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What to do with a Half-Cent

Not enough jobs and money and only one pot of money. PULP deconstructs the half-cent issue so you can see the frustration from the inside.

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Pueblo City Council President Sandy Daff is tired of telling constituents who call her office no. No, the city doesn’t have money to fix the pothole on his or her street. No, there isn’t any money to make any kind of improvement in the bathrooms at any given park. No, there isn’t a way to allocate money to fix the playground equipment.

Councilman Chris Kaufman and Councilwoman Ami Nawrocki said they get the same kinds of calls everyday, and this, they say, is what prompted the conversation about possibly using a portion of the money used to recruit businesses to Pueblo that create primary jobs to improve infrastructure and quality of life in Pueblo.

The half-cent sales tax was established in 1984 in part as a response to the downturn of the economy and Pueblo’s heavy reliance on CF&I as its main employer. Before the downturn, large factories and heavy industry could employ an entire city or region, but in the ‘80s steel from Asia was being produced at a cheaper rate than it was in the U.S. Demand for U.S. steel waned taking with it CF&I and Pueblo’s economy.

“We can’t expect that a philosophy developed in the 1980s is going to work in today’s world economy.” — Amy Nawrocki, Pueblo City Council

The half-cent tax was constructed to achieve three major goals, according to the most recent ordnance passed in 2010. One, the tax is meant to “Create employment opportunities for the citizens of the City of Pueblo thereby reducing unemployment and social evils associated there with.”

Second, it’s supposed to enhance economic development. And third, promote peace, health, safety and welfare.

The half-cent fund and the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation are commonly lumped together when referenced because PEDCO recruits businesses that supply primary jobs, but the two remain separate in many areas.

PECDO is a private organization that was set-up to recruit businesses using the half-cent sales tax which goes into a fund for incentives for those businesses to relocate within city limits. PEDCO’s staff and much of its operating budget comes from its membership dues. PEDCO itself cannot spend half-cent money unless it is approved by city council. The organization is not limited to only working with businesses who use the half-cent money as PEDCO does but its mission is to recruit business to the city.

Mostly, Pueblo citizens know it as the tax that helps recruit primary jobs, which are manufacturing jobs that create a service or product that are purchased outside of the geographic area where they are produced.

Even with the tax, unemployment is still high at 7.2 percent in March of this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and worry exists in city council that the half-cent sales tax isn’t enough to attract employers with good-paying jobs to the community.

“Listen, we’ve had a few success stories with the recruitment of jobs with the half-cent sales tax. No doubt. But clearly, Pueblo’s economics need to evolve. We can’t expect that a philosophy developed in the 1980s is going to work in today’s world economy,” said Ami Nawrocki in an email to PULP.

For city council, the city’s failing infrastructure and lack of evidence in massive job creation point to one obvious conclusion. People don’t seem to want to live in Pueblo, especially the people bringing large employment opportunities.

“If you’re going to go after a company, you’ve got to make quality of life an important enough part because employees don’t have much say.”

— Chris Kaufman, Pueblo City Council

“We’re trying to recruit businesses to a city that doesn’t show itself very well,” Kaufman said. “I think the principle is this: if you’re going to go after a company, you’ve got to make quality of life an important enough part because employees don’t have much say.”

Improving quality of life requires money. Money city council doesn’t have. Around $110 million, according to Daff. The half-cent sales tax is currently the only pool of money city council has that could make improvements possible, if voters allowed it to. So, they’re looking into putting a question on the ballot that would alter the bill and allow the money to be used for infrastructure purposes.

Stephen Wright, chairman of the board at PEDCO, agrees that Pueblo could have better curb appeal.

In fact, PEDCO has lost companies because of it. “You want to know how weird economic development gets?” he said. “One company wouldn’t come because the CEO’s wife didn’t like the shopping here.”

“One company wouldn’t come because the CEO’s wife didn’t like the shopping here.”

— Steven Wright, PEDCO

This happened again at the end of 2012 when another prospective employer thought the incentives to relocate looked good, but Pueblo didn’t.

If city council could find a way to clean up the industrial park, Wright said it would be good for economic development, but using money from the half-cent fund is out of the question.

City council is considering asking voters to allow use of half of the money currently in the fund, around $40 million, and half of the $7 million that is collected annually.

Daff and Kaufman both said that the price they’re naming isn’t unreasonable.

“The most (PEDCO) has used in the last five years is $3 million . . . strictly for job purposes,” Kauffman said.

Wright couldn’t give a definite number of how much is spent each year. Kaufman said about $600,000. Most of this is in maintaining and paying utilities for spec buildings, which are built in order to try and attract businesses. If Pueblo already has a building, it looks more appealing.

