The chairman of the Tree Preservation Advisory Committee, John Thompson, is concerned about the decline in the Corrales tree canopy. In a presentation to the Village Council August 18 Thompson laid out an approach to tree care for the council, asking “Is there a problem with Corrales trees?”
He and his committee think so: he touched on the effects of drought on tree health, trees’ increasing susceptibility to disease and pests, the loss of trees along the acequias, even the increased number of cottonwoods with mistletoe in their branches. Infestations of mistletoe often indicate a stressed or unhealthy tree.
The Village of Corrales is certified by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree City USA with the goal of securing a healthier tree canopy. The Tree Preservation Advisory Board (TPAC) has been serving as a de facto Tree Board for five years to assist the Village in maintaining that certification, but without a mission defined by ordinance or a budget to achieve the desired goals and benefits of proactive tree care.
The committee’s additional concerns include the lack of tree species diversity, the dying and dead cottonwoods in the sandhills, and an increase in invasive species such as the ubiquitous Siberian elms, tamarisks, Russian olives, and Ailanthus altissima, or trees of heaven. Tamarisks, for example, though plentiful with pink blossoms, achieve that beauty by grabbing up light, water and nutrients from native plants. Native to Eurasia, tamarisk were brought to North America in the 1800s to shore up riverbanks. Their love of alkaline soil, common to the Southwest, has ginned up even more salty soils, which this plant is able to produce.
The committee, which includes Fred Hashimoto, Don Welsh, Carol Conoboy and Ian Daitz, asserts that Corrales hosts fewer healthy orchards as well. It thinks that the establishment of a Tree Board, in place of TPAC, will insure the Village acknowledges that “trees make major contributions to public health and safety, economic and spiritual value, local food security, wildlife and climate change resiliency.” And it will demonstrate the Village’s “dedication to the enhancement and protection of the community forest, landmark trees, and public green spaces.”
The board itself is prepared to take on a bundle: “Increase public awareness of health, environment, economic benefits of tree canopy; educate in tree selection, planting, and care; train Public Works, Parks & Rec, Fire Departments; update the tree ordinance; obtain alternate sources of funding for tree planting, care; promote climate-adapted species and age diversity; and provide a ‘tree care plan’ to provide better maintenance for existing public trees, reduce the number of hazardous trees, and create new tree planting goals.”
According to Thompson, “The plan aims to be the key document for managing, maintaining, protecting, preserving and planting trees within the Village of Corrales. This plan details specific goals and objectives for tree inventories, tree risk management, tree protection and tree pruning standards. “This is intended to be a living document that is updated yearly to provide schedules for community education, tree planting programs, and updates to relevant information on tree selection and planting, best management practices, and progress in stakeholder involvement in tree care.”
Creating a “tree care plan” will take much effort as the board wrestles with the fact of climate change on trees, hotter summers, and possible lower temperatures in winter. Local Cottonwoods are high water users, which do not easily reproduce outside of flood plains, the latter almost gone from Corrales. Planners must deal with drought stress, soil compaction, lack of diversity, even concrete acequias which cut off moisture to trees along its banks.
As well as disease and pests. Did we know the emerald ash borer was coming? Smaller than a dime, it’s a green beetle from Asia gifted at leveling tall stands of trees. Ash trees, thus far primarily in the Midwest and east, but, increasingly planted in New Mexico. Among them the velvet ash and associated cultivars, including the Modesto ash, green and white ash, Raywood ash, fragrant ash and others.
So what is the true value of a community forest? And what exactly is tree canopy? Ian Leahy, director of Urban Forest Programs at American Forests, writes that “tree canopy is any area covered by the branches of trees.” And, “tree canopy is the only type of infrastructure that increases in value after you install it.” American Forests, established in 1875, is the oldest national conservation organization in the country.
The Corrales Bosque Preserve comprises one square mile of riparian forest, co-managed by Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the Village. 10,000 trees, providing 50 percent canopy. The greenbelt area is five square miles of irrigated agricultural fields, orchards, mature cottonwoods and elms. That’s 10,000 trees, with 14 percent canopy. The sandhills are five square miles, with 2,000 developed lots. It includes sparse plantings of fruit, shade, ornamental trees and native shrubs. So 4,000 trees, with two percent canopy.
The size of the tree canopy is a means of measuring the health and potential benefits of the community forest. An initial estimate of the Corrales tree canopy using i-Tree, a software tool from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, shows that Corrales has an average tree canopy of about 12 percent. In comparison, the tree canopy in Albuquerque is about ten percent and is known to have been in decline over the last few decades. What are these 24,000 Corrales trees worth? According to the USDA, U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Corporation, the answer is $75,000,000.
They remove CO2 and air pollutants. They catch rainwater and reduce stormwater runoff. Tree-filled communities may be safer, less stress-filled. Trees cut down on wind, and reduce temperatures. Shaded buildings benefit from energy savings. Businesses do better on tree-lined streets, and property values increase by ten percent due to the aesthetic value of trees.
