Socorro County jail bonds

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Shall Socorro County issue up to $5 million of general obligation bonds, to be repaid from property taxes, for the purpose of designing, constructing, expanding, equipping and otherwise improving county jail facilities?

This is the jail bond question on the ballot for Socorro County voters this election, and the answer for some Socorro County officials is a resounding “yes.”

District 5 Socorro County Commissioner Juan Gutierrez expressed support last week for the bond question, noting the jail is not up to code. District 4 Commissioner Daniel Monette considered it a positive accomplishment for the County Commission to put the jail bond question on the ballot. He encouraged everyone to support the bond issue for the county jail, for it will not affect tax rates.

“We can do that without increasing property taxes one bit — not one dime,” Monette said.

A general obligation bond, according to materials available on the state secretary of state’s website, allows a governmental entity — such as the county — to borrow money to finance capital improvement projects — such as the jail. The principal and interest on the bonds are paid out of property taxes.

And this is a good time to borrow, according to Mark Valenzuela, vice president of George K. Baum & Company, the county’s investment banking consultant.

“It’s a wonderful time,” Valenzuela said during a telephone interview Friday. “The interest rate environment is at its historic low.”

Valenzuela said if Socorro County voters support the jail bond question, they will be in a great position to take advantage of these historic low interest rates.

“We haven’t seen rates at this level — ever,” Valenzuela said. “It is truly historic. It’s a great time to be a borrower, or an issuer of bonds.”

Sheriff Phillip Montoya said during a telephone interview Friday the jail is very old, and a new facility is needed. It also may be somewhat undersized.

“I don’t think it actually holds the number of people we deal with these days,” Montoya said.

Montoya said he doesn’t see what more could be done to the old jail to make it acceptable. He didn’t know exactly how old the jail is, but it has been there since the County Courthouse was built. He said the facility was remodeled sometime in the 1990s, at which time a few more cells were added, but the jail needs a lot more space than is available where it sits now.

“It’s a horrible facility as it is now … I don’t know what more they could do to improve it where it stands now,” Montoya said. “So I think the best bet would be to build a new facility.”