City sells land

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The Socorro City Council got the ball rolling on one land sale and continued rolling with another sale, both in the industrial park, during its regular meeting March 4.

The council unanimously approved an ordinance for first publication to sell about 20 acres in the industrial park to A-1 Quality Redi-Mix Inc. for $209,500. Councilors also unanimously approved a motion to proceed with the sale of about five acres in the industrial park to Blue Collar Construction LLC for $91,000.

Mayor Ravi Bhasker said several businesses in the city's industrial park have been presented the opportunity to purchase land they are leasing there. He noted A-1 Quality Redi-Mix is probably the oldest business in the park and has been a good partner to the city. He also said Blue Collar Construction has been in business over a decade, and has been at its industrial park location about four years.

Bhasker said the opportunity to buy land is presented to businesses on a case-by-case basis.

"We've offered it to the hospital, and as you have seen, Blue Collar Construction," Bhasker said. "I even mentioned this to Solaro when they came in."

Bhasker said it is much better to have a company own the land and pay property taxes on it rather than lease it from the city. He said if people are using land in the industrial park for residential purposes and are not current with their lease payments, however, they probably aren't good candidates for a purchase offer.

Once the council approved first publication of the land sale to A-1 Quality Redi-Mix, city Clerk Pat Salome said the city must hold a public hearing on the matter, which will probably be during the council's first April meeting. After that the city will republish the ordinance, then the public has 45 days to offer additional input before the sale can be final.

Salome said the two land sales before the council that evening were different than those done in the past because the city did a pre-ordinance agreement for each sale. The pre-ordinance agreement is contingent on the land sales going through the public process.

"We've never done the agreement prior to the ordinance," Salome said. "I think it kind of lets the (land buyers) know that we're serious … that we're going to deal with them in good faith."

Salome added that if anything comes up in the ordinance process, such as a reason the city shouldn't sell, the council as the right to reverse its decision to sell.

Councilor Michael Olguin asked if the city's goal is to eventually sell off the industrial park or if the city will try to hold some land there.

Bhasker said the city is selling land on a case-by-case basis. He opined that the city does not need to own property in the industrial park as it owns plenty of land already. He said the option to buy land is an enticement for businesses to come to the industrial park. He added the county is interested in putting its new jail in the industrial park.

"If they can maintain it, and they take care of it, I would rather have them own it," Bhasker said.

Councilor Mary Ann Chavez-Lopez added people who own property tend to take better care of it than those who lease it.

Bhasker said businesses, including the hospital, may hesitate to make improvements if the city owns the land. He said city administration can change, and businesses may feel that the city could pass an arbitrary rule that would take their improvements away from them.

"I've been encouraging everyone out there to look at buying the property so they would have complete control of it," Bhasker said.

Councilor Gordon Hicks said the industrial park was intended to open up that side of town for development, which it did.

"Now, once they know they can get going, I think it's time for them to take over," Hicks said.

Bhasker and Hicks both mentioned that leasing rather than owning land can also adversely affect a business' ability to borrow money.

Bhasker listed another concern, pointing out there were two instances in the past when the city leased property to private companies and had to pay fines because the city owned the land. One example was Eagle Picher, which the mayor noted was responsible for an environmental accident on land it leased from the city. He also mentioned a tire fire for which the city was left "holding the bag."

In other business, the Socorro City Council:

• Approved a professional consulting agreement with Dennis Engineering to evaluate the operations and maintenance procedures at the city's wastewater treatment plant.

• Discussed proposed amendments to the city's personnel policy, which was adopted in 1988, as well as appointed a committee to examine the policy and update it. Committee members are city councilors Olguin, Chavez-Lopez, Peter Romero and Hicks. Salome advised committee members to modify the policy where needed, but keep it simple.

• Approved budget increase requests to be submitted to the Local Government Division of the state Department of Finance and Administration and the state Attorney General's Office.

City finance director Mable Gonzales explained the first request establishes a new fund for the water meter project, which is the installation of radio read water meters. The increase was needed to allow for an NMFA loan/drinking water revolving loan fund subsidy totaling $363,000.

Gonzales explained the second request was a $45,000 increase to the street improvement fund. It takes care of the $15,000 overrun on the J.O. Gallegos map project, as well as $30,000 for preliminary engineering required to get more Community Development Block Grant funding.