place.

Money went to stabilize walls, remove a roof with asbestos and other work. The building didn’t have a floor, roof, windows, doors and some walls weren’t compete when it was sold. According to Cultural Affairs Secretary Veronica Gonzales it would have taken an additional $1 million to complete the project.

The project was initially championed by Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration, but the decision to sell it was made after Gov. Susana Martinez became governor.

Purchasing the building was Los Pueblos Community Council, a non-profit organization that initially pushed to transform the building into a community center.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Democrat from Deming, told The Associated Press that the state lacked good oversight of capital improvement projects, and he is absolutely correct.

New Mexico is a poor state with many needs, and to have $600,000 effectively poured down the drain is inexcusable.

That money could have been used to upgrade leaky city of Las Vegas waterlines or to help the El Creston Mutual Domestic Water Association get water to the people in its area who have had their wells go dry in recent years. It could have gone to school renovation projects in Pecos or Mora or to upgrade San Miguel County’s antiquated computer system, which is hampering the San Miguel County Treasurer’s collection efforts. It could have been used to improve roads in the area.

We take no issue with a small community like Ribera pushing for a community center or any other project that improves the quality of life of its citizens. But those projects need to make sense, and they need to be cost-effective for the taxpayers. Clearly, this project didn’t, and that’s unfortunate given the great needs that exist in this area.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this debacle it’s that everyone involved in the capital outlay process — from the governor and state lawmakers to local officials and the heads of state agencies — needs to make sure that they’ve done their homework on the projects they’re championing and that they’re viable. Otherwise, more capital outlay dollars will be wasted. And the hardworking taxpayers of this state deserve better.