Rarely does PEDCO buy a used building, Wright said. They’re usually constructed, but they keep in mind what size and resources a certain kind of business they’re trying to attract might need, he added.

PEDCO is always on the lookout for prospects, thus, wanting to keep as much money on hand as possible. Currently, Wright said the corporation is looking at businesses that could bring around 1,100 jobs to Pueblo.

Whether or not they commit is council’s worry.

Wright sees economic development from the inside. At the end of 2012, two companies had an interest in relocating to Pueblo. If both deals would have gone through, he said, it would have depleted nearly the entire $40 million.

He worries that if the fund is reduced to $20 million for job recruitment, Pueblo will no longer be able to play at the same level.

Many city council members see economic development in the details, and an improved infrastructure would take Pueblo to a whole new level.

Really, both entities know the importance of primary jobs and they realize good infrastructure is vital, but the two have yet to come together to figure out how to get both.

Besides what’s been done at public work meetings, there has been no communication of the plan between council and PEDCO, according to councilman Steve Nawrocki. Wright said he believes it is necessity for PEDCO to be part of the discussion.

For Steve Nawrocki, arranging to put the question on the ballot is premature. There needs to be a combination of both primary job recruitment and improved quality of life to enhance economic viability, he said.

He believes the city needs more marketing, and the amount of money council is asking for needs to be discussed in-depth.

Wright, again, agrees. Making city improvements in Pueblo can’t be a 90-day conversation, and throwing $20 million at an infrastructure problem is a mistake, he said. Wright believes there are other ways to improve roads and parks without using PEDCO money.

“Those issues are separate from economic development,” Wright said.

Chris Markuson, director of economic development in Pueblo County, lies somewhere in the middle of the equation. He said in an email to PULP that he’s researched extensively what works in other communities around the country.

What Markuson has found is that the most successful economies focus on existing businesses, a major point for Kaufman and Daff. They also focus on second-stage businesses, which are seasoned small businesses that create unique products and are likely to grow into other market areas.

Successful economies place recruited businesses in established areas. Installing and maintaining infrastructure on the outskirts of town is more expensive, and it costs more to provide public safety, he said.

Also, “The majority of job growth occurs within small businesses that are supported by their community, and who use advanced market data to make informed, strategic decisions to expand into new markets. Geographic Information Systems is a primary tool used by savvy, growing businesses to analyze new markets,” he said. Markuson works with GIS.

But improving infrastructure to create jobs?

“Any argument that begins with ‘Our community is ugly to outsiders who are looking to relocate to Pueblo’ is unfounded and inaccurate. Use of half-cent funds that purport to beautify the city, on the promise that it’ll make recruiting efforts more fruitful can easily be proven with multiple precedents to be misguided,” Markuson said.

And he may be right. Wright said the businesses PEDCO is working with currently are all familiar with the city. “They’ve driven on our streets; they’ve seen our parks. And they’re still willing to sit down and talk to us,” he added.

City council members have made the argument that the half-cent sales tax is unique to Pueblo. No other community in Colorado is using it, making it outdated. But Jeff Kraft, director of business funding and incentives with the Colorado Office of Economic Development, said economic development is as different as each community. To his knowledge there isn’t another community in Colorado utilizing a tax similar to Pueblo’s, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad way to go either.

“Any argument that begins with ‘Our community is ugly to outsiders who are looking to relocate to Pueblo’ is unfounded and inaccurate.”

— Chris Markuson, Pueblo County Economic Development

At the May 20th town hall meeting, the general consensus of citizens in attendance was to keep the half-cent money for primary jobs but put a question on the ballot asking for money that would pay for roads and other capital maintenance projects. That kind of tax hasn’t been voted on in Pueblo in recent history. So, it’s hard to tell what the outcome would be for that kind of initiative.

Last November Puebloans did vote on a half-cent sales tax that would have benefited six local non-profits with $7 million per year for five years, but that failed. Improvements that would have been included under that tax were reopening Monkey Mountain at the Pueblo Zoo and installing air conditioning at the state fair’s ag palace. Arguably, upgrades that could have made Pueblo a more attractive community.

After the town hall meeting Kaufman said using PEDCO money still seems the most logical.

“Look at it this way, you are in financial straits; wouldn’t you first ask yourself, ‘Do I have available money?’ BEFORE you take out a credit card, or sought another job to pay for the straits?” Kaufman said in an email.

But Wright doesn’t see the analogy that way.

“You wouldn’t take money out of your retirement to pay for a kitchen renovation,” he said.

For now, the split on the issue isn’t if Pueblo should choose roads over jobs or park irrigation systems over PEDCO recruitment. It’s how to get a community that has all of those things; and all have said it requires a discussion between council and PEDCO, perhaps even a long one, but it has yet to happen.

