Copyright 2014 Albuquerque Journal
The swimming pool at Rio Grande High School will remain an empty hole in the ground this summer largely as a result of a cash shortfall from a misguided county investment strategy.
The pool was built in 1976 under a joint powers agreement between Albuquerque Public Schools, which provided land on the Rio Grande High School campus, and Bernalillo County, which became responsible for maintenance, operations and custodial care.
"Last year, the county treasurer made investments that hurt our liquidity," said County Commissioner Art De La Cruz, whose district includes the South Valley high school. "These were long-term investments that absolutely jeopardized our liquidity" and ultimately the county's ability to fund the last $400,000 of the new $3.6 million project.
Under county treasurer Manny Ortiz and his predecessor, Patrick Padilla, too much of the county's cash was tied up in longer-term investments that were at risk of losing value as interest rates climbed, De La Cruz said.
County manager Tom Zdunek said the county has sold off the bad investments at a loss of about $17.3 million. Meanwhile, revenues have been flat and across-the-board department cuts have been initiated for next the fiscal year, he said.
The Rio Grande High School pool was widely used by students, as well as by the community, but it had to be shut down in November as a result of plumbing and other failures. It was subsequently dug out and a plan for the new pool, which meets high school competition standards, was drawn up, said Ed Chismar, director of the county's Parks and Recreation Department.
County officials last week failed to convince the Albuquerque Public Schools Board to fund the remaining amount for the new pool. APS board member Marty Esquivel said the county's request was rejected because it didn't go through the normal process for budgeting construction projects.
The board offered alternatives, such as purchasing county property, which could generate enough money for them to complete the project, he said. "They weren't interested in that. They really just wanted us to write a check," Esquivel said.
De La Cruz, however, said it's not solely about the money. "There's a bigger issue here of partnerships and working together," he said.
In the meantime, he said, the county will start looking for other possible funding sources, or take the extreme position that there will no longer be a swimming pool at Rio Grande High School.
The joint powers agreement, De La Cruz maintains, is now defunct. "The term of operation was 75 years, or the maximum useful life of the pool," which ended up being half that time, he said.
The joint agreement "needs to be renegotiated," De La Cruz said.
"The county has to decide if it wants to continue running a swimming pool at Rio Grande High School," he said. "I'd like for us to continue doing that, but we don't have to."
ESQUIVEL: They "just wanted us to write a check"