Elephant Butte City Council news roundup

by Kathleen Sloan | May 21, 2021
6 min read
Source: City of Elephant Butte

During the May 19 Elephant Butte City Council meeting, councilors heard a presentation from the city’s outside auditor on the 2019-2020 year-end audit.

A resolution affirming that the mayor’s and two councilors’ seats are up for election in the fall was approved. However, the resolution will have to be amended—Councilor Gerald LaFont resigned at the end of the meeting.

LaFont’s resignation, which is effective July 1, leaves only Councilor Travis Atwell’s seat uncontested in November.

In an open session following a two-hour closed session, the council approved a preliminary budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.


Ashley Tierney of Beasley, Mitchell & Company of Las Cruces, was the city’s outside auditor for the fiscal 2019-2020 year-end audit. Tierney reported that the city only had three “findings,” or violations of accounting practices. This performance compared favorably to 11 findings the year before and 18 findings in fiscal year 2017-2018.

The three findings were “repeat findings” from the 2018-2019 audit. Tierney said “it is quite common” for a finding to take two or three years to “clear up.”

The first finding concerned lack of authorization for expenditures. In six out of 25 samples, purchase orders were missing required authorization signatures.

The second finding involved cash management. Beasley said a “three-way check” was made, comparing cash in the general ledger, reconciled bank statements and the year-end financial report submitted to the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration. The three cash balances did not match, which Beasley attributed to “older general ledger entries” that “have been forgotten” and need to be investigated and “cleaned up.”

The third finding concerned “expenses in excess of budget.” The city “operates on a cash basis, but reporting is done on an accrual basis,” Beasley said. Sheexplained that an expense incurred in a prior fiscal year, but paid for in the subsequent fiscal year, should be reported in the prior fiscal year, using accrual-basis accounting. Otherwise, “this throws the [cash-basis accounting] budget off.”

“I am very pleased with the improvements made,” Beasley said, and praised the Elephant Butte staff’s hard work.


After a closed executive session, the city council approved the 2021-2022 preliminary budget, which is due at the Department of Finance and Administration on June 1.

The preliminary budget listed revenues and expenses by department and did not state a total budget figure.

General Fund

The city estimates that its major operating fund—the General Fund—will take in about $1,033,500 in revenue in 2021-2022. The current fiscal-year budget, which ends June 30, estimated the General Fund would take in about $780,400 in revenue. As of March 31, the General Fund had taken in $869,845, exceeding expectations.

The higher-than-expected revenue can be attributed in part to elevated local and state Gross Receipts Taxes.

The city is conservatively estimating GRT revenue for the upcoming fiscal year—expecting to bring in about $40,000 more than last year’s receipt of nearly $301,200.

The city projects receipt of $150,000 from the federal “Coronavirus Relief Fund” in the upcoming fiscal year. Those monies will be placed in the General Fund.  

General Fund expenses for the upcoming fiscal year are estimated at nearly $1.58 million, about $550,000 more than the estimated revenues. This year’s budget set General Fund expenditures at $1.3 million. The ending balance for this fiscal year is expected to be about $268,400. The ending balance of General Fund next year is expected to be about $45,500, since higher spending will deplete the cash reserve.

The General Fund will again support operations, maintenance and repairs at the Sierra del Rio Golf Course, as it has since the city was given the property in 2018. This fiscal year the city paid Spirit Golf $240,000 to manage the property; in the upcoming year the management fee will be reduced to $216,000. Spirit Golf’s five-year contract with the city stipulates that the company’s fee will decrease each year.

Elephant Butte has also budgeted $125,000 for repair and maintenance of the golf course and buildings, bringing the city’s total General Fund support of the facility to $341,000.

A total of $495,328 is budgeted to be transferred out of the General Fund in the upcoming year. Transfers include $30,000 to the Law Enforcement Fund. The city contracts for policing services with the Sierra County Sheriff’s Department.

About $124,328 will be transferred out of the General Fund into the debt fund to pay off past loans, according to Elephant Butte City Clerk and Treasurer Rani Bush.

Capital projects

The upcoming year’s budget projects over $3 million in capital projects, compared to nearly $643,000 this fiscal year.

The revenue sources for the projects are expected to be nearly $2.2 million in state grants, $550,000 in state “legislative appropriation” funding and about $247,000 in local funding.

The expansion of the wastewater system will continue, with $400,000 expected to be spent this fiscal year and $550,000 in the upcoming fiscal year.

A $1.2 million project to improve the water system will be undertaken in the upcoming fiscal year. There were no such capital expenditures budgeted in the current fiscal year.

The city budgeted $15,000 for an off-road vehicle park this fiscal year and the same amount for the upcoming fiscal year.

Warm Springs Boulevard will be upgraded at an estimated cost of $460,000, to be spent in the upcoming fiscal year.

Expenditures on the Michigan Drive road project are estimated at nearly $230,000 this fiscal year and about $753,000 in the upcoming fiscal year.

An estimated $25,000-plus will be spent on Mescal Loop, another road project, in the upcoming fiscal year.


Elephant Butte no longer runs its own elections. The city council opted to have Sierra County’s Clerk run its elections when state election laws changed in 2019, giving local governments such a choice. The local government is still required to pass a resolution stating what positions are open in the general election, to be sent to the county clerk, who forwards it to the New Mexico Secretary of State.

At the May 19 meeting council approved an election resolution that lists three open positions:

• the mayor’s seat (four-year term)

• a city council seat currently occupied by Mike Williams (four-year term)

• a city council seat currently occupied by Mayor Pro Tem Kim Skinner (four-year term)

City Clerk and Treasurer Rani Bush told the Sun city council will amend the election resolution at its June meeting, adding a fourth position:

• a city council seat currently occupied by Gerald LaFont, who has resigned as of July 1. His elected replacement will take office January 1, 2022 and fulfill LaFont’s remaining term, which ends Dec. 31, 2023.

According to Councilor Mike Williams, the city council agreed to appoint someone to govern in LaFont’s place in the intervening six months, from July 1 to Dec. 31. The city council held this discussion in open session following a two-hour closed executive session, Williams said.

Those interested in the appointment should contact her, Bush told the Sun.

LaFont’s Resignation

Gerald LaFont resigned at the end of the first open session at the May 19 city council meeting. He read a letter he had prepared, addressed to the city council and mayor, according to Bush.

The letter stated he had carefully considered the decision before resigning and that it had been a pleasure to serve on the city council. He gave no reason for his resignation, but it is known he recently had back surgery.

LaFont served on the city council for 15 years, according to Bush. He did not respond to the Sun’s request for comment.

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at kathleen.sloan@gmail.com or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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