What's Up in Sunland Park? (Part II)
The Las Cruces Sun News a few days ago quoted City Manager Bob Gallagher as saying the city has recovered financially, and was given an unmodified report; that is to say, a clean bill of health, by an independent auditor. The city will also begin the 2017 fiscal year next month with about $5 million in reserve funds. This is strikingly different from the fiscal situation a few years ago when the Department of Finance and Administration took over the city finances in the wake of statements from then-state auditor Hector Balderas that city councilor Daniel Salinas had spent $42,000 in border crossing funds for prostitutes, Mayor Martin Resendiz's admission he had signed nine contracts totaling over $1 million with lobbyists while inebriated from an afternoon of drinking, and a city official admitting to multiple charges of voter fraud. Hard to believe this was only four years ago.
Equally impressive, the Sunland Park municipality is making a number of infrastructure improvements this year, some which will be visible, others not. On the non-visible side, fiber optic networks are being installed in city buildings, allowing broadband communications between different departments, and software programs will link together community development, codes enforcement, animal control, public works, building inspections, clerk, fire, and city management departments. This should strengthen internal communication flows and create a stronger sense of community among city workers. Forty years of records are being scanned in digital format, making it easier to access records when needed.
On the visible side, the old bank building in the city complex is being remodeled, and a public works building is being designed. Solar panels for the city buildings are scheduled to be installed in August, and a contract to replace city hall roofs is scheduled to be put out to bid this summer. A concession stand will be built at the Sportsplex for liquor sales at the park. The senior center is back up and running, with a new kitchen, a high priority for citizens, promised during the city election season and delivered now. In short, these changes are laying down an infrastructure that will make the city able to plan and execute more efficiently, rather than move in a reaction mode from crisis to crisis.
None of this--and there is more on the way--could have happened without effective communications and consensus-building among city council members about priorities. There is more to be done. the council needs to raise the quality of city personnel performance, and council members need to develop stronger ties with city residents who lost confidence in the city after the lap-dancing and other scandals. But given the shape of the city four years ago, it took a concerted, sustained effort to get the city up to this speed. Many city councils in New Mexico would envy the accomplishments of Sunland Park in the past couple of years.
At a city council meeting on June 7 the council was unanimous in agreeing to send a letter to the Governor asking for her support for the border crossing project, and to continue to press toward a presidential permit to build the crossing. At the same meeting I was impressed with the maturity with which the arsenic issue was handled: the water quality has been restored and protocols are being put into place to prevent a repeat. From the looks of things the council is making a full-court press to address major strategic issues, such as the border crossing, and improve the city's day-to-day administrative capacity to make a difference in the quality of life of the residents.