Santa Fe Votes To Raise Tax, NM Man Released From Jail By Mistake

Jun 28, 2017

Santa Fe Commissioners Vote To Raise Gross Receipts TaxThe Associated Press

Santa Fe county commissioners have voted to increase the gross receipt tax by one-eighth of a cent to fund essential services such as public safety and mental health.

The move is expected to generate an additional $4.6 million a year for the county. The tax increase will take effect Jan. 1.

County commissioners approved the increase Tuesday after hearing testimony from dozens of residents looking for funding for a behavioral health crisis center that would treat people with mental illness and addictions. The county says the money will also pay for 30 new public positions and give county employees a 1 percent pay increase for cost of living.

Santa Fe county residents will be able to vote on additional gross receipt tax increase in a special election in mid-September.

New Mexico Man Mistakenly Released From Custody Back In JailThe Associated Press & KOAT

An Albuquerque man who had been mistakenly released from jail due to a paperwork error is back behind bars.

KOAT-TV reports John Sena, who is charged with assaulting two police officers on June 17, was released the next day on his own recognizance after being arraigned on two counts of battery on a peace officer.

But Sena was on probation at the time of his arrest. He just got done serving time in jail after he was convicted of assaulting an officer in 2011.

The U.S. Marshals Service states paperwork to keep Sena behind bars because of the violation wasn't sent to the Bernalillo County Jail fast enough.

U.S. Marshals named Sena New Mexico's Most Wanted Violent Offender in an effort to get him back into jail.

Audit: New Mexico Higher Ed Dept. Lacks Financial Controls Associated Press

A newly released audit has found that the New Mexico Higher Education Department lacks adequate controls to oversee financial reporting and erroneously is recording investments.

The audit released Tuesday by New Mexico Auditor Tim Keller claims the department didn't follow policies and procedures in 2016 and recorded around $3 million in the Lottery Tuition Fund in the wrong year. The audit also says the department overstated federal grants receivables.

Overall, the audit, conducted with an independent accounting firm, contained 18 findings.

A spokeswoman for the Higher Education Department told the Santa Fe New Mexican in an email that the agency “takes these issues very seriously and is always looking to work to make the department better.”

A spokeswoman for the New Mexico Higher Education Department did not immediately return an email or a phone message.Keller says recent budget cuts are preventing the department from hiring staff to provide financial oversight.

New Mexico Counties To Get $38.5M In Federal PaymentsAssociated Press

New Mexico counties will be sharing $38.5 million in payments from the federal government for the non-taxable lands within their borders.

The U.S. Interior Department announced the payments this week. In all, nearly $465 million will be distributed to 1,900 local governments for 2017. The agency says that marks the largest amount allocated in the program's 40-year history.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall's office says New Mexico is the third-highest recipient of the payments.

Under the program, rural counties are compensated for hosting federal lands that can't be developed, such as national parks, forests and some military bases. Counties use the money for social services, schools and roads.

The funding for each county is determined by a formula that considers the number of acres of federal entitlement land within each county and the population.

Santa Fe Public Schools Eyes Scrapping Letter Grade 'D'Associated Press

One of New Mexico's biggest school districts is considering scrapping the letter grade "D'' to raise graduation standards.

The board of Santa Fe Public Schools is mulling a plan to eliminate the D grade from its scale and force struggling students to shoot for at least a "C."

Board member Steve Carrillo introduced the proposal this month and says the plan is modeled after ones adopted in school districts in New Jersey and other states.

If the D grade is eliminated, students would need at least a C average to graduate from high school.

Carrillo says the change will "raise the bar" for students.

The Los Angeles Unified School District reinstated "D'' grades in 2015 after it had eliminated the grade for 10 years. District officials realized that around 20,000 high school students were at risk of not graduating.

New Mexico Collects $65M From Monthly Lease Sales In FY17Associated Press

The State Land Office has collected more than $654,000 from its most recent monthly oil and gas lease sale, bringing the total for the fiscal year to more than $65 million.

Agency officials say that is almost double last year's total of $36 million.

This month, 20 tracts covering almost 9 square miles were initially offered but most ended up being withdrawn.

Roswell-based Manzano LLC and Artesia-based Abo Empire LLC were the winning bidders of the two remaining tracts in Lea County.

Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn says his office has exceeded budget projections for the fiscal year, noting the interest in New Mexico's share of the Permian Basin.

Revenues generated from oil, gas and mineral production, grazing and other activities on state trust lands benefit public schools, universities and infrastructure projects.

New Mexico Statehouse Districts Avoid Overall Partisan BiasAssociated Press

The once-a-decade process of redrawing New Mexico's state legislative districts has provided a relatively unbiased playing field for both major parties.

