Ballot Confuses Financing Of Proposed Albuquerque Stadium

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Voters in Albuquerque may be confused about how a proposed soccer stadium will be funded because the ballot measure includes inconsistent language about financing for the city’s $50 million stadium bond proposal.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the ballot — used since early voting began Oct. 5 — initially describes the project financing as coming from “gross receipts tax revenue bonds,” which are known as GRT.

However, the place where voters mark their ballots refers to general obligation bonds, known as GO, which are a different financing mechanism paid off with property taxes.

Officials have said they don’t know how the mix-up happened and that it does not pose a legal issue.

Critics in the neighborhood where the stadium could possibly be built and other residents have said the city should use the money earmarked for stadium construction to address other problems such as crime and Albuquerque's record-setting pace of homicides.

The New Mexico United professional soccer team would be the venue’s primary tenant and would lease the stadium from the city. The team has contributed $840,000 in cash and over $28,000 more via in-kind goods and services to New Mexico United for All, a political action committee promoting the bond with an advertising blitz.

The committee has been the biggest fundraiser and spender in the city election, in which voters will also choose the mayor, some city councilors and school board members. Voting ends Nov. 2.

The city plans to pledge some of its GRT — a tax assessed on the sale of goods and services — to make annual payments on the $50 million it would borrow to build the stadium.

While Mayor Tim Keller’s administration has said it would pursue the stadium only if voters approve the allocation of the money, GRT bonds — unlike GO bonds — do not technically require voter approval.

The city has spent about $13 million a year on its existing GRT bond debt but recently paid off some of those bonds. That freed up about $4 million per year, which officials have said they could apply toward new stadium debt if voters approve the $50 million bond.

The new stadium debt would require payments of about $3 million annually for 25 years.

New Mexico United has pledged to pay $900,000 to the city annually to use the stadium. The team also has said it would pay $10 million toward construction.

Some critics have argued that the team’s owners are wealthy and do not need a subsidized project. Others fear the project would hurt surrounding neighborhoods by bringing noise and traffic.

“I have learned to be wary of our political processes that too often ask a quick ‘yes’ from constituents with a promise to take community concerns into account later, only to discover once the ‘yes’ is given that there is no reason to continue working diligently with the community to address concerns,” said Jon Moore, pastor at First United Methodist Church.

The city must craft a “community benefits agreement” with the team and the affected neighborhood before a stadium is built. The Barelas Neighborhood Association and Barelas Community Coalition representing residents near one of the preferred stadium sites released a statement stressing the importance of the agreement.

But some opponents still question whether neighborhoods would truly be protected even with the agreement. Frances Armijo from the South Broadway neighborhood also near a proposed stadium site said she feels residents near the two preferred sites are “sacrificial lambs.”

“CBAs or no CBAs, once the damage is done, the damage is done,” she said.