The tree plan has many goals, including tree surveys and educational outreach. Estimated cost of the plan in the first year is $39,000, which includes Village personnel hours, tree purchases, contracted International Society of Arboriculture or ISA-certified arborists, and trained volunteers.That amount is offset by an estimated $20,000 in donations and volunteer hours. (This budget exceeds the Tree City USA guideline of $2 per capita.)
Perhaps no goal in the plan, however, is more compelling than this: to plant a tree for every child in Corrales, so about 1,500 over the next ten years.
New rules for short-term rentals, such as Airbnb operations, are proposed for Corrales. The Village Council will discuss and take public comment on the proposed Ordinance 20-005 at its Tuesday, September 8 session via Zoom. The Zoom meeting ID number is 815 7416 9208, with password 697376. Full text of the draft ordinance can be found at the Village of Corrales website: http://www.corrales-nm.org under the tab “Latest News.” Much of the proposed law’s text is published below.
As the popularity of short-term rentals, also referred to as “vacation rentals” has increased over the past decade, complaints from neighboring residents have become common in Corrales as elsewhere. Loud parties, unathourized parking on adjacent private property, and even guests’ trespass golf ball drives have been reported. (See Corrales Comment Vol. XXXIX No.2 March 7, 2020 “Mayor Needs Applications for Short-Term Rentals.”.)
Corrales is thought to have as many as 100 short-term rentals advertised, mainly on the internet. In past years, typically this community has been a desirable stay for hot air balloon enthusiasts. Last month, the Planning and Zoning Commission heard a request for site development plan approval for a two-unit short-term rental and related office and laundry facility on an already commercially-zoned property at 4036 Corrales Road, between Priestley and Coroval Roads.
The proposed Ordinance 20-005 would set a limit of six guest rooms and no more than two occupants per bedroom. At least one parking space must be provided for each bedroom. No such short-term rental uses will be allowed in Corrales without a permit and valid N.M. gross receipts tax number.
A partial text of the proposed law follows.
The Ordinance shall be filed with the Village Clerk, and shall be considered by the City Council at a regular meeting of the Village Council on Tuesday, September 8, 2020, at 6:30 p.m., or as soon thereafter as the matter may be heard telephonically through Zoom (Meeting ID: 815 7416 9208, Password: 697376) Section 4. If any section, paragraph, clause or provision of this Resolution shall for any reason be held invalid or unenforceable, the invalidity or unenforceability of such section, paragraph, clause or provision shall not affect any of the remaining provisions of this Resolution. 3 Section 5. All acts, orders and resolutions of the Village Council, and parts thereof, inconsistent with this Resolution be, and the same hereby are, repealed to the extent only of such inconsistency. This repealer shall not be construed to revive any act, order or resolution, or part thereof, heretofore repealed. Section 6. This Resolution shall be in full force and effect upon its passage and approval.…
Description of ordinance
Section 1. Amendment to Section 5 (2) of Ordinance 19-006. Section 5 of Ordinance 19-006 is hereby amended to read as follows; (2) Application and Fee. Anyone wishing to engage in short-term rentals must submit a completed application. The application shall be returned to the Administrator accompanied by the appropriate application fee and must show, at a minimum: (a) The maximum number of occupants and vehicles that the dwelling unit and any accessory structures can accommodate. There can be no more than six guest rooms on a residential short-term rental property and no more than two total occupants per bedroom being used as a short term rental. (b) A Google map or similar map showing the entire property, all roads which abut the property and at least 25 feet of adjacent properties, showing on-site parking and areas subject to the short-term rental business. (c) Floorplan showing all bedrooms within the dwelling unit and any accessory structure(s) on the property. (d) Off-street parking as required by Section 18-39 (3) Short term rental lodging establishments. Off-street parking required, with at least one parking space per bedroom on the property. (e) A valid septic permit for the property, showing the number of bedrooms (e) A valid septic permit for the property, showing the number of bedrooms permitted by the State to the septic system on the property. (f) The name, mailing address, email address, and contact phone numbers (including 24- hour emergency contact numbers) of the owner of the property for which the permit will be issued. (g) The name, mailing address, email address, and contact phone numbers (including 24- hour emergency contact numbers) of the operator and the local contact person for the owner of the residential rental. (h) A valid New Mexico gross receipts tax number for the operator. (i) Short-term rental permit application fee. Section 2. Amendment to Section 5 (6) of Ordinance 19-006, Appeal Process.
