Barrone and Bellis Hip Hop to iHop and Beyond

By: Bill Whaley
3 January, 2018

Taos Trumpism

Taos Friction posts a list of accomplishments from the last couple of years on its web site below, included in a more than 4000-word self-congratulatory letter to Town Employees from Mayor Hip Hop and his hipster Town Manager Rick Bellis. The Town of Taos, as currently understood by the Mayor, Manager,  Councilor “Hahn the Corporate Enforcer” and Councilor “Evans the Cheerleader,” has perfected their own version of Trumpism: “Making Taos Great Again” (MTGA).

Here’s Bellis and Barrone: “The point is, Taos is attracting big investment. People see Taos coming back and being a growing star on the national and international stage, especially with improvements at the Taos Ski Valley and airport. But it isn’t the tourist industry that is growing again. A new I-Hop is opening to provide 24 hour food service for first responders, hospital workers and for after event and game hunger pains.”

The juxtaposition of the “International Stage” and the ode to iHop is priceless Babbitry. You, Dear Reader, can read about and evaluate below the tens of millions of dollars acquired, generated, spent and otherwise used to perfect the vision of  MTGA. Four years ago voters chose to “outsource” local government by ignoring “residency” requirements. Now the Hip Hopper and Hipster have justified their rule-breaking just as the Council has justified closing the Plaza despite ordinances forbidding same. The demise of the rule of law follows quickly upon pragmatic success with which only the most mean-spirited naysayers, CAVE people, critics and crybabies would disagree. Everybody’s on this bandwagon.

Once we had “Floyd’s” now we have Gutters. Once we had the R&R, now we get an “iHop.” When do we get our drive-in and downtown movie theatre back? When do we get our Coop back from the Varrio Cruz Alta gang?

(Don’t ask and don’t tell why it’s taking years to remodel the Don Fernando Hotel, replete with contractor liens or when the Holiday Inn will break ground, or how much has been spent and/or lost on concerts or why the Town has hooked its wagon to KCEC’s aimless gangsters who would privatize sunshine and sell it back to you on their grid at five times the price or cost of installing your own solar panels. Since the Town and KCEC are singing one tune about the future and the “never never land of rock and roll forever, and forever, and forever” doesn’t “it all taste so good?”)

Here’s the Longest Unedited Letter

TO ALL OUR EMPLOYEES, VOLUNTEERS AND FRIENDS,

As we come to the end of another year, we wanted to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for all that you do every day to make our community a better, safer, happier and more prosperous place to live, work and play.

Looking back over the months, we wanted to share a few of the things that we are thankful to you, as our partners for and that we accomplished together and are looking forward to in the new year:

YOUTH AND FAMILY CENTER
Together, we have a had a great year in which we put nearly $2,000,000 in improvements into the Youth and Family Center, have added cameras throughout the facility and outside areas, additional lifeguards, free swimming lessons for our schools, seniors and disabled , recommitted in conjunction with Holy Cross Hospital to hosting physical therapy and health-related programs and added other features to make our facility and community safer and healthier. We also created a computer center at the Youth and Family Center so students can not just play, but do their homework after school. In the spring we will be repairing and improving the skate park and are looking to add new facilities for tennis and other sports for the school s, recreation leagues and the community.

Under the guidance of Y&FC Director Brian Greer, who will be retiring at the end of the Year, and our Aquatics Director, Alfredo Aleman, the facility continues to attract an increasing number of swimming and ice hockey tournaments from around the state and country, including Brian bringing a multi-state Bridge Tournament to Taos the last two years, all of which fill our hotels, restaurants and generate funding for recreational programs for our youth and recreational facilities.

Thanks to our Youth and Family Center staff for the trophies and outstanding year-round community service, and to our Facilities Department, Grants and Revenue Department, Building Department and Taos County, especially Richard Sanchez, for the new improvements.

PARS AND RECREATION
We are now completing a public process for a comprehensive Parks and Recreation Master Plan that will help guide the future development of Kit Carson Park, Caca Park, the Eco-Park and looking at the Youth and Family Center as the hub for the development of a future regional year-round multi- sport and recreation complex. We urge all of you and your families to participate in the surveys and public meetings to give your input.

The Town has now become known nationally as a music destination, with Kit Carson Park having been developed to host internationally known groups, such as Dwight Yoakum, Alabama Shakes, Mumford and Son and Ozomatli, attracting crowds of 8,000 people or more. Our independently commissioned economic studies show that, on average, each event brings between $1,300,000 and $2,600,000 into our community, creating jobs, boosting our economy and generating GRT’s and Lodgers taxes to fund Town salaries and programs.

