Council nixes smaller streets project

Angel Fire Village Councilors and employees want to move forward with street and utility improvements, but not in haste… and not at the expense of fiscal responsibility.

At the end of July, council hoped to approve a contract to begin work on village core area roadways and utilities. Instead, one $12 million bid (from the Albuquerque construction firm AUI) came in for the project, which has $4.5 million in general obligation bond financing. Additionally, design specs for the project came in with a price tag that totalled about $8 million.

During the Aug. 14 regular meeting council discussed whether the village could award a smaller $2.6-plus bid to AUI to complete “Bid Lot “C” (Aspen Street East) and Bid Lot “D” (Miller Lane) and a portion of Bid Lot “A” (El Camino Real from North Angel Fire Road to just South of Squaw Valley Road.

“There’s two options on the table,”Amos Torres, Water & Sewer Superintendent for the village, said. “One option would be to award the contract. That would require getting money from our reserves [until the funds are reimbursed from the village’s bond funds].”

Councilor Rogers Lanon said, “People don’t realize Miller Lane [which passes in front of Angel Fire Resort] is a road. They’ll be thinking we’re building a parking lot for the resort.”

Torres replied, “If Miller Lane is not our priority we can shift that to another priority. AUI has told us that if they were awarded this contract, they could get it done by November. If they can’t get it done, they would have to pay damages of $2,500 a day.”

Council asked a few more questions about whether the project could reasonability be completed in November — or completed enough for safe winter driving then the discussion shifted to fiscal concerns.

Councilor Steve Larson asked Carl Abrams, Project Manager with HDR, ”Given that it’s August, and a lot of contractors are booked, would we save money by re-bidding in February?

Abrams replied, “In our experience, when there’s one bid, it’s 10- to 20-percent higher. But [the cost of] materials could go up next spring. It really is a gamble. It’s a tough call on that. There’s pros and cons and advantages and disadvantages. I don’t have a definitive answer for you on that.”

Lanon asked, “What do you think the odds are if we put it out for bid in the spring?”

“I would say you’d get more bids,” Abrams said.

Lanon noted, “What’s concerning me, is, the rest of the bond money is not available until February. If we start this project now, it’s not if there will be cost overruns, there’s always cost overruns. If unforeseen disasters occur, we won’t have the funds to back it up until February when we get the bond funds.”

When councilors worried Angel Fire residents would be angry because no work had been done on bond projects,” Abrams said, “We’ve done a lot of work. With a project like this, the engineering is a lot of the work.”

Engineering took more time, Abrahms said because of unforseen issues like “Roads not being on the rights-of-ways.”

Council Chuck Howe indicated his willingness “to go for it.”

Mayor Barbara Cottam said, “My concern is tapping into our reserve until we have the money to pay it back.”

Larson said, “Given that we pretty much lost the time in the summer to get this thing moving forward, as much as I would like to get this work done, we’re fighting the November deadline. It’s August now so you’re only looking at 2 months work. I think it’s a crap shoot. We’re wrong if we do and wrong if we don’t.

Lanon said he had a “vision of orange cones on village streets with tourist traffic in the winter. I want to see it done, but I want to see it done right. I would like to see it go out for bid. We’ve got to be good stewards for the bond money.”

All but Howe voted to reject the bid.

Streets are but one part of the village’s infrastructure bond projects

In a September 2016 mail-in election Angel Fire voters approved two separate bond measures totaling $4.5 million: $3 million for municipal street construction/repairs; and $1.5 million for water and wastewater construction/repairs. According to a bond election brochure, “virtually all” 120 miles of village roads “are in need of maintenance and many need to be rebuilt. Forty years of erosion and blading have taken a significant toll on the roads leaving them full of potholes and unsound.” At the same time, “much of the water and wastewater systems have exceeded their useful lives.”

It was hoped the initial $4.5 million would kick off a 30-year master project that Village Finance Manager Bret Wier estimated could total $31.5 million. There will be another election in 2020 to renew the program and issue a further $4.5 million with no new increase in taxes. The village hopes the pattern of elections — with voter approval — will continue every 3 years until the project is complete.

If voters disapprove the next election, once the debt is retired in 12 years, taxes will revert back to pre-bond tax levels. However, if voters continue to approve the bonds every three years, Wier said, the only way the mil levy would increase is “if property taxes go down. If property taxes go up, the mil levy will go down.”

A village white paper promoting the first bond election in 2016 predicted property tax increases ranging from $230 annually for a $200,000 home to $586 for a $500,000 home, and so on.

Last August, council approved the Core Area Planning Study of Roadway and Utilities by HDR Engineering. The plan includes recommendations for drainage, driveways that drain into roads and widening existing surfaces, as well as finished road surfaces. Most will be chip seal, some will be gravel.