Section 5 (6) is hereby amended to read: (6) Appeal Process. An applicant or person who is aggrieved by the decision of the Planning and Zoning Commission may appeal the decision to the Governing Body by written notice to the Village Clerk of such appeal, to be made within ten (10) days of the date of the decision by the Planning and Zoning Commission. The matter shall be referred to the Governing Body for hearing at a regular or special meeting in the usual course of business. The decision of the Governing Body made thereof shall be expressed in writing; and the action of the Governing Body shall be deemed final. Section 3. Amendment to Section 5 (7) of Ordinance 19-006, Penalties for violation of requirements of subsection (g) of Section 18-45. Section 5 (7) is hereby amended to add (e): (a) Any person who violates any provision of subsection (g) of Section 18-45 shall, upon a first conviction, be subject to a fine of not less than $250 nor more than $500, or imprisonment of not more than 90 days, or both such fine and imprisonment. (b) Any person who violates any provision of subsection (g) of Section 18-45 shall, upon a second or subsequent conviction, be subject to a fine of $500 or imprisonment of not more than 90 days, or both such fine and imprisonment. (c) Each day that a violation occurs constitutes a separate violation of Village of Corrales Municipal Code as provided for in this subsection. (d) The Village Code Enforcement Officer or other designated Village employee shall take action to correct the violation as provided for in the Code. (e) Possible Revocation of short term rental permit.
Corrales now has at least five registered “Little Free Library” installations along roadways and byways. Among them are a new one at the northwest corner of Carey Road and Kepler Court, and others at 104 Laura Lane and 104 Andrews Lane. The idea of offering books to passersby began several years ago elsewhere but has caught on here.
Anyone is welcome to take a look at what’s offered and take a title home to read. Users are encouraged to return them when finished and/or to bring back a different book for others to pick up. A Little Free Library map can be found at https://littlefreelibrary.org.
A long-proposed trail connection between the City of Rio Rancho’s paved Thompson Fence Line trail along the edge of the escarpment and the end of Sagebrush Drive in Corrales is finally underway. Engineering work has begun after the Corrales Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Commission pushed for it at the June 16 on-line Village Council meeting.
The plan was explained in a Powerpoint presentation by thec ommission. The council meeting was held via internet, as such meetings were over the past three months. On August 31, Village Clerk Aaron Gjullin informed commissioners that the project is launched. “Just a heads up. It has begun!” he emailed. “The Village is funding it, asking for additional money or reimbursements from the County and State. Engineering has begun.”
The commission has held discussions with Rio Rancho officials, the Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority and Corrales Public Works several times over the last five years. Public Works has estimated the trail link could cost around $74,000 including engineering and installation.
“The time is now,” the commission’s presentation urged. “A Parks and Recreation survey indicated residents want opportunities to exercise outside as individuals and as families. Trail connectivity is an important tenet of the Trails Master Plan. A loop trail is a great way to enjoy our village.”The south end of Rio Rancho’s trail terminates at Corrales’ Meadowlark Lane, although just south of that is Intel’s recently improved Skyview Trail which extends on southward to the Skyview Acres Subdivision.
“Together, they provide a three-mile path along the border between Corrales and Rio Rancho that offers sweeping views of the village and the Sandias,” the commission’s report stated. “Attempts to connect the north end to the village via Sagebrush have been ongoing for 30 years.” It noted that “ad hoc” paths at the end of Sagebrush Drive to reach the Thompson Fence Line Trail have existed for years across private property. Now an opportunity to build the long-proposed trail connection can be achieved using Village-owned land adjacent to the cul de sac at the end of Sagebrush. “The Village owns the land on which the potential trail connection would be constructed,” the Powerpoint said. “Nearby lots are for sale. We have an agreement among current neighbors that the connection is a good idea. Benefits are significant: health, quality of life, potential economic boos for local businesses.”
The commission’s introduction noted that “the idea of a loop trail around Corrales was first imagined in the 1980s. Rio Rancho completed the Thompson Fence Line Trail, and Intel built their trail in the 1990s. “A few years ago, a lot in that area that would serve as a t rail connection was deeded to the Village from the Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority. Mike Chavez, Village Public Works director, viewed the possible connection, indicating it was doable and providing cost estimates. This link is on the Master Trails Plan.”
By Scott Manning
This month, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) will conduct a study of the Corrales Siphon to determine what maintenance work will be needed in coming years. The Corrales Siphon is a 70 year old wooden, barrel-like pipe that runs beneath the Rio Grande, bringing irrigation water diverted on the east side of the river to the Corrales Main Canal on the west side. Ditch bank roads along the easternmost part of the Main Canal will be closed as work gets underway.
In 2016, the MRGCD, in a partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation performed maintenance work on the siphon that aimed at protecting the pipe from further damage. It is exposed in the river, and this threatens its stability on its western side. To address this concern, the MRGCD completed stabilization work on the siphon by depositing rip rap in the river next to the wooden culvert. Small boulders were placed downstream of the old wooden pipe to restore the eroded sediment surrounding the siphon. That also diverted the flow of the river away from the exposed western side of the siphon to the eastern side of the river. These changes helped to stabilize the siphon and prevent excessive strain on the culvert.
As part of the project, the MRGCD completed other maintenance efforts in the area. The district improved steel fencing and gating to improve access to the bosque at the location of the siphon.
These maintenance efforts came in around the projected budget of $200,000. The project was cost-effective in part because the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority (AMAFCA) donated boulders for the maintenance project. In addition, the MRGCD sought the assistance of the Bureau of Reclamation because it has experience in completing large-scale construction efforts in water environments.
