Mayoral State of the City of Socorro
Hello fellow residents of the City of Socorro. Wow! What a year 2020 was.
—Mayor Ravi Bhasker
— read more —
111 School of Mines Road
P.O. Box K
Socorro, New Mexico 87801
Though we all suffered through the effects the COVID-19 pandemic placed on us, we all have done our best to overcome the associated hardships, and it appears we are starting to see the positive affects of following the implemented protocols. As I write this update, Socorro County has recently moved from a position of red to a position of yellow, as detailed by the State of New Mexico’s guidelines for reopening. I truly believe if we all continue to follow the protocols we will soon move to a green rating and our businesses can reopen and begin to thrive once again. Thank you all for doing your part in advancing the position of the City. I wholeheartedly want to see our businesses and the NM Tech campus return to full accessibility and flourish.
Though the City too had to follow mandated protocols, the City continued to move projects forward. Below are some examples of how the City continued to try to improve services and the quality of life for residents during the tumultuous year of 2020.
As the pandemic required City Hall to be closed to the public at times, City Hall maintained staffing to answer questions, provide guidance and take care of residents’ concerns. Also throughout 2020, City Administration and Departments continued to advance ongoing and new projects.
As mentioned in the previous State of the City, the Administrative staff is continuing to pursue the purchase and installation of new administrative and utility billing software. The crossover to the new software began in 2020. This software transition will increase utility billing accuracy and allow users more detailed online access to view their accounts in a real-time format. It will also make online utility payments less cumbersome. This software is planned to be fully implemented by the fall of 2021.
Administrative staff was also able to apply for and receive $198,090.00 of CARES ACT funding that was distributed to local businesses. Though the guidelines were difficult to follow at first, administrative staff and local businesses were able to “dot the I’s and cross the T’s” and get these funds in the hands of local businesses to help them overcome the adversities presented by the pandemic and its corresponding restrictions. As the Administrator for the CARES Act funding, the City was eligible to receive a 5% “Administrative Fee”. However, the City decided to decline this fee and instead distribute these funds back to local businesses in an effort to enable local businesses to survive the pandemic
Administrative Staff once again applied for and received approval for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). As in the past, the new funds will be utilized to continue to improve street and flooding issues in the Cuba Road area. Previous projects from the CDBG program were used to improve storm water flows that started upstream from Cuba Road, however, it is now it is time to address situations arising from these alterations. As we improved the flow of stormwaters upstream, it has increased the affects downstream. Engineering and design should start mid-2021 with construction on schedule to be completed in 2022. The proposed construction will improve stormwater drainage as well as improve transportation options in the area.
Thanks to our Legislators, the Animal Shelter received an appropriation to replace the previous Office/Welcome Center. The building was purchased and installed in 2020 and we hope to have an Open House as soon as restrictions allow. This event will be publicized and all are welcome to attend as per COVID-19 guidelines.
Another procurement made possible through our Legislators was the purchase of modern 911 equipment for our Dispatch Department. The procurement was completed via a State contract and the new equipment has been installed. Final touches, including proper ventilation and cooling, along with new office furnishings to accommodate the equipment, is taking place. This project should be completed by late February 2021.
For fiscal year 2020, the City of Socorro Finance Department, with cooperation from all other City departments, received, yet, another “clean audit”. Though the term “clean audit” can be used to describe any audit with no material findings, the City of Socorro received an audit with no findings, for the second year in a row. One audit with no findings is extremely rare. Two consecutive audits with no findings in unheard of. Please be confident, as the Finance Department continues to take your calls and do their best to answer your questions or resolve your concerns, they are doing so with the utmost integrity.
Emergency and Community Services
Our Firefighters/EMTs did an excellent job working with other Socorro entities (NM Tech, Positive Outcomes, Walmart, Socorro County, the National Guard, the Socorro Police Department, Bhasker Medical Clinic, the NM Department of Health, Socorro General Hospital, Presbyterian Medical Group, Presbyterian Medical Services and other local businesses) in combating and preventing the spread of COVID-19. Free COVID-19 testing was performed by Socorro EMTs at various locations and times ensuring the greatest number of residents were reached. The testing has continued into 2021 along with the addition of COVID-19 vaccinations. The City is utilizing all available resources to help mitigate the spread of this terrible pandemic.
With assistance from the South Central Council of Governments Staff, the City applied for and received a federal grant allowing the City to acquire two new Police Department patrol cars, paying only half of the cost with City funds. The City will again be applying for this grant in 2021.
