I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Town debt, hiring freeze leave Bernalillo without police chief, fire chief, treasurer, town manager
Thanks to past mismanagement of Bernalillo‘s budget, the town will have to make do without a police chief, fire chief, Town treasurer, Town manager, or Geographic Information System (GIS) technician for the time being, according to Mayor Jack Torres.
Soon after taking office in March, Torres fired the Town’s police chief, fire and EMS chief, and treasurer and interim Town manager Santiago Chavez.
Then he said he discovered his predecessor, former mayor Patricia Chavez, had apparently been spending federal funds earmarked for debt service on the Town’s general fund and operating expenses. Chavez did not budget a $1.64 million debt payment the Town must make June 1 for spending since 2006 on for the construction of water treatment facilities and other public works, Torres said.
“I came into office having heard that the Town was fiscally sound and that revenues were at an all-time high,” Torres said. “That was not completely true and now we must make an unbudgeted debt service payment of $1.6 million on June 1.”
The payment represents just under 15 percent of the Town’s overall budget.
Torres instituted a hiring freeze last week, and a 3 percent pay cut for all Town employees. He also laid off GIS Technician and public information officer Raul Araujo.
That leaves Bernalillo with no full-time chiefs for the police and fire/emergency services department, no treasurer, Town manager, or GIS technician, Town Clerk Ida Fierro has confirmed.
Other employees have stepped in to serve as an interim treasurer and interim fire and police chiefs, in addition to their other duties, Fierro said.
“We’re doubling up,” Fierro said.
Town employees will take an unpaid furlough day every month, starting in July, Fierro said.
The Town pledged much of its gross receipts tax money to a 2006 bond sale that was approved by Town officials without a vote among residents, Fierro confirmed.
Part of the bond money went to the construction of water treatment facilities, Fierro said.
Apparently none of it went to water meters, however. Delinquent water and sewer bills cannot be collected because of broken and unreadable meters, Torres said.
One of Araujo’s final tasks was writing the press release about the Town’s hiring freeze, although he didn’t mention his own layoff in the release.
Torres is working with the Town Council to restructure Bernalillo’s debt service payments, he said.
The Independent has submitted a public records request to confirm and clarify the mismanagement of federal funds and construction projects on which bond money was spent.