Hamman explained that the siphon required maintenance efforts because the flow character of the Rio Grande has changed over the past few decades. When the pipe was constructed, it was originally buried approximately 14 feet beneath the riverbed. The siphon is designed to endure an aquatic, submerged environment, but the pipe is not engineered to withstand the exposure and stresses of the river water pouring over it.
The siphon became exposed after years of erosion of the river bed as the Rio Grande continued to cut deeper. The flow of water in the Rio Grande changed when Cochiti Dam was constructed upriver. The dam reduced river flows and trapped sediment, and these changes caused the Rio Grande to degrade and to erode downward. This downward erosion is observable on the incised banks of the river.Some impacts of the 2016 maintenance efforts are observable. Before that, the exposed siphon created rapids on the western side of the Rio Grande. Now that the rip rap diverts the main flow of the river, the rapids have changed location but still are present.
The MRGCD has monitored the siphon in recent years of high and low runoffs, and it seems to be stable. But Hamman says that a full study of the siphon is in order. After the irrigation season ends this year, the MRGCD will conduct a camera-run of the siphon in which experts examine the interior of the pipe for damage. The MRGCD must also examine the pipe in areas of high flow concentration to assess stability.
The repairs completed in 2016 have given the MRGCD time to study the siphon and consider future maintenance efforts. Hamman expects that the siphon will require more work in the coming years.
Depending on the results of the study, the MRGCD will determine if the siphon should be repaired and maintained or replaced completely. Workers could stabilize the siphon using a method called slip lining. Slip lining involves pulling a heavy plastic tube through the siphon to stabilize the pipe from the inside-out. To further stabilize the siphon, the district would add more boulders. This project is the cheaper option, and Hamman estimates that maintenance and stabilization efforts would cost anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000.
If the MRGCD were to replace the pipe, it could invest in a pipe constructed of modern materials such as concrete or polyvinyl. And the new pipe would be buried deeper in the riverbed to avoid exposure. Despite these advantages, a complete replacement would be the more expensive option. Hamman estimates that a replacement project could cost over $10 million.
The MRGCD will have more information about the current condition of the siphon after it conducts the study this fall.
Candidates for the 2020 Corrales Pet Mayor all have now been corralled, with voting already underway. Snickers, a fun-loving guinea pig with a big heart, was the second candidate to enter the race, after the elegant hound, Abigail Fae. Snickers’ campaign slogan is, “Don’t be blinded by my white stripe, I’m cute, cuddly, and oh so strong…” And number three was JoJo, an energetic four-month old standard poodle. Her slogan is, “Power To Pets with JoJo!” Her campaign platform is appropriately COVID-19-aware. She champions butt-sniffing, wagging rather than barking in Village negotiations, three walks a day, and insists doggie bags from local restaurants are for dogs, not humans.
One cat has entered the race thus far, and Moonshadow’s campaign slogan is “Of course I'm PURR-fect for the job, I’m a cat!” And a mini-donkey about three months old named Chip is also in contention, because of course “He has great ass-pirations for Corrales!”
Back in the canine column is alert-as-can-be Jacqui who says “Ears up, paws down, attention placed —I'm ready to race!” Archie, a major mix of dog, more in the mellow zone, now insists “When we get through these tough times we’re going to… Party on Corraleños!” Looking like a true elder statesdog is Samson, who assures, “I don’t bite, but I’ll fight for you. Vote Samson for Mayor!” The first ever duo-mayoral candidates are Cockadoodles JackJack and Moose, brothers and opposites in every way. These literal underdogs (runt and deformed) are limping proof you can achieve anything with hard work and determination. Their campaign slogan is “Together, we won’t let Corrales get Jacked up!”
Three very last minute candidates are Stinkerbelle, another mini-donkey, a white fluffy Olga dog, and the tiniest canine entry, Angel. Voting on line for the 2020 Pet Mayor began September 1. https://www.corralesharvestfestival.com/vote-for-pet-mayor/.
Online voting is a minimum of $5 which equals five votes. And you can vote much more if you choose. The contest is a part of the now virtual Corrales Harvest Festival that raises funds to support the needs of our two and four-legged members in the village.
A planning effort is now officially underway for potential uses of the Corrales Interior Drain, also known as “the scummy ditch” or “the scuzzy ditch” east of Corrales Road. Some villagers consider it a treasured natural area with aquatic life, wetlands vegetation and sometimes even muskrats, while to other Corraleños, it is a disgusting, smelly near-sewer that breeds mosquitos.
The long ditch and ditchbank roads run from north of Dixon Road to the Riverside Drain south of East Meadowlark Lane. The land is owned and managed by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District which excavated it in the 1930s to lower the water table and drain land for agriculture.