The list of groups being scheduled for next year will be even more impressive.

Kit Carson Park has become the permanent home to such festivals as Michael Hearne’s Big Barn Dance, the Wool Festival, the Mother’s Day Concert and others that also bring tourism and economic growth. This coming year we will also be the home of a nationally known Blues Festival and a multi-day Jazz Festival, as well as a unique festival- style street art , light, sound and music event.

Look for the replacement of aging trees, new picnic tables and grills, ball field improvements for our Little Leaguers, and improved lighting and walking paths in Kit Carson Park in 2018.

We also worked together with the Taos Land Trust this year to purchase and add an additional 10 acre parcel (tentatively called Rio Fernando Park) adjacent to and on the north and east side of Baca Park to preserve it from development and expand future passive recreation. In addition, the Town already owns and is completing an additional land swap to increase the size of Baca Park to the east and south. As part of revitalizing the acequia network and the Rio Fernando River, the Town will bring water to this new extension of the Park across the bridge to develop this new additional 10 acre site as a tree nursery to replace our aging trees throughout the Town and to develop a wetland and meadowland trail network across Baca Park, the new Rio Fernando Park and the new addition to Baca Park.

With the guidance of Councilman Nate Evans, the Town has already started the engineering and dirt work on developing the Town-owned property on the corner of Chamisa Road and the Salazar Extension (known affectionately as “the gravel pit”) as a challenging multi-terrain disk golf and off road “pump bike” course.

Our thanks to Facilities, Special Events and Community Events.

PUBLI SAFETY

We have ordered fully equipped bikes for our police officers to allow greater community policing in our parks and downtowns, as well as at events and have ordered new vehicles and in-car laptops and air cards to modernize our force and make it more efficient. We are the only town in our area, and possibly the only community our size in the state, to have a full-time investigative detective bureau, a full-time school officer, a full-time domestic violence detective and now have been accepted into the federal HIDA program to form a joint federal, state and local task force to interdict and eradicate illegal drugs. We have expanded the size of the force, improved wages to be competitive statewide, instituted a recruiting program to hire local graduates and added additional slots.

We have added additional fire equipment, decreased the ISO rating for our surrounding communities (reducing their homeowners insurance rates), created the office of Fire Marshall to increase local fire safety, and implemented a new career ladder for full-time and volunteer fire fighters, with additional changes to come in the coming year.

Together, in conjunction with UNM, we are working to develop a regional public safety training and licensing academy to Taos, where fire, EMS, law enforcement and emergency management personnel can receive nationally accredited hands-on training to obtain and retain certifications and licensing in multiple first responder professions and levels. We recently received approval from the FAA to incorporate the design and operation of the program and its facilities into a new multi-use emergency response facility at the airport

Both our fire fighters and police have had a difficult year and come through as true professionals. On the bright side, we may be the only police force in the state with no “excessive use of force” lawsuits or complaints of any kind and our police and fire departments will both be fully staffed in the new year, which hasn’t happened in recent memory.

Our thanks to our Police, Fire, Volunteer Fire Department and Fire Marshall.

INFRASTRUCTURE

We have now completed a $22,000,000 expansion and improvement project for the airport and did so under budget, saving the taxpayers almost $2,000,000.

The Salazar Extension was completed on budget and on schedule, with bicycle lanes and sidewalks the full length of the project, and it now creates a safe and efficient west-side by-pass for local residents and cyclists.

Quesnel was rebuilt, widened, resurfaced and stripped to create a bicycle lane and organized parking to support and reduce conflict between local residents and local businesses. And all roads in the downtown between Montoya and Vigil, as well as La Posta were resurfaced this year.

For the 3rd straight year we have spent over $1,000,000 on improving local roads through permanent repairs and resurfacing, as we work toward the 5-year goal of repairing and replacing every road in Town.

We completed over $3,000,000 in water systems improvements , including extending municipal water to the Weimer/Foothills area, replacing the Bedford Water Tank behind the Fire Main Station on Camino de la Placitas, which will increase water reliability, quality and pressure for public health and fire safety in the downtown area. The project also balanced out the water system for more reliable pressure and completes a project of identifying, replacing and maintaining a n automated and manual system of relief and control valves that assures that a water leak can be isolated to just a few houses instead of causing area wide shutdowns like occurred in the past.