At the onset of the pandemic, I, along with Police Chief Winders, Fire Chief Gonzales and City staff, met with local businesses and outreach service providers to determine how the City could assist in their efforts to help the less fortunate. The COVID-19 pandemic caused an increased need of services due to the downward economic impact to local businesses and their employees. One organization we met with immediately was Puerto Seguro. After meeting with the Director and agreeing on proper protocols, the City determined there was a need for further financial assistance and awarded an additional $2,500.00 to the amount annually dedicated to this provider. The Socorro Storehouse was another service provider that witnessed an increase in demand due to the pandemic and also received additional funding of $2,500.00. The City appreciates the services of these providers and their responses to the increase in demand.
With the Socorro Consolidated School District (SCSD) being limited on in-person educational opportunities, the Socorro Public Library saw an increase in demand, especially in the need for broadband access. With students being required to attend online learning, the demand for broadband increased accordingly. The library did its best to accommodate these students, as well as other patrons. However, mandates and safety concerns caused by the pandemic restricted the library’s capacity. These restrictions were instituted to maximize safe conditions for all users, however, the library remained accessible as much as feasibly possible to the broadest array of users. Once again, the library assisted with tax preparation for patrons and continues to do so in 2021. If interested in this service, please call the Socorro Public Library at 575-835-1114, and please keep in mind capacity is limited.
Speaking of broadband availability, the pandemic made it acutely evident that broadband availability is lacking in Socorro. Unfortunately, NM Tech and SCSD students, as well as some local businesses, experienced the lack of broadband as education and enterprise moved further into online formats. In 2020, the City issued a Request for Proposals to search out firms to help solve this issue in our area. As 2021 moves on, the selected firm is exploring the possibilities of expanding broadband availability county-wide. When the feasibility study is complete, the City will apply for Federal funding, will partner with established Internet Service Providers, or agree to a combination of both to build-out the infrastructure required.
As the City moves projects forward, we are in constant communication with other entities suffering from the lack of broadband in our area. These entities include NM Tech, Socorro Consolidated Schools, NRAO, Socorro County and others. We do this in an effort to solve multiple issues rather than an isolated project related issue. For example, we have included these stakeholders in our planning for the Bullock Avenue and other projects. As the City replaces sewer and water infrastructure during construction projects, we are looking for opportunities to install underground conduits and/or fiber so we do not have to disturb the new construction at a later date. By working together with others, we are ensuring public funds have the greatest impact possible.
In regard to the Bullock Avenue project, the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) has provided a great deal of funding to ensure this project is of the highest quality. As a main artery to NM Tech, this thoroughfare must represent the pride our community shows in Socorro and NM Tech. The City is proudly expecting to show off this project in the summer or fall of 2021. Also, you might have noticed other roadways receiving improvements during 2020. Our main thoroughfare, California Street, received a “face lift” due to great cooperation with the NMDOT. This was a sorely needed project and is most welcome by Socorro residents and visitors. Also on California Street, and Spring Street/Highway 60, the NMDOT provided LED lighting that has been installed, making California and Spring Street much more attractive and safer to travel in low lit conditions. Along with routine maintenance of our streets, other areas that have seen and continue to witness improvements are in the Western Hills, Spanish Hills and Texas Avenue areas. As a long-term lease expired for the Street Department scraper, these funds were reallocated to purchase a direly needed sweeper, with no impact to the budget. The new sweeper will help maintain City streets, improve drivability and increase the durability of our thoroughfares.
Along with the sewer and water infrastructure replacement project on Bullock Avenue, City departments are planning and implementing infrastructure replacement throughout the City of Socorro. Again, through loans and grants received through the USDA, replacement of decades old systems is taking place. You should have seen, and will continue to see, various streets throughout the City being closed or rerouted while we install infrastructure that will last for decades and provide necessary services for future generations.
In conjunction with the replacement of below-ground infrastructure, City staff and contractors are also scheduled to upgrade systems at the Waste Water Treatment Plant. The applications and procurement processes occurred in 2020. Modifications are scheduled to begin in 2021 and completion scheduled for 2022. The updated and upgraded systems will not only benefit current users, but they will provide capabilities needed for the future growth of our City. Whether this growth is in new residents or new businesses and industries, the improvements will ensure our City is prepared for the future.
Also in planning for the future, the Socorro Landfill began the process of closing cell #2 and opening cell #3. With more people forced to stay home during the pandemic, the Landfill saw an increase in refuse being delivered. The long-range development of the landfill was designed many years ago and is being followed to maintain compliance with regulations and maintain its viability for the future. A landfill is sometimes forgotten as a long-term planning implement, however, without this asset, the growth of Socorro would be hindered and our residents and businesses would be required to utilize out of town facilities, which would entail considerable price increases. In an effort to keep expenses at a minimum and user fees as low as possible, the Socorro Sanitation Department, with the help of the Village of Magdalena, was able to receive a residential loader from the City of Albuquerque. The truck is a great addition to the Sanitation department as current loaders are antiquated with many miles and maintenance costs increase as the equipment ages. For our commercial users, new dumpsters were purchased and delivered in 2020. The replacement of the decades old dumpsters not only enhances the serviceability of the dumpsters, it improves the aesthetics of Socorro businesses.