In bygone days, much of the central Corrales Valley east of Corrales Road was swamp. The Interior Drain was meant to improve the land so it could be farmed. As such, the ditch was designed to receive excess irrigation water which was to flow back to the Rio Grande when it reached the Riverside Drain which empties into the river at Alameda Bridge.
But over the decades, the Interior Drain’s hydraulics have deteriorated, leaving a mostly disconnected, stagnant series of puddles. Less and less acreage is cultivated in that area, while more and more homes —and septic leachfields— have gone in, so that the ditch is now more of a conduit for household wastewater rather than irrigation return flow to the river.
In recent months, a handful of eastside residents have begun organizing to explore possibilities that might transform the area. Led by Corrales native Doug Findley, son of the late Jim Findley and Tommie Findley, the group asked Mayor Jo Anne Roake to establish a Village government task force to make recommendations. Appointed to the task force are: Findley, Ed Boles, John Perea, Sayre Gerhart, Jeff Radford and Rick Thaler.
The group composed the following statement: “Our mission is to identify and help to implement ways in which the Interior drain and right-of-way may be improved for safe, enjoyable and essential public use while maintaining tranquility for adjacent residents.” At least initially, the group has suggested the project be referred to as “The Corrales Eco Corridor.” Since the Village of Corrales has no jurisdiction over the land involved, the task force acknowledges that its eventual recommendations would need concurrence from the MRGCD to be implemented. The district’s chief concern is expected to be retaining full use of the ditch and ditchbanks to perform routine maintenance.
The task force has asked the Village administration to send a letter to the MRGCD regarding its formation and objectives, which include improving the area for residents who live along the drain, for residents who use it for access to their homes and to make it safer and friendlier for pedestrians, bicyclists and horseback riders.
By Meredith Hughes
What does an emergency nurse working three 12-hour shifts a week at UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center in Rio Rancho do during his downtime at home in Corrales during a pandemic? Alex Price started a blog. It’s called Nature in Corrales, and is described like this: “Watching the change in Nature over the seasons. Kind of senseless, and yet full of purpose.”
In his first post on April 2, Price wrote: “The level of the ditch has fallen dramatically in the last several days of hot, dry weather.” The ditch referred to is officially the Corrales Interior Drain, known unofficially as “the scuzzy ditch.”
Only after reading through several paragraphs do we learn of Price’s true passion. “I returned Phil, the bullfrog, to the ditch, where he is doing fine. Bullfrogs are an invasive species and the public is actually encouraged to remove them. I don’t go in for this kind of thing, and find their froggie brains pretty fascinating. There is still so much to learn about these charismatic amphibians…”
Toads and frogs, above all, but insects, too, and fish, plants and the intertwined nature of them all. His blog is rich in nature portraits. Consider the tiny freshwater mosquito fish, aka gambusia. Price writes that “mosquito fish are [the] eyes and ears” of the ditch.
“The insects are often very approachable during the heat of the day, when they are hiding and lethargic. In the ditch, however, many animals will use the ever-alert mosquito fish as an early warning system. The fish are experts at sensing vibrations and movement, but most creatures are. Because of the use of the ditch by vehicles, movement and vibrations are pretty much constant. The mosquito fish are better than most animals at discerning specific threats, such as people.
Ever notice how the water ripples when people approach the water's edge? That’s the mosquito fish in the shallows warning the other critters to freeze and act like a leaf.” Introduced from somewhere in Africa, to help keep down mosquitos, the fish unfortunately take on dragon flies, which are “much better at eating mosquitos,” according to Price.
Starting his nature blog was a “good way for me to pass the time during lockdown,” said Price, as staying put does not come that naturally to him. Originally from Canada, he is also a Brit-American. His father, a geophysicist working in the oil business, took his family to a new posting about every two years, among them Egypt, Kashmir and Price’s favorite, Madagascar, which is rich in chameleons. His mother, from Britain, wanted him to “grow into a proper British boy,” so he attended Abbotsholme School, on the border of Derbyshire and Staffordshire, a now co-ed boarding school established in 1889 by a progressive educator.
Price moved on to studies at Sandwell and University of Birmingham in the UK, then came to New Mexico to study nursing at the University of New Mexico. Always keen on biology, he realized that biology as a career, “likely would not pay the bills.” He tiptoed into becoming a doctor, then saw that nursing would be a much quicker career route.
Why New Mexico? “My stepfather developed stomach cancer in Mallorca, Spain, while I was in Birmingham University, about 20 years ago. He was American and chose to get American medical care. They picked New Mexico because it was like Spain in climate, and cheap to live in.”
He adds that “I have since learned Rio Rancho in particular attracts a large number of “medical tourists.” There are many people living in the high desert getting chemo treatments, just like the old tuberculosis sanatoriums in the 1920s.” And what better place for a biologist, a state with an Official State Amphibian, the spade foot toad? The seldom idle Price, now 43, currently is studying for a degree in biology education at UNM, and before COVID-19 shut so much down, was volunteering at the Museum of Southwest Biology there. He retells an old joke biologists tell, that “medicine is easy because it only focuses on one species.”