A new management agreement with SMA to operate the sewage treatment plant has increased efficiency 300%, reduced energy and maintenance costs and extended the life of the filters and plant by another 10 years, stabilizing rates and we have achieved a record in replacing old and broken water meters with new meters.

Through tough lobbying, in excess of $16,000,000 in improvement will be made to paseo del Pueblo from the southern town limits to Cid’s in the north, to include northbound and southbound sidewalks and bike lanes, fully signalized and coordinated intersections to move traffic better, resurfacing, better drainage, curb and gutters, green infrastructure to capture water from roadways and keep it from polluting our acequias and rivers, special signage at the entryways to the Town’s Historic District, pedestrian bump-outs at street crossings to improve safety and special lighting in the historic District.

The Town and NM DoT are working collaboratively to solve parking issues in the downtown and are working on creating at least 3 new public parking lots in the downtown right on Paseo, as well as improved public transit stops. To help relieve parking issues in and around the Plaza and to help those businesses impacted by special events in the downtown, the Town has acquired the McCarthy parking lot on Cantu Hill, which will be improved and provide free parking for Plaza business during special events. The Town is working with NM DoT to provide at least one more lot near the Plaza and we are also working on a long-term parking solution to serve the Plaza, which we hope to announce shortly.

Our thanks to the hardworking and efficient staff of the Public Works department, including Fleet, Roads and Utilities.

MARKETING AND TOURISM

After creating an in-house marketing and tourism department, we have created new local jobs using local talent to promote our very special community rather than sending our tax dollars to Albuquerque and Denver. In addition, marketing, advertising and funding decisions are now made by a tea of local residents and businesses representative of our community, including the Pueblo.

The results have been incredible, as Taos continues to win awards for its campaigns and every years and every month since the change continues to break records for tourism and Lodgers Tax. The Governor and NM Tourism Department and the press continue to recognize Taos as leading the state in cultural, historical, outdoor recreation and concert generated tourism.

The Town is now regularly ranked as a premiere destination and was recently recognized by US News and World Report as the third best Christmas destination in the entire world.

We are now working collaboratively in partnership with the State of New Mexico, Taos County, Taos Ski Valley and other entities in the Enchanted Circle to promote Taos as a regional destination.

Our thanks to Karina Armijo and her marketing team of local talent and volunteers.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

With the completion of the airport improvements, the Town is now working with FAA, NM DoT Aviation, the County and public-private partnerships to develop a business and industrial park at the airport and to bring connecting air service between Taos and Albuquerque to start, then limited service to Denver, Dallas and Austin. The lack of snow has pushed back initiation of our original plan to start service next month but be prepared for a big announcement before spring.

The Town partnered to rescue the former Don Fernando Hotel, which is now being renovated with the help of a $500,000 CDBG Economic Development Grant; the first to be made by the State since 2009. The project will add a minimum of 35 new jobs and provide the first new hotel room in over a decade. Look for the new Don Fernando to open this spring and for it to receive international recognition by Hilton Hotels as a new unique brand now as “Tapestry” that recognizes the rich historical, ethnic and artistic culture of Taos and its people.

The Town is also partnering with the same developer on a new 3-story 83 room Holiday Inn Express with dog park next to the current Hampton Inn; which will be the first new hotel or motel in Taos in decades.

A diligent and combined effort by several of our departments to coordinate in cleaning up the conditions at some of our older hotels and motels has resulted in new management and substantial improvements at several facilities, and the sale of the Hampton (now at over 90% average nightly capacity), the Monte Sagrado (to NM owned Heritage Hotels) and the Sagebrush Inn. Al have made substantial investments to upgrade the facilities, hire locally and use local suppliers, where possible. Look for at least 3 other hotels to be brought into compliance, closed or sold in the very near future.

The point is, Taos is attracting big investment. People see Taos coming back and being a growing star on the national and international stage, especially with improvements at the Taos Ski Valley and airport. But it isn’t the tourist industry that is growing again. A new I-Hop is opening to provide 24 hour food service for first responders, hospital workers and for after event and game hunger pains. The Taos Mesa Brewery opened the “Tap Room on the corner of Camino de la Placita, Paseo del Pueblo Sur and Quesnel in a long empty gallery at the Town’s urging, a new indoor/outdoor café is planned this spring, with Town encouragement and assistance, for the McCarthy “Rock House” across from the Taos Inn, and the Town has worked with the owners/developers of the new Mondo Italiano and Gutters, a new bowling alley and family entertainment center scheduled to open in the next month or two.

