By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
Tucumcari has violated its own ordinances by failing to tear down the remains of the Sands Dorsey Building and dispose of the remains, Tucumcari resident Gary Montaño said Thursday at a commission meeting.
Montaño cited a September 2007 resolution passed a few months after the building was destroyed by fire. He said the ordinance required city staff to demolish the building within 90 days of the destruction.
Six years later, the rubble of the Sands Dorsey building’s partial walls, burned out rooms and fixtures, and a pile of bricks that rises over the building’s foundation still mar downtown.
After another fire struck the building in 2012, city crews reduced many of the walls to rubble for safety concerns.
Montaño referred to documents he distributed to each of the commissioners, as he posed questions about owner Robert Hengstenberg’s apparent inability to pay for the uninsured building’s demolition and about why City Manager Doug Powers could not used some of the apparent $60 million he has procured in grants for the city over 20 years was not used to demolish and dispose of the structure.
Montaño called the 2007 ordinance the city hasn’t fulfilled a “smoking gun” in his charge the city had violated its own law.
In addition, Montaño produced two claims of lien against Hengstenberg, whose address is shown in Chimayo, that Montaño asserts were paid.
One lien, drawn in April 2008 for $7,170, is credited against the building for “the placement of a fence around the ruins, until the nuisance can be abated.” The other, for $63,666.84, “arose from the architectural and engineering services rendered, legal fees incurred and expenses to secure the building, until the nuisance can be abated.”
In both liens, unspecified additional amounts are authorized to cover attorneys’ fees and interest.
Montaño said he has sent his information to the attorney general’s office to launch an investigation. Phil Sisneros, public information officer for Attorney General Gary King’s office said Monday the office has received no information from Montaño.
What should have happened, Montaño said, was the city should have demolished the building in 2007 and sent Hengstenberg the bill.
City Commissioner Robert Lumpkin interrupted Montaño’s presentation to explain some of the complications that he said have crippled efforts to clean up the Sands Dorsey site.
“We did all in our power to put (Hengstenberg) in jail,” Lumpkin said, but the building still belongs to Hengstenberg. The city will not take possession of the structure, because the city does not want to assume liability, Lumpkin said.
In addition, Lumpkin said, the city cannot spare the $400,000 to $500,000 to demolish and dispose of the structure.
“We applied for every single grant that came up that could help the city demolish Sands Dorsey,” Lumpkin said, and he recalled efforts in 2010 to divert gross receipts tax money reserved for Ute Lake water purposes to Sands Dorsey demolition. As it turned out, however, the city found it could use those funds only for Ute Lake water purposes.
At present, Lumpkin said, private investors have expressed interest in demolishing the Sands Dorsey building to make way for another business building on the site.
Montaño also challenged recent raises for City Manager Doug Powers. When Powers had the title of community development director in 2011-2012, his salary was listed as $52,345 per year. Today he makes $70,000 a year, according to his contract.
Montaño said it is a raise of $18,655 in two years.
Powers was appointed city manager in 2012. Bobbye Rose, Powers’ predecessor as city manager, also drew a salary of $70,000 per year.
Meanwhile, other city employees, Montaño said, have received raises of only 50 cents per hour.
Some in the audience that nearly filled the commission chamber cheered Montaño’s presentation when he finished.
In July, the city sent an action plan and assessment for the Sands Dorsey site to Paul Martinez, an enforcement officer in the New Mexico Environment Department’s solid waste division. Powers said Friday the plan has been returned to the city for changes and additional information before any further action receives approval.
Powers said he is hopeful the submission will lead to grant funds for a Sands Dorsey clean-up.
Hengstenberg’s attorney, George Adelo of Santa Fe, said in August he would prefer ownership transfer to the city before the building is demolished, citing liability concerns.
Powers said the city has not taken ownership of the property because doing so would require the city to raze the building before it had the financial resources to do so.