Toads and frogs, however, are “always thrown in with reptiles, as an afterthought,” a move clearly irritating to Price. The spadefoot is visible only at night, hence Price’s vigilance when starting for home just after midnight. “They come alive somewhat during the monsoons to breed, visible for about three-four days. Otherwise they live underground for nine months of the year!”
Spadefoots soak up moisture through a patch on their skin, and, can be recognized also as per their official state description. “The voice of the New Mexico spadefoot sounds like a fingernail running across the teeth of a comb. When threatened, the New Mexico spadefoot toad emits an odor said to smell like roasted peanuts.”
Bullfrogs seem his favorite, however. “I love them! They are the smartest frogs on the planet.” It’s always been said bullfrogs have “no necks.” But Price has closely observed bullfrogs turning their heads… and, while said frog does not have much in the way of lungs, “it breathes through its throat, not its skin.”
A new pursuit not quite yet defined is the measuring of tadpoles. “There is too much to study,” Price laments. “How things change in the seasons over a year, how tadpoles react to changes in their environment …it’s a complicated study.” Unsurprisingly, Price has major concerns about the Interior Drain being overhauled into an official recreational site, with parking areas and more people invading the scene. “No problem with anglers, who tend to be more mindful than some,” he says, “But….”
Having posted a concern about this on the social media platform NextDoor, Price got a response from Corrales’ Rick Thaler, who wrote he was part of a group of people who live on or near the drain. “We have considered calling ourselves ‘Friends of the Scuzzy Ditch’ but not sure if that will fly. Most of us either grew up here or have lived here most of our lives.”
“My involvement sprang directly from my opposition to the plan last year to pave the section of road on the drain between East La Entrada and East Ella. I wanted to find a positive way to respond to that plan and I found that some of my old friends and newer acquaintances were already thinking the same way.”
“Our goal is to explore and present to the Village ways to preserve the drain corridor from Dixon down to Meadowlark. We hope to come up with creative ways to preserve and improve access for homeowners, land owners and fire/rescue, reduce speed, volume and dust from north/south traffic, provide permanent, safe pedestrian, bike and equestrian ways, and preserve and improve wildlife habitat along the drain. This is a long process and our priority is to do do it with the maximum of input from our friends and neighbors along the drain.”
Thaler invited Price to “stay tuned for more information as we get the process going.” Likely he will, although he somewhat regrets “I can never seem to agree with anything anyone else ever says.” A high-energy enthusiast, Price wrote recently on his blog that “One of the biggest benefits of studying nature is that studying, helps you study.... Looking closely at plants in the bosque meant I was prepped to see them when up on a mountain meadow recently. Learning how to see with the mind is a valuable skill that takes time. A lifetime in fact.”
His blog is at https://corralesphenology.blogspot.com.
Corrales’ rules regarding political campaign signs likely will not be enforced between now and the November elections. The Village’s sign ordinance is now considered unconstitutional, according to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Planning and Zoning Administrator Laurie Stout has determined. She issued a statement late last month that “I am hereby directing code enforcement staff to forego enforcement of certain provisions of the Village code related to temporary signs or signage.
“Effective immediately and until the Village’s sign regulations are property amended, or until November 3, 2020, whichever is sooner, code enforcement staff shall enforce only those provisions of the sign regulations related to temporary signs or signage that are content neutral and relate to public safety.” The policy came after former Corrales Planning and Zoning Commissioner Frank Wirtz brought attention to the matter of political signs.
In a news release August 26, Stout explained, “It has come to the Village Administration’s attention that our sign regulations are out-of-date. In a recent case (Reed v. Town of Gilbert), the U.S. Supreme Court determined that sign regulations that discriminate based on the content of the sign’s message are, in most cases unconstitutional. “Unfortunately, the Village’s sign regulations are very similar to the regulations struck down in the Reed case. Consequently, if challenged the Village’s sign regulations would also likely be struck down by a reviewing court.
“For the foregoing reasons, the Village needs to undertake a comprehensive rewrite of its sign regulations.” In an August 10 email to Mayor Roake, Wirtz argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such political signs on private property are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The mayor responded to him in an email that same day: “Our attorney is looking into this right now.” The Village’s sign ordinance clearly states that political campaign signs must be removed within three days after the election. The Code or Ordinances reads at Section 8-97 “Permitted Signs, Size Restrictions:”
“Signs related to political campaigns may be permitted prior to an election on any premises. No one political sign including all its sides shall exceed 16 square feet in sign area. Such signs shall not be placed more than sixty (60) days prior to the election date, and such signs shall be removed within three (3) days after the election date.”
These provisions were established in Corrales after lengthy, contentious and recurring debate. But Wirtz argues the Village’s ordinance is unconstitutional as an unacceptable limitation on free speech. In his August 10 email to Mayor Roake, he explained his position this way. “I’ve learned that the Village of Corrales has made some recent efforts in advising residents that their political signage is in violation of Village code restricting political signs being placed outside of the 60-day period preceding election date.
