Doing More With Less for Rural Communities

By Philip Hughes-Luing

Senator Liz Stefanics (District 38) wields a great deal of expertise in the complexities of how funds for capital projects are allocated. Making $5 million do the work of $400 million is no easy task, yet it was one she recently was called upon to perform, and her expertise served her well.

Senator Stefanics places a priority on projects that will accomplish crucial improvements needed to secure the health and safety of her constituents. She cites as examples projects that ensure clean water and provide well-functioning sewers, such as he case of a community where all of the pipes were built with lead and were corroding dangerously.

During her first term in the New Mexico State Senate, from 1993-1996, local entities requesting capital funds were required to demonstrate a commitment to the project by matching the awarded funds with their own cash or in-kind, i.e. “sweat equity”, contributions. One rural town that requested funds for a baseball field matched the request for cash from the State with one local resident’s commitment to donate the dirt, another to donate bulldozing services, and the town council contributing what cash it could. In reviewing the proposal, she could tell the commitment was there to make it happen. In another instance a volunteer fire department worked with their State representative to obtain the minimum needed for a bare-bones fire engine, $50 thousand, then the community held local fundraisers such as bake sales to purchase auxiliary equipment. That same plan was used by another community to purchase and equip an ambulance.

Complexity enters the process, however, when insufficient funds are awarded to assure completion of a project. Requests for funding are made incrementally year to year, with promised funds stockpiled until enough have been awarded to ensure that a project can be started and brought to completion. During this period, plans can change, and the project might never get done.

Eventually those funds get taken back by the State to be reallocated, yet it’s exasperating that in the meantime other worthy projects have been denied access to those funds. One tactic to avoid such situations has been for the State only to fund “shovel-ready” projects.

Sometimes Senator Stefanics is called upon to reconcile her constituents common sense understandings with the State’s legal regulations and other considerations. For instance, the State’s policy is to purchase new equipment. With new equipment the “life value” of a piece of equipment is more standard, easier to calculate. In new condition this bulldozer costs this amount and can be expected to remain functional for this many years.

 A used piece of equipment, however, may cost half as much, and a community may believe it’s all that they need. Senator Stefanics did work with one community to obtain permission from the State to purchase a used bulldozer, but obtaining that permission took over a year.

While she’s always relished having her constituents visit her in her offices to discuss their needs, under the current COVID-19 restrictions that isn’t possible. A meeting of the Legal Council on December 14, 2020 will establish new rules for in-person visits, but in the meantime she encourages her constituents to converse with her via phone or email: (505) 986-4377. li***********@nm*****.gov .