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April 21 First News: City Budget Proposal Hikes Fees, Creates Film Office

While city officials unveiled a blueprint for next year’s budget that could include reduced library hours and higher parking and recreation fees, they plan to increase spending to set up a new film office and market the Santa Fe airport.  Today’s Santa Fe New Mexican noted the proposed budget lacks much detail.  The article quotes City Manager Brian Snyder saying the proposal achieves the goal of delivering a balanced budget plan that eliminates a $15-million structural deficit.  It pledges to end the habit of taking money from the water utility surplus funds and borrowing from reserves.  Administrators plan to close some of that gap by raising parking, land use and parks and recreation fees.  The city’s spokesman told the New Mexican that details of the plan will be announced tomorrow so the City Council can review and begin discussions on Monday.

The New Mexican also reports today on the American Lung Association’s report that gives Santa Fe County a ‘B’ rating, down from an ‘A’ for its air quality.  That could be because of the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards that changed last fall, lowering the level at which ozone levels exceed federal limits for clean air.  The EPA lowered the bar from 75, down to 70 parts per billion.  The New Mexican says the New Mexico Environment Department looks at factors that could affect those grades, including the weather, which can fluctuate.  Over the last 17 years of studies, the lung association said Santa Fe County has shown it has the cleanest air in the country, and is even competitive by world standards.  Compared to Santa Fe, Bernalillo, Dona Ana, San Juan and Valencia Counties scored ‘F’s for smog between 2012 and 2014.

Environmental groups are suing the federal government for its decision to extend operations at the Four Corners Power Plant and the Navajo Mine in Fruitland.  The Farmington Daily-Times reports that the suit against the U.S. Department of the Interior and other federal agencies was filed in U.S. District Court in Arizona Wednesday.  The lawsuit alleges the agencies failed to thoroughly assess the potential impacts the coal-fired plant and surface mine could have on the environment and public health before approving the 25-year extension last July.  An Interior department spokeswoman says the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.  Erny Zah, a spokesman for Navajo Transitional Energy Company, says the tribe is considering its own legal action to argue that the energy project is protected by tribal sovereignty and treaty rights.

A class-action lawsuit targeting a company behind a line of cigarettes touted as natural has moved to U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.  Three men from California, New York and Florida are suing the maker of American Spirit cigarettes, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co., and its parent company, Reynolds American Inc.  The plaintiffs say the cigarette maker's marketing deliberately tries to mislead smokers into believing their products are healthier than other tobacco products.  According to documents, the lawsuit cites a Food and Drug Administration warning that the use of words such as "natural" or "additive free" in their advertising violates federal law.  Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co. spokesman Seth Moskowitz said Wednesday he could not comment on the lawsuit because of company policy.

New Mexico is planning to take legal action against the federal government after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly revealed its intention to release more Mexican gray wolves into the wild.  The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish confirmed Wednesday that its lawyers have filed a notice of intent to sue over the proposed releases.  Last year, the state denied the agency permission to release wolves, but federal wildlife managers countered that they had a responsibility to help the endangered species recover and that releases were part of that effort.  The plan was posted Monday on the agency's website for wolf recovery efforts. It calls for releasing a pack with pups in New Mexico and cross-fostering pups with packs that are already in the wild.  Federal officials have argued that releases and cross-fostering are the preferred methods for improving the genetic diversity among the wild population in New Mexico and Arizona.

Two semi-retired New Mexico state judges have been nominated to oversee a criminal fraud case against former Sen. Phil Griego after a string of judges in Santa Fe District Court declined to hear the case.  State prosecutors and Griego's attorney agreed to recommend substitute Judges James A. Hall of Santa Fe or Michael E. Martinez of Albuquerque. Defense attorney Tom Smith says they are both active as substitute judges.  The chief justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court is deciding what judge will weigh allegations that Griego used his role as a legislator to profit from the sale of a state-owned building in 2014.  Griego has pleaded not guilty to charges including fraud, bribery, tampering with public records.

A southern New Mexico county is considering expanding its port-of-entry.  Luna County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet in special session on Friday to discuss the plan. Residents will have the chance to speak about the proposal to expand the port-of-entry in Columbus.  Officials say the expansion is needed to increase freight through New Mexico and make it easier for the city and truckers to pass through.  Port-of-Entries throughout New Mexico along the U.S.-Mexico border have reported record traffic in recent years. 

New Mexico Highlands University and the city of Las Vegas Museum want northern New Mexico residents to preserve their family documents.  The school's library and the museum will host workshops next week in Las Vegas on ways families can save documents going back the Spanish colonial era to frontier days.  Officials say those documents tell the story of New Mexico and should be preserved.  Lynn Gates, head of Donnelly Library's Archives and Cataloging Division, says it's important that families care and record what they have so documents aren't lost to their children and grandchildren.

Federal officials in San Diego say they have discovered an 800-yard-long secret tunnel under the U.S.-Mexico border, resulting in the seizure of more than a ton of cocaine and seven tons of marijuana.  The U.S. attorney's office said Wednesday that the tunnel extends from a house in Tijuana, Mexico, to a fenced lot in a San Diego industrial area.  The tunnel was equipped with a rail system, ventilation, lights and a large elevator.  The tunnel exit on the U.S. side is about 3 feet wide and was covered by a trash bin.  About 500 yards of the tunnel are on the U.S. side of the border.  Officials say six people were arrested in San Diego on Friday and charged with crimes involving drugs and construction of the tunnel.

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