“The Village may create and enforce this ordinance for Village property, but the U.S. Supreme court has addressed this specific issue and has found that municipalities shall not restrict signage “content” on private property. I’ve attached some links below that will hopefully clarify.” Wirtz continued, writing “The summary of this is that if a municipality allows signage of any type (Keep Out, Welcome, Beware of Dog, etc), then that municipality shall not restrict the content of that sign. This includes political messaging and support signs. “Note that municipalities may restrict sign size, amounts of signs, placement such that motor traffic visibility is not compromised, etc. However, the content of the sign is considered an important expression of First Amendment protected practice.…
“On a somewhat related issue, our code for sign ordinances is poorly worded. In review of that code, I noted that all ‘portable’ signs are prohibited in the Village of Corrales. This would include the election signs that folks wave near polling places, as well as any other sort of ‘temporary’ signage such as signs at the farmers market, yard sale signs, etc. Due to the broad definitions of the signage ordinance, it could even be argued that bumper stickers or delivery trucks with advertising on the sides are prohibited.”
In a subsequent email, Wirtz added to his argument. “It is in the best interest of our Village to suspend the practice of issuing non-compliance notices to those posting political signage on private property immediately. “A good part of my frustration during my three years on our P&Z commission is that our older (and some newer) ordinances are horribly worded. Ordinances should contain some very important items ...there should be a list of term definitions at the beginning, describing exactly what key words mean. There should also be a list of exceptions as there are almost always some to be included. In much of the Village Code associated with Planning and Zoning, the ordinances are nebulous, and entirely too much interpretation is required to apply the code.…
“All ordinances should be reviewed from time to time to ensure that they have not been found to be in conflict with our legal rights and liberties. Conditions change. Thirty years ago, we never anticipated needing cell phone hardware in the village, nor would we have assumed that cannabis farming would be an issue.…
“So... we have a mess on our hands, but one of the immediate ones which is threatening to our village is anything which steps directly on an amendment of the Constitution. In this instance, the court systems all the way up to the Supreme Court have ruled that municipalities may not restrict the content of signage, as long as signage in some form is allowed. This has been specifically applied to political signage.
“This is a very serious situation that our Village should address. I know several persons who have received a cease-and-desist tag for political signage, and there are some rumblings about it.
“As part of one of the most progressive communities in New Mexico, we need to apply that progressiveness to freshening our Village Code.” Few candidates running in the party primaries back in June have kept their campaign signs up. The most obvious of those were erected by, or for the Republican candidate for Sandoval County Clerk, Lawrence Griego of Rio Rancho, who ran unopposed.
He will face Algodones Democrat Anne Brady Romero in the November election. After defeating two other Democrats in the June primary, she took her campaign signs down pretty much right away. In contrast, Griego kept his signs up for at least two months, presumably to gain advantage over his Democratic opponent this fall.
The Griego signs were most prominently displayed on the fence and wall of the property where former Mayor Scott Kominiak lives. Other candidate signs reportedly remained up well past the three-day limit near Old Church and Mission Valley Roads and along Loma Larga.
It’s only cost something over $35,000 thus far, plus many hours of labor by Village Administrator Ron Curry and Finance Officer Reyna Aragon, but it has been confirmed that most of the unexpected $4.7 million in the Village coffers first announced in January 2020, is legit.
A forensic audit this summer has confirmed that Village government really does have available more than $4 million that turned up unexpectedly. During the January 14 Village Council meeting, Curry told the mayor and council that “What made this jump out to us is that when you look at that amount of money, it is equivalent to our budget for one year. It is a good problem to have, but it definitely requires us doing due diligence. We don’t want to get into a situation where we owe that money if we spend it in the wrong way.”
Aragon noted at the time that “We do not yet know where it came from. In 2016, we see from Wells Fargo, general cash for $4 million going into an investment account. That’s all we know about it so far.” Later in the meeting Mayor Jo Anne Roake underscored that, saying,“We aren’t going to spend any of it until we have a better idea, and just not that we have a healthy investment account at this point. I think healthy skepticism is good at this point. It is just very unexpected.”
The Albuquerque forensic accounting company The McHard Firm was chosen to take a deep dive into Village finances. McHard was suggested to Curry by bond attorney Jill Sweeney, who brought them on board after a pandemically-determined virtual interview, just as COVID-19 was taking hold in New Mexico. In a July 20 report to Curry, McHard wrote: “We were contacted by the Village in April of 2020 regarding fund balances of unknown sources, specifically the balance in the LGIP account, and concerns with the structure of the Village’s accounting system.” LGIP stands for local government investment pools.
“The Village underwent a change in several key positions in late fiscal year 2019 and early fiscal year 2020, including turnover in the Village Administrator and the Finance Director positions. As a result of this turnover, and due to lack of communication and/or documentation from the outgoing staff during the transition, the Village became aware it held a balance in the LGIP of approximately $4.7 million.” (Local government investment pools are mutual funds set up by governments for investing excess money. LGIPs are sponsored and organized by the state treasurer of a state or a governing body like a county commission.)
