Would-be commissioners talk roads

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By Don Pace

County commission candidates focused on roads, solid waste, alternative energy and commissioner’s wages at Thursday’s forum at Memorial Middle School.

Fred Romeo and Nicolas Leger are running for the District 5 seat, while Mary Bridget Maloney is running against Marcellino Ortiz in District 2. Ortiz was not present.

Leger said the biggest complaint people in the county have are the conditions of the roads. He said primary problem the county faces is the lack of funding for road projects.

“San Miguel County maintains over 500 miles of roads, that’s a huge amount of roads that have to be maintained in what is an economically depressed area. We don’t have the resources Santa Fe or Bernalillo Counties have, so we have to use those resources as wisely as we can, and we have to secure as many resources as we can. I think it’s going to be more challenging in the future to get the monies that we’re going to need to maintain these roads because of the economic situation we’re in. We’re going to have to be more creative in going after those funds, what I’m proposing to do to address that is to see if we can find the money within the county budget to hire a full time grants writer. A good grants writer is worth their weight in gold,” Leger said.

Leger said the county has made a good first step where they are going to lease some property and purchase crushing equipment to produce materials to resurface roads. He said that would save the county a lot of money because materials have become extraordinarily expensive.

Romero said, while roads are a big issue, he doesn’t agree with Leger that the proposed purchasing of crushing equipment is a good idea.

“One of our biggest problem in the county is people who are not trained, they are not really trained to operate the equipment that we have. Also we have an over abundance of caliche in our district, my father and people in the neighborhood have donated caliche to the county, which didn’t cost the county anything. If we had people who would look at these kinds of offerings and not try to go elsewhere to buy it, I think that would be a big step forward,” Romero said.

Maloney said county road crews are under staffed and under funded. She said people are sent to the southern part of the state for six weeks of training when there is a state training division and equipment here in the county that would keep the training local.

“If you want to find out about road maintenance then you go to the people who are doing it. Fred just commented on the fact that we have a very severe shortage of heavy equipment operation training and that’s being demonstrated throughout the county where the roads are not paved, that is so destructive and puts us in a cyclical negative financial environment because we’ve got people who are grading the roads who don’t have a clue to what they’re doing. Instead of grading the road correctly where they’re angling it down so that they’re leaving water drainage ditches, which save our roads, they’re leveling it out, which means they’re scraping the base course and filling in the ditches. That means that when we have weather down the road we are in a perpetuating nightmare of road conditions,” Maloney said.

Question: In the last city council election one of the main issues was wages of councilors, most people thought that was way too much for the amount of work they did. What is your view on County Commission wages?

Maloney: “I have lived in counties where commissioners and city councilors make $2,500 a year and almost without fail you end up with a corruption scandal. I like the idea of paying a commissioner enough where they are not going to be looking for under the table deals. It isn’t a matter of what the commissioners are paid, it’s whether they’re doing the job you want them to do — we need to look at it responsibly and get out of our commissioners what we’re willing to pay them, we want quality, commitment and accountability.”

Leger: “It’s public service and that’s why I’m running to represent District 5 as a county commissioner. Not as a job, not to earn a salary and that’s what I think all politicians ought to be doing in seeking public office.”

Romero: “There may be some people that can do this for nothing, but then there’s some of us that don’t make that much money and it would come in real handy.”

Question: Last night there was a meeting in the Valley about a wind farm, what are the candidate’s position on alternative energy development?

Leger: “Wind energy is coming, we need it because this country is in a terrible state and part of it is because of our dependence on foreign oil. Wind energy is certainly one of the alternatives, but evaluating wind energy is the same analysis we would take in evaluating development of mineral resources. We want to make sure it’s done in a way that protects our environment, our culture and our beautiful county.”

Romero: “Wind energy is one source, but we have a big potential in this county to use solar energy if we get the right people in to conduct studies. Also the poles on the turbines could have a dual purpose, they could be used as an anchor for solar panels. Another resource that we have in this county that we waste are wood products, we need to look into that.”

Maloney: “One of the things that we are struggling with right now is how to work with the new wind farm that’s basically gone up right next door. In May I hounded the Mora-San Miguel Electric co-op to knock on their door and ask them about an exchange of resources to see if they could get a reduced rate on wind energy. I love the idea of wind energy; we’ve got a lot of wind here, so lets take advantage of it. It’s incumbent upon the commissioners to be adept enough to be able to look at all of our options and be responsible stewards of the environment and still allow for the county to increase its revenues. “