We're at a critical juncture in the town of Taos. The core issue is the loss of our young people because we lack good paying job diversity. How does COVID relief, airport infrastructure development, annexation and acequias impact this problem?
Responding to Councilor Maestas' questions from last week's newspaper informs. Airport development: "best use of staff time?"
One staff member garnering over $130m in town infrastructure funding from federal and state entities, $48m of which underwrote the airport at a cost of $2m to the town. Potential EDA [federal Environmental Development Administration] funding required "shovel ready" infrastructure projects. The town applied, because social services weren't eligible.
Maestas' reference to eda.gov/coronavirus clearly indicates the grant's emphasis was infrastructure. Funding utilities to the airport augment capacity, which studies show will increase micro businesses and appreciably impact our local employment and pay. Utility lines to the airport enable connections along the route from Blackstone Ranch along Pueblo Tract A, creating opportunity for individuals and local developers working with the town to build affordable homes. If property owners approve, annexation provides greater protections under town P&Z ordinances, acequia ordinances and won't raise taxes.
El Valle and the El Prado water districts' boundaries will be honored; Blackstone water rights protected.
The town is advocating for an independent regional water authority equally represented by all of our MDWAs to coordinate water and sewage services, streamlining operations by reducing redundancies (legal costs, grant writing, etc.), enabling long-term water sustainability, resulting in efficient adherence to the Abeyta accord.
If annexation occurs the town and our region will retain an additional 3 percent in airport GRTs that currently go to the state, without impacting county revenues. With those funds the town intends to develop an Aviation and Technology Park, creating high paying jobs.
Why is the county blocking these efforts? Why is the county willing to send 3 percent to the state instead of investing in our community? The millions in COVID-related social services Mr. Maestas advocates for have been allocated and are being administered by the state through direct aid. The town did not create "additional rules" to prevent nonprofits from applying.
If young families obtain good jobs because of the town's airport economic efforts, they will have the opportunity to stay here and make a decent living, affording the opportunity to farm their familial lands, revitalizing their acequias and affording an opportunity to harvest cash crops such as quinoa and recreational marijuana.
The Barrone administration is trying to "thread the needle," affording families employment diversity while strengthening our acequias, maintaining our traditions, agrarian roots, aquifer and tree canopy recharge, enabled by the opportunity to grow cash crops and balancing the demographic loss of our children.
The Barrone administration is working towards meaningful systemic change, not just talking about it. The state will direct social service aid. This is not an airport vs. bread issue. Town reserves are currently $5m. The state requires $1.4m. The town uses these one-time funds to pay for grant approved federal and state projects, which are reimbursed after projects are completed; so the town acts like its own taxpayer-owned public bank.
The [New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration] requires all staff raises to be obtained from permanently reoccurring funds. Long before this issue was raised, town finance began looking into the possibility that some reserved funds are reoccurring. During our budget hearings we will discuss their findings and hopefully get our employees raises.
Maestas argues that homeless support, public bathrooms, etc. could have been addressed by Cares Act funding. It is my understanding that the state conducted an open competition between the local governments for much of the funding and one could only apply for designated initiatives. The town applied and was awarded $478k for business assistance.
From its own reserves the town allocated $900,000 to purchase and distribute PPE, assisted the hospital by constructing the current [Emergency Room] entrance, remodeled and donated a building to create a 20-bed, fully equipped COVID overflow, developed banners, billboards and weekly media ads and continues to do weekly free-PPE distributions and mass testing.
The town will only use an appropriate proportion of its share of the current $1.9t as revenue replacement, with the rest directed toward community support. Maestas states that the Town administration ignored the ICIP improvement plan "for the airport parking lot."
What isn't divulged is that the Governor allocated additional monies for the airport. This money couldn't have been used on other ICIP initiatives. Was the town supposed to turn down the offer?
Fritz Hahn is a town of Taos Council Member