A statistical analysis by The Associated Press found Republican-skewed districts are far more common than Democratic ones in U.S. House and statehouse districts nationwide, though not in New Mexico.

New Mexico's districts were drawn in 2012 by a specially appointed district court judge after the Legislature, which was led by Democrats, and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez reached a stalemate.

The share of seats won by Democrats in the House of Representatives in 2016 — 38 out of 70 — closely corresponds with average vote share in districts across the state.

Albuquerque-based pollster Brian Sanderoff says the boundaries of the state's three U.S. congressional districts have changed little over the past three decades.

Attorneys Seek Grand Jury In New Mexico Shooting SpreeAssociated Press

A preliminary evidentiary hearing has been canceled in the prosecution of Damian Herrera in connection with a June 15 shooting spree across northern New Mexico that claimed five lives.

The hearing was canceled Tuesday as prosecutors prepare to present evidence to a grand jury against Herrera.

The 21-year-old from Ojo Caliente is accused by police and prosecutors of fatally shooting his mother, stepfather and brother at the family's home in La Madera last week.

Authorities allege Herrera then traveled 200 miles across northern New Mexico and fatally shot two more people before his arrest the same day.

Herrera's sister and others were at the family's home when the shootings began.

Trump Administration Plans Border Wall Models In SummerAssociated Press

The agency in charge of U.S. border security plans to start building prototypes for President Donald Trump's proposed wall with Mexico later this summer.

Ronald Vitiello, Customs and Border Protection's acting deputy commissioner, said Tuesday that four to eight companies will get contracts for prototypes in San Diego that could be models for the roughly 2,000-mile border. Companies will have 30 days to complete the models.

Vitiello says it's impractical to build a wall on about 130 miles of border where there are already natural barriers, like lakes or canyons.

Trump's budget proposal for 2018 includes $1.6 billion for 74 miles of wall in Texas' Rio Grande Valley and San Diego. There are currently 654 miles of fencing.

Contract Competition To Begin For Troubled Los Alamos Lab - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The competition for a multibillion-dollar contract to manage the troubled Los Alamos National Laboratory is beginning after a week in which the northern New Mexico facility was hit with criticism for its record of safety lapses.

The National Nuclear Security Administration on Tuesday posted online its intent to conduct a competition for the management and operation contract. The agency is expected to release more details about the request for proposals in the coming weeks.

The current $2.2 billion contract for Los Alamos National Security LLC to manage the lab ends in 2018. Some critics have said the bidding process will offer an opportunity to make changes at Los Alamos.

Just last week, federal officials announced an investigation into the improper shipment of nuclear material from the lab. This follows other reports about the mishandling of plutonium and radioactive waste.

Navajo Council Approves Lease Extension For Coal PlantAssociated Press

The Navajo Nation Council has approved legislation that will allow a coal-fired power plant in northern Arizona to continue operating through December 2019.

The 18-4 vote late Monday means at least 700 jobs at the Navajo Generating Station near Page and the mine that supplies the coal won't be immediately lost if the plant owners agree to all the lease terms.

The current lease for the 1970s-era plant expires in two years but its owners said they would shut it down by the end of 2017 without an extension. That's because it will take about two years to tear down the massive plant.

The owners announced in February they would close the plant because cheaper power generated by burning natural gas is readily available.

Group Cautions Doña Ana County Against Possible ViolationLas Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is concerned a planned discussion about the search for a new Doña Ana County manager may violate a key New Mexico transparency law.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports the organization raised caution Monday at an agenda item calling for a closed-door session of the Doña Ana County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday.

The agenda states the commission plans to "discuss a limited personnel matter related to the search criteria and process to be used to recruit a permanent County Manager."

State laws allow public bodies to discuss only certain topics in closed-door sessions. The topics must fall within allowed exemptions to the New Mexico Open Meetings Act. According to the law, one such exemption is "limited personnel matters."

Crews Battle Fast-Moving Fire In New MexicoAssociated Press, KOB-TV, KRQE-TV

Firefighters are dealing with shifting winds as they try to get a handle on a fast-moving wildfire in central New Mexico.

Authorities say the lightning-sparked blaze quickly grew Tuesday to about 2 square miles. There was no immediate word of any structures being threatened or any need for evacuations.

The fire was burning grass, brush and salt cedar on private land near San Marcial in Socorro County. The resulting plume of smoke could be seen by motorists along Interstate 25 and by weather forecasters on their radar systems.

Forecasters were warning of erratic changes in wind direction due to approaching storms. Afternoon temperatures were in well into the 90s.

In northern New Mexico, the Taos News reports a fire broke out yesterday evening east of the town along Witt Road. And KRQE-TV reports the city of Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department issued a smoke watch for Wednesday evening in connection with the Goodwin Fire in Arizona.