Between city council, PEDCO and the community there is a lot of agreement. Pueblo needs primary jobs, and the community could use a facelift, but the road to economic recovery remains a bumpy one because it relies on both communication between PEDCO and council and on a vote from Pueblo citizens.

“If we can’t come together and figure out how to maximize economic viability, that’s unfortunate,” Steve Nawrocki told the PULP.

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Navajo Nation marks 150th anniversary of return to homeland

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A long-lost original copy of a historic treaty signed in 1868 by leaders of one of the nation’s largest American Indian tribes and the U.S. government will go on display later this year as the Navajo Nation commemorates a dark, but significant chapter of history.

Navajo Vice President Jonathan Nez and other tribal officials gathered Tuesday in Albuquerque to detail some of the events that will mark the signing of the treaty 150 years ago.

That treaty is what cleared the way for tribal members to return to their homeland in the heart of the American Southwest after being rounded up years earlier by the U.S. cavalry and forced to make an arduous and deadly trek hundreds of miles to a camp in eastern New Mexico.

Nez recounted the hardships of what came to be known as the Long Walk, saying many Navajos died along the route to Bosque Redondo. He also talked about those who stayed behind and hid in canyons and on mesa tops, often foregoing the warmth of a fire to avoid capture.

“We want our younger generation to know about our history,” Nez told a room packed with tribal officials and reporters.

He also talked about problems facing tribal communities, from suicide to alcoholism, drug addiction and violence. He said he wants to tap into the resilience of those Navajo ancestors who endured the hardships of the 1800s.

“What this will do is inspire, encourage our people out there that they can’t give up, to jump back up, dust themselves off and to fight even harder than ever before for what they believe in,” Nez said.

Navajo President Russell Begaye has said this year’s commemoration is also about telling the story of the Long Walk, the signing of the treaty and the return home from the perspective of Native Americans. He and other tribal officials say one goal is to address what they called a “legacy of misrepresentation” that has stemmed from that era.

Before research and planning began for this year’s events, there were only two known copies of the historic treaty. The whereabouts of one is now a mystery and the other has been kept by the National Archives and Records Administration.

The third copy turned up only recently when the relatives of a peace commissioner who was involved in the negotiation and signing of the treaty in 1868 found the document in a trunk in the family attic.

It was rolled up and bound with the original but faded ribbon. It was in pristine condition along with notes and other documents that historians hope might fill in some of the blanks from that time.

Pages of that copy will be on display starting in June at the Bosque Redondo Memorial near Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

The National Archives is partnering with the Navajo Nation to display the other original copy at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona, for the month of June.

It took more than two years of planning to make the exhibition possible as this marks only the second time an original treaty has gone back to a homeland.

Museum director Manny Wheeler said the treaty is more than just a document to the Navajo people.

“When I saw the document and I saw the marks of all of our leaders on that paper, it is a powerful thing and it is very much so opening up dialogue among all Navajos about who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler suggested that as much as the document was key to the Navajos’ past, it also has the power to change the future by awaking tribal members to the importance of preserving their culture and language.

The leaders of the Navajo Nation’s three branches of government signed a proclamation earlier this year declaring 2018 as the year of the treaty, and the tribe launched a website .

The commemoration also includes a day of prayer across the Navajo Nation, cultural nights, tours of the tribal council chambers and a run that will span more than 400 miles (644 kilometers) from Fort Sumner to the Navajo capital.

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Push to legalize marijuana upends governor’s race in New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca on Thursday called for the expansion of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program and for legalization of recreational use, saying the poverty-stricken state is missing out on millions of dollars in tax revenues and jobs that could be spurred by the industry.

Apodaca released his plan solidifying his position as a supporter of legalization as the race for governor heats up.

Apodaca pointed to New Mexico’s history as the first state to allow for research and experimentation with marijuana as a therapeutic drug. It was his father, then-Gov. Jerry Apodaca, who signed that legislation in 1978.

The research program stalled and it wasn’t until 2008 that New Mexico rolled out its medical cannabis program.

“Why are we shooting for being the last to legalize cannabis for adult use?” Apodaca said.

The push for legalization comes as New Mexico’s medical marijuana program has grown exponentially in just the last two years. Producers licensed under the program reported record sales of more than $86 million in 2017 and the number of patients enrolled now tops 50,000.

“We know the medical benefits of it. And we also know the opportunities of legalization for adult use,” Apodaca said, suggesting expansion of the long-standing medical marijuana program along with legalization could result in an estimated $200 million of additional tax revenues for the state.

The state’s largest producer, Ultra Health, announced that it has acquired farmland in southern New Mexico and has plans for what the industry says could be the largest cultivation facility in North America.

