Candyce O'Donnell, a videographer who's called New Mexico home since she was 17 and the incumbent commissioner for the southern district of Taos County, is running for another four-year term, …
Candyce O'Donnell, a videographer who's called New Mexico home since she was 17 and the incumbent commissioner for the southern district of Taos County, is running for another four-year term, promising to continue her work on bread-and-butter concerns and staying on the ground for her several thousand constituents.
O'Donnell ran for the commission seat in 2014, besting three other candidates and taking 30 percent of the vote. O'Donnell took over the seat from Joe Mike Durán, who was term-limited.
While O'Donnell lives not far from the Walmart in Taos, her district sprawls generally across the southern parts of Taos County: through the Peñasco Valley and Picuris Pueblo as well as Taos Canyon and some of the town of Taos. O'Donnell makes an effort to spread her time with people from across the oddly shaped district, from having a meal with the lunch crowd at the Chamisal Senior Center to playing a game in the makeshift pool hall tucked into the back of the Peñasco Community Center.
O'Donnell grew up in Southern California but moved to New Mexico even before her 18th birthday, she said. She attended Highlands University in Las Vegas before going on to get a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism at New Mexico State University. She worked in the industry until she was elected county commissioner. Her background includes helping establish the now-defunct open access cable channel in Taos. She has an adult daughter and two dogs.
She is the first to say that a lot of people in her district feel the county stops at U.S. Hill on State Road 518. But O'Donnell touts the projects that have happened in her district recently. She lended a hand in advocating to reopen a gravel pit for use by the county road department, reopening the Chamisal ReUse Center with state approval and working with acequia parciantes to replace culverts.
But O'Donnell has pushed on issues that impact the whole county: getting attention, and a meager amount of funding, to improve safety at the Gorge Bridge, a destination for tourists and people who want to take their own lives.
Still, her tenure on the Taos County Commission hasn't been without conflict. Three commissioners blocked O'Donnell from assuming a leadership position on the board of commissioners in January. O'Donnell is the only woman on the board and the only among them who hasn't served as either chair or vice chair. The commissioners who voted against her leadership wouldn't comment specifically as to why they did so.
Looking ahead, she hopes the county can work with nonprofit partners to get a treatment center going for young people. Past efforts to reopen a detox center have stalled because "money dried up" at the state level, she said, but notes a youth treatment center could generate revenue -- as long as that funding doesn't dry up either.
- Cody Hooks
Below are O'Donnell's responses to a Taos New questionnaire for all candidates. Other candidate responses are available as a PDF on their individual profiles.
Why are you running for office? There is much work to be done during the next four years. I am a natural born politician who fights for the rights of constituents, listens, cares, knows how to complete projects and solve problems. I am committed to community. I am readily available to a diverse population. My constituents are my main focus.
What could you offer as a county commissioner to the small water systems who struggle with budgets, compliance and recruiting volunteers? There are 28 Mutual Domestic Water Consumer Associations in Taos County. Since the Associations are political subdivisions of the state, the county could assist them with a number of resources. A first step would be to create a memorandum of agreement. An MOA would outline what role the county has and establish policies by which the county could offer small, low interest loans. The MOA could also designate a contact person at the county who would hold meetings to hear concerns, maintain updated lists of needs, current board members, and needed improvements, and helps with state reporting requirements. A uniform system for reports and electronic billing would help cut volunteer time and ensure compliance.
Currently, the emergency department at the county plans to repair its portable water purification system so that it can lend out potable water buffalos to MDWCA's during water emergencies. County road crews help replace leaking water lines near or under county roads by using county equipment.
The county-owned youth jail has been hemorrhaging money; what ideas do you have for that facility while also maintaining services for youth outside of the jail? The Juvenile Detention Facility has a budget of $900,000. It houses about 38 youth a year. The average length of stay is 17 days. With the trend to divert youth from jails, and the high cost of staffing for a small population it is too costly to continue to operate a JDC. It is the fiduciary responsibility of commissioners to make hard choices of how to best use taxpayer's money. The County Health Care Assistance fund receives proposals from non-profits that want to help at-risk -youth. It is up to a collaborative of non-profits, state and federal agencies, and the county to work together to find a location and additional funding for a Residential Treatment Center for youth.
How do you feel about the amount of taxes collected in Taos County and how that money is and could be spent? $13.6 million is the projected operating budget in FY 2018/19. 85% of that total comes from Taos County property taxes. Gross receipt taxes on goods and services make up 9% of the total revenue. Usually the voters decide to approve a GRT tax to fund a specific purpose. The
Educational GRT is one example of an earmarked GRT. The state controls property tax rates and the voters decide for or against increasing property and gross receipts taxes. Do you want more services at the hospital, better roads, funding for sustainable substance abuse programs? That means taxes and tax increases. They say there are two things you can't get away from. One is death, the other taxes.
Without using the word "transparency," what will you do to share information with the public? A good democratic society bases itself upon trust. Trust can only be achieved by openness. All persons are entitled to the greatest possible information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officers. I give constituents the information they ask for. I hold Town Hall meetings. I disseminate information about ordinances, capital outlay appropriations from the state, the arrest of drug criminals, etc. I return emails, phone calls and share on facebook. I direct people to the county website. Once Taos County completes a make over of the website in December, it will be even easier to be an informed electorate.
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