BERNALILLO — The past has come back to haunt the Sandoval County Commission, with what the county financial adviser said was an inappropriate land sale that cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a decade ago.
In 2009, then-Commission Chairman Donnie Leonard sold parcels of county land in the town of Bernalillo for about $80,000 less than its value to Rio Metro Regional Transit District, the board of which he also chaired at the time, and didn’t get proper approval, said financial advisor Rob Burpo at Thursday night’s county commission meeting.
Friday, Leonard said he didn’t remember the sale, but it was probably done differently because it was a government-to-government transaction.
In 2009, Leonard signed a lease-purchase agreement for about $1.2 million. Rio Metro signed the agreement in January 2010. There was no appraisal done on the property for this transaction, Burpo told commissioners.
In March 2011, almost four-fifths of an acre was added to the land sold in 2010, increasing the total amount Rio Metro would pay to $1.5 million. This was a verbal agreement not put in writing until 2016, Burpo said.
However, there was an appraisal for this second transaction, he said.
These transactions were never approved or presented to the county commission at the time, nor submitted to the New Mexico Board of Finance as required by state statute, Burpo said.
“In December of 2019, the planning and zoning commission got an email from the Rio Metro Regional Transit District instructing them on how they wanted title to the parcels of land down where the (US) 550 Rail Runner station is,” he said.
The planning and zoning commission had been unaware of these transactions, Burpo said.
“The county is in a position where it has received money from Rio (Metro), under the terms that were agreed to in writing but never approved by the body or by the state board of finance. So, you legally cannot transfer the property to them because you never approved it to begin with,” he said.
In a phone interview Friday morning with the Observer, Leonard said, “It has been so long ago, that anything I say would be just guessing, and I wouldn’t guess. Sounds to me like it was government to government, and that is all.”
He said Sandoval County got a lot of things done in the early 2000s and got through the tough times in 2008-09.
“Overall, we had about 20 years of good growth, a lot of projects done, a lot of positive things for the county and the community surrounding. It was a good time in my life, and I enjoyed it,” Leonard said.
Burpo has been working with the state board of finance to resolve this issue. The board told him to get a forensic appraisal done on the property sold in 2010.
The forensic appraisal for Jan. 1, 2010, valued the property at $1.33 million. Adding the rate of return for 10 years — $275,000 — the county lost about $350,000 in the 2010 transaction, Burpo said.
As he began explaining the legalities of the property, County Manager Wayne Johnson stopped him.
“I am going to stop it there because this is a discussion we should probably have in closed session because it could end up in litigation and nobody wants that. But it also involves real property, which should be a discussion in closed session,” Johnson said.
Burpo said Rio Metro is aware of the situation and is willing to work with the county.
Commissioner Jay Block, District 2, was not happy.
“I don’t know if you want to call this corruption or complete incompetence; bottom line, taxpayers are out roughly $350,000 because of this inappropriate transaction from a past commissioner who was also chairman of Rio (Metro) at the time — which to me seems like a conflict of interest — which I am sure we will discuss that in a closed session, and I am sure we will discuss how the taxpayers can get their money back,” Block said.
He asked if procedures were in place to prevent something similar from happening again. Johnson said there were procedures and processes in place back then.
After being asked more questions about the situation, Sandoval County spokesman Stephen Montoya told the Observer Friday morning, “The county became aware of a 2011 real estate transaction between the county and Mid-Region Council of Governments several months ago, where proper procedures for the transfer of real property were not followed. The county has obtained a forensic appraisal and is working diligently with MRCOG and the State Board of Finance to correct the problem.”
The next county commission meeting on Oct. 15 will be lived streamed at sandovalcountynm.gov, under “Quick links” in a tab called “meeting videos.”