On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

By: Bill Whaley
28 July, 2013

Despite headlines about Taos County—Town of Taos strife, the two entities are working cooperatively together, historically and currently on a number of projects and exchanges. Historically, the Town of Taos provides fire department services to the County. In turn the county provides ambulance services. The County provides detention services and the Town provides recreational services for all residents in the community. The County Commissioners pass legislation (ad nauseam) to allow voter support for the hospital, schools, etc.

Recently, the county and town joined together on historic cultural projects: the renovation of the old County Courthouse, the Mainstreet project, and the Arts and Cultural district. Animal issues have been addressed jointly and issues of addressing joint planning and zoning challenges are in the works. In the midst of the Annexation and Command Center disputes, the county approved a subsidy for the Mayor and town’s Mothers Day  concert.

The County and Town, like all residents receive their electricity from a single Coop. We are joined at the nexus of our electronic communication by cooperative Internet Services.

The struggles over Annexation and the Command Center, regardless of private motivations, focus on real issues. The discussion can’t be summarily dismissed as a squabble over turf. Financial issues and issues of public safety are involved, the future well being of both government and local residents.

As a matter of policy, historically, the Town has grown and aggressively annexed county businesses, a source of tax income, during the last three decades. The services offered to county residents by the Town are paid for by county residents’ participation—shopping and business done—in the Town center. Now, the County, due to growth and its own challenges, the building of the Complex and expansion of services, needs to protect its tax base from further encroachment, hence the battle over annexation, to be decided at hearings this fall.

The issue of public safety at E911—Dispatch has become increasingly problematic due to the Town’s decision to move out of its current location, a location that is completely satisfactory by any measure. The current employees support it; the police department has moved out,  increasing the space available. The claims about “asbestos” are considered “malarkey.” The current facility is  paid for, secure, and ideally located, as is proven by its record of operations.  Money and time should be focused on training and best management practices, supervised by a neutral board, composed of professionals—not the Mayor’s executive staff at the current E911-Dispatch facility.

The proposed move to the KCEC Command Center ignores the obvious: a layperson can see that the building is a poorly designed two-story building, an office shell with north and south facing plate glass windows (for what purpose?). Despite claims about its announced  purpose as a “Command Center,” the building must be “remodeled” and “re-wired” for communications.

KCEC with the town as agent received a grant from the legislature for architectural design. I believe the building also got a small grant from the feds and that the state has promised to spend some $400,000 in new equipment and rewiring for the switch in location from Town to the CC, all of which makes little sense.

Coop members are on the hook for some $3 million, more or less, to pay for the building’s loan from the federal government. For ten years the Coop has argued that the building should become a local Command Center and, through economies of scale reduce costs for local, state, and federal agencies. But nobody was or is buying—except Mayor Cordova of the Town. You might ask yourself why professional safety experts and those in charge at all agencies have refused to sign on the dotted line?

The Town currently owns thousands and thousands of unproductive or vacant square feet on Civic Plaza Drive: the current E911 Center, partially vacant classrooms rented to UNM, Bataan Hall, Rio Grande Hall, and Don Fernando Hall—all paid for. Now the town proposes to pay some $3 million or more over the amortization of a lease purchase—plus expenses for taxes, insurance, utilities, etc. plus moving expenses to fix something that isn’t broken.

Due to the Town’s negligence in adhering to the current E911—Dispatch Center Joint Powers Agreement for public safety, the County has decided to remodel one of its own buildings for $150,000 and purchase equipment—all of which expenses can be amortized over less than 10 years–not thirty. Meanwhile, several federal agencies have agreed to join the County, as well as the villages in the outlying areas to support the new County facility and operation.

The current lease, dated July 1, 2013, between the Coop and Town, is chock full of loopholes, favoring the landlord. Anyone with experience in leases would question the way this document has been “cobbled” together, just as any credible contractor or architect would question the design of the KCEC building.

Once again, the constituents of both Town and County applaud the two entities for working together on some matters even as they dispute others.

But the poor public relations campaign, waged by the Town and Coop on behalf of the Command Center has poisoned the public trust. Three commissioners at Taos County have recognized the tactics of “bait and switch” by the promoters of the CC and decided to build a new independent facility and operation. As one commissioner said, “The Town has been jerking us around.”

The current County Commissioners have shown in meeting after meeting that they consider civil discourse and public service a priority. At a recent meeting, staff depicted on overhead monitors a great deal of progress being made on overdue projects at the Livestock Center, Amalia Community Center, etc. The County has already taken over responsibility for maintaining the communications’ towers in the outer reaches of the community.

We urge the Commissioners to avoid the perils of schism in the short run and the threat to public safety in the long run by joining in unanimous (even if reluctant) support of the County’s own public safety facility operated by well-trained professionals. The life you save may be a relative, a friend, or a new resident. Call this a smoke signal: S.O.S. Support Gabe, Joe Mike, and Larry on this one.

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