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Funding for senior center facilities and accessible vehicles up for a vote in NM election

Some of General Obligation Bond 1 will go toward purchasing and equipping vehicles for 26 senior centers across the state. Aging and Long-Term Services Sec. Katrina Hotrum-Lopez says the lack of accessibility of the centers' fleets was illuminated during fire evacuations in northern New Mexico earlier this year.

As senior centers across New Mexico begin to reopen their doors after pandemic shutdowns and fire evacuations, $24.5 million for the facilities is up for a vote in the November election. General Obligation Bond 1 — if approved — would go toward designing, renovating, or equipping centers across 21 counties and six pueblos.

The bond will help several senior centers purchase and equip ADA-accessible vehicles. Aging and Long-Term Services Department Sec. Katrina Hotrum-Lopez says the lack of accessibility of the centers’ fleets became apparent during this year’s historic fire season.

“People needed resources. They needed to get from one place to the next,” she said of senior citizens impacted by the massive blaze that tore through northern New Mexico, putting thousands under evacuation orders. “And if we can’t do non-medical transportation with somebody who needs to be in a wheelchair or has their oxygen with them, then I think we’ve failed our seniors. So we’re correcting that problem.”

She says the need for vehicles also went up during the pandemic with an uptick in meal delivery, and has stayed there. The bond will also fund equipment for making meals. Hotrum-Lopez says food insecurity among seniors is a big problem — one that these centers are well-positioned to address.

“New Mexico is a poor state, but we have proud, proud seniors,” she said. “Not a lot of them love to ask for help, but they will go to a senior center for a meal because it’s about the engagement, it’s about the socialization. It’s not about a stereotype that they can’t afford food.”

The bond includes over $1.7 million Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham requested for tribal senior centers, according to the Legislative Finance Committee.

Hotrum-Lopez said the allocation will support tribal communities in meeting any immediate needs while her department builds out a “better program” to serve the needs for long-term investment and culturally-specific programming for New Mexico’s Native American seniors.

Gallup, which borders the Navajo Nation, is set to receive the largest share of this year’s senior center bond at just under $5.5 million. The bulk will go towards building a brand new center there, as Hotrum-Lopez said Gallup not only has an aging population, but an aging facility.

“The other thing about that population is that we know that a lot of grandparents take care of grandchildren there,” she said. “So we are really looking at how not only we can serve that senior, but then we can also get some natural supports in there that also serve that kiddo.”

Sec. Hotrum-Lopez said the new Gallup Regional Senior Center, which will replace the city’s existing neighborhood center, is an opportunity for the Aging and Long-Term Services Department to better meet seniors where they’re at, including in more rural areas of the state.

“We really, really want that Gallup center be the hub of us figuring out how to help our seniors in the way that they’d like, and living in the community of their choice,” she said.

The bond makes up the first round of funding for the center. The Capital Outlay Bureau says a second round of funding is set to be introduced in the 2023 legislative session. A bureau spokesperson says if either funding stream fails, the Gallup project could be delayed or downsized.

General obligation bonds result in public debt paid for by property taxes. Approval of any of this year’s three bond questions, however, will not result in a statewide tax increase, as the state’s Department of Finance and Administration says the current rate is high enough to cover the new debt as older debt expires.

The Your New Mexico Government project is a collaboration between KUNM and New Mexico PBS with support from the Thornburg Foundation.

Updated: October 19, 2022 at 12:32 PM MDT
This story has been updated to reflect that the general obligation bonds up for a vote in the 2022 election will not increase the statewide tax rate.
Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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