City councilors on Wednesday night faced the dilemma of all wish list writers: Ask for what you really want (or perhaps need) or ask for what you know you're likely to get.
Santa Fe's governing body finally landed on a list of official Infrastructure Capital Investment Projects that they all agreed on, but not without what one councilor called a "tortured process."
The list the City Council adopted and prioritized included more than 70 items and totaled $159,118,144 in projects as basic as $1 million in citywide facilities updates and as niche as a $50,000 lightning-protection system for a library. Next, it goes to state legislators and lobbyists to work their magic to see if some of these projects can be brought to fruition.
The state asked the city to put their top priorities in the top five slots on the list, but that designates little more than figureheads. Still, as the list passed the Public Works Committee, there was tinkering in those top spots. The Finance Committee punted it with no recommendation after a split vote. So its arrival before the full City Council brought debate about what to rank at the top of the list, and what that said about Santa Fe and its priorities.
“There's not a single issue in our top five that deals with poverty, there’s not a single issue…that addresses spending money on infrastructure that's going to help develop business,” Mayor Javier Gonzales said.
Three recreational centers made it into the top five items for the city, he noted, while nowhere were there projects that might meet the needs of the city's poor or fringe populations, like young children and the homeless, or the very real need of supporting economic development so those young children grew up able to find jobs in their hometown.
“At some point we have to start investing in infrastructure that helps our most vulnerable and helps grow our economy,” Gonzales said.
Councilor Joseph Maestas had also voiced concerns over listing projects that have already seen significant funds considered, or which aren't through the design phase, and the absence of millions of dollars' worth of deferred maintenance needed throughout the city.
The Finance Committee has also been advised against taking on any new debt, and therefore the council shouldn't prioritize a project that might need a bond to fund it if the city needs to forgo any bonds over the next several years, Maestas said.
“I'm just not sure I can really support this ICIP as presented,” he said. “What I'd like to see is a mix of infrastructure improvements, and I'd like to see some of these improvements that apply citywide.”
They looked at putting forward a list of five projects that would make a statement but expected those would likely be thrown out, Councilor Chris Rivera countered.
“It's better to go for money for projects that will be worked on than to have a list of five that will be thrown out because there's no sponsor for any of them,” Rivera said.
With improvements to soccer facilities at the Municipal Recreation Complex a big contender for the top spot, Rivera and Councilor Patti Bushee defended soccer as a form of economic development, calling it the fastest growing sport in America and noting that tournaments have been seen to generate revenue for the cities hosting them.
“We know it’s a wish list,” Bushee said of the ICIP, “as it goes over to our delegation, but we do hope they take note, and it's my understanding we may have a supporter or two over there in terms of the soccer complex.”
Regardless of the projects the city names as its top five, Bushee pointed out, sometimes none of those items see funding and the state goes for something else altogether, like last year, when funding was given for the airport. The soccer supporters already have some financial pledges, she said, adding, “I think we're on the right track in terms of outdoor recreation…I understand that we have a lot of infrastructure and needs, but I think these will be looked at favorably by our legislators.”
Public Works Director Issac Pino assured councilors that what matters for a project is that it's on the list and is assigned a number, and he echoed that legislators often go deep within the list to select projects for funding.
“I can’t emphasize enough that it doesn't matter if it's number 50 or number three,” Pino said.
If that's the case, Councilor Peter Ives asked, why have items been moved? He called the process "tortured" and added that he couldn't support the list, “just because so much sausage has been made here.”
The council split over accepting the list as presented, with Ives abstaining, and Bushee, Bill Dimas, Carmichael Dominguez and Rivera in favor, Signe Lindell, Maestas, and Gonzales against. The motion required five votes to pass, and so it failed.
If council wasn't able to approve an ICIP, none of the projects would get legislative attention, and the deadline to submit is Sept. 2, allowing little time for revisions.
Councilors then scrambled to make adjustments to those top five positions, shuffling an additional $890,000 needed for the Southside Transit Center down the list in favor of $1 million in fiber optics to entice business development (No. 2), and bumping off $3 million in upgrades to the Genoveva Chavez Community Center ice rink for $1 million in citywide facilities maintenance (No. 3). In the end, the No. 1 spot still went for soccer, specifically a $10 million project to renovate soccer fields and add an indoor soccer field. No. 4 is $3.5 million for improvements to West Alameda Street drainage, and the last slot is for $5 million for the second phase of development at the Southwest Activity Node Park. The vote for that list saw unanimous approval.
Children in soccer jerseys took up the seats in the front rows of the meeting Wednesday night as councilors considered the list.
Pilar Faulkner, lobbying on behalf of the Rio Rapids Northern Banditas soccer team for girls under 12, stepped outside the city council meeting after the vote to tell the girls what just happened, explaining how councilors from different districts were essentially fighting over who got slices of the pie.
“I try not to ask you girls to come out here too often,” Faulkner told them, “but if you hadn’t been here tonight, we may have been kicked off the list.”