As of 2019, the $4 million figure was recorded as $4,739,585. “The Village Administrator, the Finance Director, and the Village’s Bond Counsel all had concerns that this balance may be restricted and should not be spent. We performed analysis regarding the origins of this balance which included fiscal years 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.” Both Curry and Aragon came to work for the Village in July of 2019. And, as Curry put it, it all began as “Reyna was starting on the budget for the year. She saw a statement, and was cautiously surprised.”
“How does something like that happen?” they asked themselves. “We mentioned it to some of the councillors, who wondered if maybe the previous mayor had moved money around.” Curry said he and Aragon were “determined to clearly identify the money.”
“It was like looking under rocks,” as Curry put it, “ Trying to make sense of things. Not that the situation was anyone’s fault, but the budget was not getting spent.” The July summation from McHard continues: “In addition to the LGIP balance, the Village is in the process of transitioning its accounting system from MIP to Tyler MUNIS.”
Yet another complication, shifting to an entirely new accounting system. The new one, MUNIS, based in Plano, Texas, aims to “Connect your organization with Munis, the powerful ERP solution designed to encompass a wide range of public sector needs.” ERP means “enterprise resource planning.” The old one, MIP, is an accounting platform aimed at non-profits and governments. In fact, former Mayor Scott Kominiak began the transition to MUNIS, but the effort stalled. Village Clerk Aaron Gjullin has been helpful in restarting that transfer, according to Curry. The McHard report adds, “The Village wants to ensure that the accounting structure is appropriate for transition to the new system, and that the new system will facilitate accurate and timely financial reporting to the Village Council.”
To summarize the general accounting setup, McHard explains, “the Village has held an account with the LGIP for the entire time period we analyzed. The Village also holds a checking account named ‘general fund’ at Wells Fargo Bank and a savings account at Wells Fargo Bank. The ‘general fund’ checking account includes balances belonging to other funds of the Village as well as the Village’s general fund. Based on analysis of these balances over time, the balance in the ‘general fund’ checking account grew each fiscal year from 2013 to 2016. In fiscal year 2017, a portion of the balance in the ‘general fund’ checking account was moved to the savings account held at Wells Fargo.”
It does appear that the Village administration was on disorganized ground in 2013, even before Kominiak became mayor, according to Curry. “There was no solid infrastructure, little ‘good practices,’ and the mayor did not even have an office.” Soon after the “missing” $4 million was made public, an Albuquerque TV station ran a brief segment that according to Curry, “was flippant in nature, 180 degrees away from what we had discussed in the interview, making light of how we would spend the money.” Understandable to any kid who found an unexpected crumpled $20 bill in her shorts, when out of allowance money, perhaps.
Under the rocks Curry and Aragon turned over they discovered unusual numbers of Village “funds,” several of which had not been touched in four years, and a few with considerable money in them. Here are a few from the list: Recreation – General Ledger Fund 217; Safe Routes to School – General Ledger Fund 220; Recycling Grant – General Ledger Fund 223; Mid-Rio Grande Valley – General Ledger Fund 231; FEMA 4152 – General Ledger Fund 237; Farmland Preservation – General Ledger Fund 305.
Aragon’s current prime focus is consolidating the assorted funds, and making sure there are no encumbrances on the fund balances. As Curry stated, “Handle money as little as you can, yet accurately. We want to be sure that the Village has a clear pathway into the future, well after we are gone.”
The good news is: “Based on our analysis of the Village’s financial statements, performed at the fund level, there does not appear to be any restriction on the balance held in the LGIP account. However, there may be a portion of the balance that should be transferred from the LGIP account to the ‘general fund’ checking account.
“While the accounting system is used to segregate funds to track the different sources of revenues and expenditures, these funds will often share bank accounts. It would be very unwieldy and inefficient for each fund in a government to have its own bank account. As such, the balance in the ‘general fund’ checking account at Wells Fargo is, reasonably, a combination of fund cash balances in the accounting system, or general ledger. “The audit financial statements for 2019 show the general fund only has $3.9 million in total cash. Despite that, all $4.7 million of the LGIP account is allocated to the general fund.”
“Based on our analysis of the general fund’s fund balance and based on documented audit findings, we believe either other funds over-spent their accumulated fund balance and owe money to the general fund or a bank account transfer was needed to cover general fund expenditures. It is also possible that both of those situations exist.”
Financial perfect storm? Imbroglio? Comedy of errors? But, all’s well that ends well. This year’s budget for fiscal 2020-2021, according to Arragon, has been sent to the State, and it is the same as last year. Village income from gross receipts has remained steady at 30 percent even through COVID-19. And money is not a prime issue for this Village, during this money-squeezing pandemic, thanks to lax or improper recording of transfers, dormant bank accounts, overspending, even underspending. But now the rocks have been overturned, new systems will be in place, and Curry and Aragon are on the job.