VSWCD asks voters for mill levy

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As farmers across Valencia County are preparing for spring, a relatively behind-the-scenes government entity is hoping those farmers and others will show support for a proposed quarter mill levy on property taxes.

On May 7, the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District will hold an election to see if there is support for a 10-year, quarter mill levy to help support the programs offered by and operating costs of the district.

The decision to go to the voters for funds wasn't a quick one for the VSWCD board of supervisors, said Abel Camarena, the board supervisor since 2008.

"This was almost two years in the making," Camarena said. "We recognize that these are tough times for everyone, we're aware of that."

Under state statute, the district could ask for a full mill, but Camarena said the supervisors approached the issue very conservatively.

"We're not trying to gouge. We do pursue other funding," he said. "But if we are going to continue to help with things like soil testing, laser leveling, partnering with other agencies, improving Whitfield and bring in the Rio Abajo conservation areas, it takes funding to do that.

"We do receive some federal and state funding, but it is a shortfall. Even with running at bare bones and with volunteers, it's still tight. And we are so grateful for our volunteers. The district wants to support and promote volunteerism. It gives people some ownership of these projects."

The district was organized in 1947 and covers more than 1.4 million acres. The heart of the district is Valencia County, but also takes in portions of Bernalillo, Cibola, Sandoval, Socorro and Torrance counties.

The last time the district asked for a mill levy was in 2002. At that time, because of financial difficulties the county had encountered, funding for VSWCD from Valencia County was cut by $12,000. The district proposed a 10-year, half-mill levy, which would have also provided two years of funding for the local extension service, which was in danger of completely closing due to county cuts. The measure failed.

As budgets higher up the food chain change, Camarena said looking across the board at the district's current funding sources, there is no guarantee.

"The mill levy puts in place at least a 10-year source of funds," he said "There are national concerns about the debt. We are all in this together. We are trying to be a responsible entity who presents our case and lets people decide for themselves."

Camarena described the district as a "community-oriented service organization helping to promote agriculture, a healthy ecosystem along the river and providing technical assistance where we can to the agricultural community so they can be successful in their efforts year to year."

Many of the issues the district addresses in the community, Camarena said, involve weed control and water use.

Other programs the district offers include co-sponsoring the Valencia Coordinated Weed Management Area, performing terrain management reviews for subdivisions, conducting soil testing for local agricultural producers, partnering with the Bosque Ecological Monitoring Program in conducting groundwater research with Valencia County school students, working with other agencies and fire departments to develop a Valencia County Community Wildfire Prevention Plan and improving the bosque through fire fuels reduction, noxious ween management and habitat restoration.

The district also emphasizes education and recreation opportunities for school children, families, birders, walkers and anyone else wanting to enjoy Valencia County's open space and wildlife through the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area and the newly added Rio Abajo Wildlife Conservation Area.

"Whitfield is getting a lot of use, especially through the schools, and we are anxious to engage in restoration activities at Rio Abajo," Camarena said.

He said the district supervisors also supports local youth through its annual award of the Dan Goodman Scholarship, which is awarded to students going into agricultural or environmental conservation fields.

"The scholarship encourages students to pursue those kinds of studies," Camarena said. "The idea is maybe they will come back and do something for the community at large — in agriculture, open space, preservation of the river system."

To keep those activities and programs going, it takes funding, Camarena said.

"We do pursue federal and state grants, we do compete for them," he said. "I think the district is a worthwhile local effort that is here to try and make a difference. We all value clean air, clean water, enjoy wildlife. All that requires someone paying attention.

"We are just one entity trying to promote the quality of life we have here, trying to make a difference. We are not paid for the positions we hold on the board. We are concerned citizens who help where we can and try to keep the doors open."


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