DALLAS - Santa Fe, N.M., will begin a multi-year public works program to upgrade and improve its city park system with proceeds from next week's competitive sale of $20 million of general obligation bonds.

The 20-year bonds are the first tranche from $30.3 million of GO bonds dedicated to parks, trails, and open space efforts approved by voters in early March. The sale is set for April 30.

The city has no outstanding GO debt, finance director Kathryn Raveling said.

"We haven't issued general obligation debt in more than 30 years," Raveling said. "The City Council has been very resistant to doing anything with the property tax, but the need to improve the parks has become a real priority."

The city's reluctance to issue debt backed by the property tax is due to the increase in property values in the area due to Santa Fe's residential property market, she said. Residential values are often inflated due to an active market for vacation homes and upscale retirement residences.

"You might have an adobe house that grandpa built 50 or 75 years ago and it is now valued at $1 million," Raveling said. "The council has been very conscientious about not allowing property taxes to become a financial burden."

The city estimates the $30.3 million of GO bonds approved by 71% of those voting on March 4 will require an additional $93 a year in property taxes on a home valued at $300,000.

The bonds have not yet been rated, but the city's revenue bonds are rated AA by Standard & Poor's and A1 by Moody's Investors Service. Santa Fe currently has $218.5 million of outstanding revenue bonds and $72.5 million in outstanding loans from the New Mexico Finance Authority.

Modrall, Sperling, Roehl, Harris & Sisk PA is the city's bond counsel. First Southwest Co. is financial adviser.

The bonds will be qualified for bond insurance at the buyer's option, Raveling said.

The remaining $10.3 million of bonds authorized at the March election will be issued in approximately two years, Raveling said, as the funds are needed.

"I told the public works department that we'd issue the remaining bonds as we get close to spending the first $20 million," she said. "It will seem seamless. The goal is to keep the improvement program going until the projects are complete."

The parks program will provide upgrades to all the city's 75 parks, said Fabian Chavez, director of the parks, trails, and watershed division in the public works department.

"We're working on two things," Chavez said. "We want to bring about 20 parks up to standard, and at the same time we're targeting specific projects at parks across the city."

Chavez said the division is making plans and coordinating efforts to begin the park improvement projects on July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.

"It's going to be a challenge to spend that money efficiently in two years, but that is our goal," he said. "We want to get the projects under way to make sure we get the best bang for the buck because inflation is driving our prices through the roof, especially anything that involves petroleum.

"We're paying 25% more for PVC pipe than we did last year, and we use a ton of that," Chavez continued. "We're also trying to coordinate the subcontractors so that if we're doing something in one park, we'll schedule that same sort of work in other areas to take advantage of that sort of efficiency."

The bond ordinance approved by voters allocates $9.2 million for regional parks, $9.1 million for citywide hiking and bike trails, $3 million for outdoor recreation projects, and $2.1 million to $2.6 million for projects in each of the four council districts.


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