In the Gas Department, previous enhancements have increased the capacity of the system and allowed the system to experience no sharp declines in pressure, providing our community the natural gas needed, as needed. The Department continues with mandatory maintenance of the system to ensure compliance with regulations and the safety of our community. The Department also continues to handle service calls, including pilot lighting, investigating suspected leakage, meter reading and billing audits. This too is another department that will benefit from the upgraded utility billing software at City Hall. The Gas Department also took over the management and direction of the airport. This Department was instrumental in handling the airport improvements mentioned below, as well as the daily responsibilities associated with a Municipal Airport.
Due to restrictions caused by the pandemic, not all City Departments were able to function at full capacity, though all effort were made to provide as many services as possible. For example, a sharp decline in ridership caused our Transportation Department to halt the Rail Runner Route to Belen. As demand increases, it is anticipated that this route will return. However, the Transportation Department continued to operate at its allowable capacity, following all safety protocols. Users have been able to schedule pickups and drop-offs throughout the pandemic slowdown. The Transportation Department was able to transport riders to medical appointments, shopping trips and other vital travel destinations that may have otherwise been missed, causing our residents to do without these necessities. You may have recently seen am announcement from the Federal Transit Administration instituting mandatory mask requirements for all travelers. The Socorro Transportation Department has instituted this requirement throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so. All sanitation procedures will continue to be followed to ensure our residents have safe access to the services they require.
Also in the Transportation area, the Socorro Municipal Airport continued to operate. Once again in 2020, the Socorro Municipal Airport hosted the firefighters from the Bureau of Land management during the fire season. With Socorro’s central location and proximity to forest lands, our airport is a vital tool in fighting the fires our state experiences every year. Many improvements, including new landscaping, a new heating and air conditioning system in the visitors’/pilots’ lounge, a new lighted windsock, and others improvements were completed during 2020. Through funding acquired through the State and Federal Aviation Divisions, a new sweeper, tractor/mower and snow removal equipment has been purchased. This equipment has helped a great deal in the 2020 modifications and improvements, and storage facilities are currently being designed to keep them out of the elements, elongating their useful lives. The Socorro Civil Air Patrol was extremely valuable in assisting the City in prioritizing needed changes and helping to implement them. In conjunction with the New Mexico State Aviation Department and the Federal Aviation Administration, improvements and upgrades to the airport and its amenities will continue in 2021. As time moves forward and COVID-19 situations improve, I would like to invite all Socorroans out to the airport to see the tremendous improvements. We are hopeful things will return to normal and in the fall of 2021 the City may once again Host the Socorro Fly-In and Socorroans are able to visit our great airport.
TEAMWORK/CONTINUING TO MOVE FORWARD
Though some departments were forced to curtail services (primarily Tourism, Recreation and the Rodeo and Sports Complex), forcing some short-term furloughs, the majority of City Staff affected by the pandemic were either retained to rehired as conditions allowed. The City was also able to reassign some affected workers to other City departments, keeping our dedicated City workforce employed.
As previously mentioned, the City continued to move projects forward and all departments worked together to make this happen. You probably witnessed our Departments (Water, Waste Water, Parks, Gas, Streets, just about every department) working on projects that may not have been their primary responsibility. Multiple Departments have helped with the Bullock Avenue Project, the Convention Center remodel, COVID-19 testing and compliance, the Finley Gymnasium Complex improvements, along with the multitude of daily tasks that are too numerous to mention here. This display of Teamwork is what has always made the City of Socorro capable of “stretching” resources and provide the services our community requires and expects.
Much of what was accomplished in 2020 was due to the Teamwork displayed by Departments working together. With the uncertainty of what was to come, City Departments worked hand-in-hand with the Finance Department to ensure the financial viability of each department moving forward. By adapting to changing conditions, as well as anticipating the unknown circumstances, City Departments were able to withstand the volatile nature of the COVID-19 conditions. This Teamwork should help our residents feel confident that 2021 will be yet another year of advancement for our Great City.
As you can see, the City of Socorro and staff continue to work every day to help improve services and quality of live issues for those living in Socorro, as well as those visiting. My heartfelt desire is for the pandemic to be behind us, for pragmatic solutions to the pandemic be instituted, such as the distribution of available vaccines, and to get our lives back to “normal”. Even if the “new normal” is different, my hope is that we all can get back to the “new normal” as soon as possible.
With my deepest regards,
—Mayor Ravi Bhasker