Commissioners deny lighting request in Las Maravillas

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A second subdivision has come to the county to ask that it pay for maintenance and electric bills for street lights in the community.

But unlike last month, the commissioners denied the request from Las Maravillas Unit I on a 3-2 vote.

In October, residents of Las Maravillas Units II and III requested the county take over maintenance and the electric bill for the 25 street lights in those two units after Valley Improvement Association ceased maintenance and turned off the power to the lights earlier this year.

The cessation of services was due to the May 2012 settlement of a 2010 lawsuit initiated by VIA after residents in the units attempted to break away from the VIA homeowners association, and establish one of their own — Good Neighbor Association.

The commissioners approved that request, 4-1.

At the meeting last month, County Planner Jacobo Martinez noted that while the county had contracts with the New Mexico Department of Transportation to pay for lighting maintenance at certain intersections, it did not contract and pay for any subdivisions at that point.

Jon Clemmons, a resident of Unit I, made the case for his unit at last week's meeting, saying it was "something very important to the community."

He reminded the commissioners of their acceptance of the street lights in Units II and III on Oct. 3.

"At the time, you might not have been aware, but Unit I may have to turn off it's power in 2013, in just a few months," Clemmons said. "We can't wait for the lights to be out for a couple of months."

Clemmons said Unit I, along with the rest of Las Maravillas, is having financial difficulties — a situation all the residents were apprised of in 2006.

"At that time, the Las Maravillas HOA began the process of informing residents that there would be a drastic cut in financial support," Clemmons said.

VIA was the homeowners association for all three units until Units II and III separated.

Clemmons said VIA was slowly cutting back on funds for maintenance, and the process would have been finalized in September of 2011.

"That was the deadline of when a large number of property assessments were going to be retired that supplemented the cost of supporting Las Maravillas," Clemmons said.

The homeowners had two options — to rewrite the covenants or form a new HOA, Clemmons said.

"September 2011 came and went, and Unit I was unable to do either option," he said. "The structure of our covenants does not allow us to raise assessments to meet the need for increased cost of maintaining our community."

Clemmons continued, saying there will be a deficit to the Unit I budget of more than $14,000 annually, starting in 2013.

"One of the things that may be cut is street lights," he said. "This is the same problem that was encountered when Units II and III became independent."

There are 300 houses alone in Unit I, Clemmons said, full of children playing outside, people walking their dogs and driving down the streets. Units II and III also contains 300 houses.

"It's hard to see with the few lights we have. We have break ins with the lights on," he said. "I would hate to see what it would be like without lights.

"The residents of Unit I of Las Maravillas respectfully request that the county assume responsibility for maintenance and electricity cost of our street lights, as it has for Units II and III of Las Maravillas."

Commissioner Ron Gentry moved for approval, and Commissioner Lawrence Romero seconded.

The motion failed after the remaining three commissioners — Donald Holliday, Mary Andersen and Georgia Otero-Kirkham — voted no.

Andersen was the only "no" vote on the acceptance of the Units II and III lights at the October meeting.

Clemmons asked if the commissioners could explain why they had voted against accepting the lights for Unit I.

Holliday said when the commissioners considered Units II and III last month, the numbers they received were only for six months, not a full year.

According to figures supplied to the county by VIA, total payments to PNM for Unit I in 2011 was $8,826, while Units II and III was $6,933. The mid-year total for 2012 for Units II and III was $2,877 and Unit I was $5,658.

The chairman said he based his decision to vote in favor of taking on the Unit II and III lights on the mid-year numbers, not the yearly total.

"I'll say it. I screwed up," Holliday said. "You were told in 2006 that things were going bad. You had six years to prepare. You were sold a bill of goods, but it's not on the taxpayers to pay for something someone sold you."

Clemmons responded that the situation was "a little more complicated than that." He said the covenants only allow for assessment increases of 5 percent a year.

"That's not enough. The only way to change the covenants is a majority vote of the community. And I don't know if you've ever tried to get 300 people to line up and do anything, but it's not easy," he said.

In regards to Units II and III, Clemmons said he didn't know their financial situation.

"If you go out there and look at Las Maravillas, we are all one community, not three separate units," Clemmons said. "I'm not sure what evidence you had for accepting Units II and III, but Unit I is in the same situation. I don't see how the county can refuse something it approved last month."

Clemmons continued, saying he assumed the county commissioners had the same information from VIA that he did — spreadsheets produced in August that showed the previous year and current year's payments to PNM, broken down by months.

"I assure you, we will look at it," Holliday said. "We will do everything not to turn the lights out."

Clemmons said he didn't think the commission's decision was fair, calling it "prejudicial for one community."

Otero-Kirkham said she remembered concerns being voiced at the October meeting that if approved, there could be "a snowball effect where every community will come in and ask for street lights. The county is just trying to stay above water.

"Right now, I don't think we can accept anything more than we already have."

The acceptance would only be for existing lights, Clemmons said.

"No one is going to ask you to install lights. It's only maintenance and power," he said. "You said you screwed up. I just hope you don't yank the lights off in Units II and III."


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.