The Town has also partnered with UNM (donating over $1,000,000 in land and facilities and leasing other facilities to UNM) to create a Health Sciences curriculum and state-of the art campus in the downtown for nursing, paramedic and EMT training, and holistic medicine. The next project underway is the development of a small business resource and incubation center and the expansion of the current film and digital arts program.

Our thanks to our Planning, Building, Code Enforcement and Grants and Revenue staff.

FINANCE

Once again, we been able to reduce expenses, reduce debt, increase revenues, increase reserves in our General Fund and provide greater levels of service. Additionally, we have established and increased our reserves and capital replacement funds in our enterprise funds, stabilizing rates, being able to replace equipment in a timely manner to ensure safety and to eliminate unanticipated major expenses due to equipment or systems failures

Lodgers Tax and GRT’s continue to increase to record levels, but the economy is slowing down statewide and we need to continue to budget conservatively.

In January, we will be able retire 3 nearly 20 year old bond issues, paying off nearly $1,400,000 in old high interest debt owed by the Town. This may be the first time in decades the Town has decreased both its operational and long-term debt, rather than adding to it, and we will have excess capacity to borrow at record low interest rates if something goes wrong or a unique opportunity, like a federal infrastructure bill, is passed.

Our dollar amount and number of delinquent utility accounts was substantially reduced to record low levels, with literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of disputed and delinquent amounts resolved.

We are also proud to announce that we have completed and submitted to the State Auditor our most recent annual audit, which so far may be our best ever.

Our thanks to all of our departments for following the budget and financial procedures and to our Finance Department for being tirelessly diligent.

LIBRARY
We are moving into the digital age, having increased the speed and band width of our internet services to the public at the Library, increased our digital collection and installed electronic self-check-out, reducing the burden on staff. In the coming year we will be installing an electronic self- return that will log and catalog books returned after hours or through the outdoor drop-in slot.

Thanks to our every friendly Library staff.

COMMUNITY EVENTS
One of our most important missions was to restore the many community events our Town used to have for children and families, and to expand the number of family oriented, substance free events in our community as way of bringing us all together as one community and creating free opportunities for families regardless of who you are or how much you make.
Judy has revived and taken so many of those events to the next level, including the ever growing family Halloween downtown party, Touch-A-Truck, Wet and Wild Easter, the Annual Tree Lighting, and so much more. But some of our most successful events that have nrought our families and community together are new traditions that we have started in the last few years, such as the free 4th of July Concert , BBQ and Picnic in the Park, which featured ever bigger fireworks displays in our balloons , the Farmers Market on the Plaza very Saturday, Sabor: A Taste of Taos where you could taste samples from every restaurant in town, the Paseo, which really took off on the Plaza this year, the Light Parade added to the Tree Lighting, the holiday lights and music on the plaza in the winter, and our support of free live music by local artists every Thursday night on the Plaza in the summer in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce.

And you may have seen a patter n here. From the first Dennis Hopper Day and the live free Kongos concert on the Plaza, we have been committed to bring life back to the Plaza and to reestablish it as El Corazon, “the heart” of our community for everyone. A place that we can all connect and celebrate together.

That is why we have removed some of the barriers on the Plaza to children, our elderly and disabled and planted grass, created more flat areas to lay down or sit to appreciate events and the Plaza its self. As our trees on the Plaza and in the Town are aging beyond their expected life (many of our cottonwoods in particular are beyond their 100 year life expectancy), we will be replanting 2 trees for every tree that is taken down or dies. We have already ordered and will be planting 12 new trees around the Plaza this year, have added irrigation to help them and our growing number of flower baskets around town thrive, and have removed much of the hardscape and concrete boxes and collars that were choking and compacting our tree’s roots and preventing them from getting water.

Look for a softer, greener, more easily navigated and family friendly plaza with colorful year-round foliage in the coming year, thanks to a series of community meetings where the resident came out to give their input..

Our thanks to Community , Special Events and facilities for some great memories for kids and adults alike.

ENVIRONMENT

The Town participated in the funding and staffing the year-long “Green Printing Process” , otherwise known as the Trails and Open Space Plan, to help identify how we can direct future growth and open space, as well as trails, bikeways and sidewalks to increase interconnectivity for all members of the community.

Under the hands-on direction of Councilman Fritz Hahn, the Town has assumed a true leadership role in protecting and revitalizing our historic acequias. The Town passed an ordinance to prevent any development or contamination on or near acequias and crews of Town volunteers have been attending meetings with acequias, cleaning ditches, as needed, opening up abandoned acequias on Town properties and underwriting engineering work to help re-establish long abandoned acequias throughout the Town.

