Taos: Truth Stranger than Fiction

By: Bill Whaley
15 April, 2011

(Above, we congratulate Luis’s Awesome Eleven for winning the “Community Friction” award: Nobody has created more strife during the new year.)

On Saturday and Sunday, the long-awaited FIFA approved soccer field will make its debut in Taos. Boys and girls will play soccer along with NCAA teams from University of New Mexico, Denver University, Adams State, and Nike special teams. Hundreds of local kids play soccer. Thanks to a difficult but successful collaboration between the Taos Municipal Schools and Town of Taos, the new field should stimulate interest and serve as a good example to the Taos youth. The weekend promises to offer relief from an otherwise conflict-ridden community.

In other news, the Public Education Department of New Mexico is planning to audit TMS (again). Gov. Martinez suspects the numbers are jiggered in the Special Education department. About 100 parents, involved in advocacy, were notified that some $750,000 in funds designated for special Ed had not been spent by TMS. The budget surplus comes at a time when several parents have filed complaints with a variety of state and federal agencies notifying officials that their children have been ill-served.

At Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, the PRC rate hearings have created more strife and panic among management and the board of trustees  (See smiling faces above). Rate protestors report that the Coop is stonewalling requests for information about diversification—Propane, Internet, Broadband, and Command Center—activities. Meanwhile, the 9/11 trustees being recalled have, reportedly, started circulating a petition to recall two more trustees (Virgil and Luisa) who voted against the rate increase but were left out of the recall effort. The internal strife, which has spilled over into the employees and membership, seems certain to guarantee a quorum at the annual membership meeting in June.

Protestors say:

1. The Coop has created a shell company to manage Propane and is claiming that millions of dollars, spent on the ten-year old losing venture, is now an “investment.”

2. Despite claims made to Trustees by management, the Coop has yet to produce a signed lease with any other public entities to staff the $3 million Command Center—paid for with electric side loans and funds but currently vacant.

3. While the Coop is hiring local contractors to help with the installation of Broadband fiber lines, the ability to pay back the $19 million loan remains a murky proposition in a largely rural area with an aging population and declining economy.

4. KCEC’s current Internet service continues to generate complaints from its most loyal supporters.

In summary, some rate protestors support a minimal electricity rate increase but question the Coop’s lack of information regarding failed “investments” and the inability to compete against established servers in Propane, Internet, and emergency response centers. The Coop, as the agent of Tri-State G&T, has raised electricity rates over 60% in the last decade.

Coop executives have received pay raises, trustees continue to travel and/or receive special consideration for friends and family members, and experienced linemen are applying (again) for jobs with other entities. The Coop’s lack of transparency is causing tension. Coop leaders have attacked and otherwise treated members, increasingly, as if they were “stupid” and “uninformed”—despite a wealth of experience and education among the protest leaders.

Some 300 members, reportedly, filed protests with the PRC. Employees were recently coerced into signing a petition of support for management and the board. This despite an anonymous survey presented to the board but not made public that detailed employee dissatisfaction with management and the trustees.

The Town of Taos tabled a controversial water ordinance that guts requirements for residents and businesses to hook up to the municipal water system. A number of commercial entities and local developers have been mentioned as receiving “special treatment” from the Town—no hook up charges for sewer, no metered water service, non-payment of open space fees. Residents of the Weimer neighborhood, who were annexed and taxed but left out of the Town’s services, are complaining. According to Friction sources, the Town is using the Weimer neighborhood as an excuse to change the ordinance so they can let commercial developers downtown off the hook. Allegations of fraud, wrongful death, and “Chinatown” chicanery are surfacing from The Deep.

Conundrum for taxpayers

The Town of Taos has a huge new town hall with rather a vacant feel to it. The alleged municipal convention space—Bataan Hall, Rio Grande Hall, Don Fernando Hall—an estimated fifteen thousand square feet or more of town space, is hardly used. Municipal property on Civic Plaza Drive, currently leased to UNM, will be vacant as soon as administrators can find offices at the new Klauer campus. Recently the Town took on the old Mary Medina HSS building, which is proving too expensive to renovate for a cop shop.

The County is nearing completion of a 135,000 square foot justice and administrative complex a mile away or so from Town HQ.

Now comes the new KCEC Command Center—another new vacant building, located not far from the new county complex.

Students are abandoning TMS for charter schools, private schools, and GED programs. Only about 50% of students actually complete their studies with TMS—despite all the renovations, thanks to the taxpayer-passed bonds.

There are only 32,000 people in Taos County, according to the census. About 5,000 folks live in the Town. But we have a fifty million dollar county complex coming on line and town buildings up the kazoo.

The number of vacant commercial spaces continues to increase in the historic district and outlying commercial areas.

Despite the increasingly dire nature of the economy, elected officials and their appointed executives spend much of the time fighting with each other, their constituents, and their employees.

Still, we have a new soccer field and soon a new jail. Just as the soccer field will be busy morning to night this weekend, so the jail will be completely filled when it opens in late May. The PRC hearings in May and the annual Coop meeting in June promise to be the most entertaining and dramatic events of the year. And we get a new judge at the end of July.

So there’s a lot to look forward to if you can figure out how to survive.

Category: Announcement, Education, Factoid, Friction Award, KCEC, News, Politics, Sports, Taos County, Taos Municipal Schools, Town of Taos | RSS 2.0 Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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