The property spans nearly one-third of a square mile (81 hectares) in Otero County. It will include 20 acres (8 hectares) of indoor cultivation, 80 acres (32 hectares) of outdoor cannabis fields and another 100 acres (40 hectares) of outdoor hemp fields.

Ultra Health president and CEO Duke Rodriguez said the company is preparing for a future in which New Mexico stands to benefit from expanded medical use and possibly recreational use.

Apodaca’s plan calls for lifting the current limits on the number of plants producers can grow and reducing costly licensing fees.

Other Democratic candidates have been more cautious.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would work with state lawmakers to ensure there are adequate health, safety and enforcement measures in place. She called for a “thorough analysis” of recreational pot programs in other states as part of that effort.

Lujan Grisham was in charge of the state Health Department when the medical marijuana program began. Aside from the legalization debate, she said supporting producers to create the latest medicines and methods to help patients would help create jobs and expand the industry.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, another Democratic candidate, has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot but has said the state is lacking infrastructure and isn’t ready yet to legalize.

Cervantes recently lauded efforts at the local level by the state’s largest city — Albuquerque — to decriminalize possession of small amounts. He said he would do the same as governor and that it would mark a first step.

Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce expressed reservations about legalization at a forum earlier this month. He said it might create a stumbling block for people trying to climb out of poverty and addiction to other drugs.

“I just don’t see how it fits that we’re going to deal with addiction and yet we’re going to tell people, ‘This one is OK.’ I’ve watched it for a lifetime. I just am very nervous with recreational marijuana,” he said.

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‘For fun’ killing reveals vulnerability for homeless Native Americans in New Mexico

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The morning a homeless man was shot and killed in Albuquerque, police say surveillance videos showed him running down a street before sunrise, and then gunfire flash in the dark.

Native Americans make up only 4 percent of the population, but account for 44 percent of people living on the streets, raising the likelihood they will be victimized when there is an attack on the homeless.

Ronnie Ross, a 50-year-old from the Navajo Nation town of Shiprock, had been shot a dozen times, including once in the forehead and temple, and four times in the back, according to a criminal complaint. Police say the two teenage suspects charged with murder this week apparently shot him “for fun” as they came and went from a hotel party nearby.

The homicide marked the latest in a series of brazen killings and assaults of homeless Native Americans in the city. In Albuquerque, Native Americans make up only 4 percent of the population, but account for 44 percent of people living on the streets, raising the likelihood they will be victimized when there is an attack on the homeless.

A 2014 survey showed 75 percent of homeless Native Americans in Albuquerque had been physically assaulted.

“Just being harassed is part of everyday life, but it’s not as much harassment as it is overgrown bullying,” said Gordon Yawakia, who works at the Albuquerque Indian Center and was once homeless himself. “What do you do when people are against you and then the authorities are against you and you’ve got nobody, you know?”

In 2014, Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson, both Navajo, were beaten to death as they slept in a vacant lot. While authorities did not say the men were targeted because they were Native American, activists disagreed and the deaths spurred the creation of a city task force to address Native American homelessness that now-former Mayor Richard Berry said could set the stage for changes for the population across the Southwest.

Now, Ross’ death is underscoring how difficult it may be to protect and find solutions for the city’s Native American homeless population.

“When I hear a story like this it adds fuel to the fire,” said Dawn Begay, who is the city’s tribal liaison, and works with the homeless through a local nonprofit. “Where we’re headed is a good direction but it has to happen faster.”

Ross’ killing in March came three months after the body of Audra Willis was found decapitated in an area not far from the Sandia Mountains that line the city’s east side. The 39-year-old had come from To’hajiilee, a tiny Navajo community west of Albuquerque, and records show she had multiple addresses during her time in the city, including at the Albuquerque Indian Center.

Willis’ especially grisly death sent shockwaves through Albuquerque, just as the beatings of Thompson and Gorman had three years earlier.

The two men had been killed on a July 2014 night when authorities say three boys — ages 15, 16 and 18_returned home from a night of drinking and decided to attack them as they slept on a mattress. The men were beaten with a wooden table leg, cinder blocks, and other objects, police said. One young suspect later told authorities that the teens had beaten dozens of homeless people, though apparently none others fatally.

In Ross’ death, the complaint filed against the 15- and 17-year-old suspects does not identify a motive, but says the two teenagers bragged to friends about the shooting.

According to police, friends and acquaintances of the boys — whom The Associated Press is not naming because of their ages — said the suspects had been showing off a gun at the party, and had said to others that they had shot a man. At one point, the younger boy also said to a close friend at the party that he shot a “hobo” in the back.

The boys made one more stop at the scene to find Ross still alive, prompting the older boy to shoot him multiple times, according to the complaint.

“It’s completely disturbing,” said Officer Simon Drobik, an Albuquerque police spokesman, said Tuesday. “They just shot this guy for fun.”

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