The Councilman has also sponsored ordinances at the Town and County to control the improper use, handling or disposal of herbicides, fungicides and pesticides, as well as encouraging local businesses to offer environmentally safe alternatives and public education on proper use and handling.

The Town has also worked collaboratively with local environmental groups, the US Forest Service, County and BLM to establish the restoration, increased seasonal and year-round water flow and water quality for the Rio Fernando and the Rio Fernando watershed.

The Town also provided staffing and resources to gather the entire Taos Valley to participate in the development of a comprehensive watershed assessment and plan and is co-chairing with the County a committee to implement the Plan.

This year the Town jumped in with both feet to support a collaborative partnership with Kit Carson Electric to make Taos energy independent by 2022 using locally produced solar energy. The Town obtained over $2,000,000 in funding to create a 1 megawatt solar array at the Town’s Regional Waste Water Reclamation Facility, along with battery storage and upgrades to an existing array at that facility (the largest energy user owned by the Town and second largest in the community) that in combination will generate surplus electricity for the community through Kit Carson and offset the carbon footprint and energy bills of the facility.

The Town also entered into a lease agreement for Guzman Energy, working with Kit Carson for the construction of an additional 2-3 megawatts at the same site for community use, reducing future energy bills for the Town and all KCEC customers going forward.

The Town passed a multi-point statement to commit to energy efficiency and an improved environment for the community and has begun with replacing street lights owned by the Town as they burn out with energy efficient LED lighting, resulting in an energy savings of up to 89% per light.

Our thanks to the Planning staff, Councilman Hahn, Kit Carson Electric and the many volunteers who have worked tirelessly to make this happen.

PERSONNEL

We are proud to say that, with the compensation adjustments taking place for Youth and Family Center and Library staff next month, we will have completed our goal of finding the funding to make positive increases in compensation every year for 4 years.

While everyone did not get an increase every year, in the first year we gave all non-public safety personnel an increase, with the goal of first helping those that had gone the longest without being brought up to where they should be and moving the starting wage up each year. With the most recent increases we have brought the lowest wage for any position (full or part-time) from $7.05 when we started to $10.05 and are working to get all employees to $12.00 or higher. We are also committed to making sure that employees that have been historically underpaid and that are within the last 3 years before retirement get compensated so that we can permanently increase their retirement income.

In or second and third year we addressed public safety personnel in order to keep our police force from dwindling even further and burning out those that were left. The competitive compensation that we achieved combined with intensively recruiting young local graduates and employees in other departments has stabilized the department and created what we see as an outstanding foundation for the force for years to come.

This year we phased in a second round of compensation for non-public safety personnel to reach the levels we hoped to create a stable workforce. This was accomplished through training our personnel to do what we used to contract out for, create a more skilled and flexible workforce and many of our own staff steeping up to fill open positions of supervisors and those retiring. In a sentence, you helped us save money we spent elsewhere by working harder and smarter and we reinvested that money in you.

In the interim, the Town has tried to absorb as much of any increases in benefits as we are legally allowed by the State and we continue to pay the highest proportion of pension (State maximum permitted), disability (100%), life insurance (100%) and medical insurance (100%) allowed and will continue to do all we can to offer what we believe is the best benefits package in the State.

Our thanks to HR and Finance for helping us make this happen for our employees.

IN CLOSING …

A lot of accomplishments happened this year thanks to all of you as multiple records were set in roads paved, debt paid, revenues collected, accounts resolved, visitors to Taos, attendance at an event, most events held, most pipe installed, most public meetings held, most economic development projects, most customers and public information requests served, meters replaced, etc. .

A 35 year struggle to build the airport expansion was accomplished. The 30 year struggle to resolve the Abeyta Settlement was accomplished. A 25 year dispute with the Pueblo over sewer issues was resolved. We have a record number of agreements and collaboration with other governments and private sector partners. Our economy is growing and investment is happening. We are leaner and more efficient, but better skilled and better paid finally, though we haven’t done nearly enough yet and are committed to keep working on that for you all.

As always, both my and Rick’s door are always open to hear your concerns and ideas on how to make your job or the Town better anytime.

We, the Council and the citizens of Taos owe all of you our thanks for everything you do, have done and continue to do and wish each of you and your families the happiest, warmest and healthiest of holidays.

See you in 2018!

Daniel R. Barrone

Dan Barrone
Mayor

Richard P. Bellis

Rick Bellis
Town Manager

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