Bernalillo Co. planning to use $65M in federal relief money for internet, water projects

Politics - Government

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – More than $65.9 million in federal money is heading to Bernalillo County. The money is through the American Rescue Plan and commissioners already have a list of what they want to do with it. Bernalillo County commissioners will vote Tuesday night to accept millions from the feds and they hope to use it on everything from clean drinking water to improved internet in rural areas.

The American Rescue Plan is delivering big bucks to New Mexico communities, including nearly $66 million to Bernalillo County. While the county knows what they want to spend it on thanks to federal guidelines, they haven’t allocated the funds just yet.

“What we’re doing is we’re asking the commissioners first to allow us to accept the funding and budget it,” said Shirley Ragin, the deputy county manager for finance for Bernalillo County. “We might already have funding set aside for portions of it so we might have general obligation bond funds, we may have capital outlay or other federal dollars.”

A big item on the agenda is bringing broadband internet to the East Mountains. The project would run conduit and fiber along NM-337, NM-217, and the I-40 frontage road NM-333.

“For District 5 out here in the East Mountains, internet service has been, definitely, a critical need for a long time,” said Charlene Pyskoty, the county commissioner for District 5. “It’s spotty in some places, some people don’t have any internet services so we want to make sure everybody has good internet access, good reliable broadband access.”

Pyskoty says there were many issues in the past year as students transitioned to distance learning and more people working from home. In this case, the pandemic has proved that reliable internet is a need, not a luxury.

“We’ve used it for Zoom meetings, we’ve used it for telehealth, education,” said Pyskoty. “Students, our APS [Albuqurque Public Schools] students have been real troopers, the parents doing those online classes, for our work, our studies, our quality of life when we were isolated in our homes for a year.”

Though the area’s rocky terrain has made it nearly impossible for companies to afford to install in the past, they hope with the federal funding, they can finally afford to make it happen. District 2 County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada says he also wants to install water service in the southwest valley, along with other big infrastructure needs.

“One thing we want to continue to make sure that people have safe, potable drinking water,” said Quezada. “Not only just water but basic needs, sewage to take people out of flood plains, sidewalks, lighting, just so many infrastructure needs that take place.”

The county also hopes to use some of these funds to improve water and sewer facilities at the Metropolitan Detention Center. They say many of these projects could take two or more years to complete once funded. The county commissioners will vote on officially accepting the funding at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Then, they will work on a budget to allocate millions of dollars.

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