Obstacles to state restructuring may be set in concrete

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By Merilee Dannemann

In the old days, a friend reminisced long ago, we had to move after every election.
State office buildings were rented, she explained. After the election the new governor could reward political supporters with leases.
Mediocre facilities, scattered all over the place, imperfectly matched to the needs of their occupants or the public. Short leases.
With all the talk of reorganization and consolidation, don’t we wish those good old days were back again. Many of New Mexico’s state institutions are now, literally, set in concrete.
Within the last couple of decades, somebody decided that state government was here to stay, not just a passing fad, and the state might as well build and own its buildings. Everywhere.
A particular incentive, back in the early 1990s, was a mysterious loss of interest by landlords in renting to the state. Quite suddenly, property owners were submitting bids for much higher rental amounts than ever before, or not bidding at all. A legislator friend asked me if I could find out what kind of scam was going on.
I found out. There was a scam indeed. It was called the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it required drastic building renovations for accessibility ­— not just handicap ramps but widened hallways, remodeled restrooms and elevators in every two-story building. Landlords had to ask for significant increases to cover these costs.
So the state owns more of its buildings — not just the dreary parade of adobe-colored boxes that march along the boulevards of Santa Fe. There are state field offices everywhere, some still rented, some owned.
A few sample departments:
The Health Department has at least one public health office in every county. The Human Services Department has almost as many. Both Income Support Division and Child Support Enforcement offices are all over the state, and not necessarily housed together — nor anywhere near Health Department offices.
The Motor Vehicle Division, according to its Web site, has 80 offices. That number is greater than the number of New Mexico House of Representative districts, and therefore a few lucky legislators have two offices in their districts. So after next year’s redistricting orgy of mayhem and bloodletting is finished and the districts have been redrawn (separate subject for another day), perhaps the governor can whittle down to one field office per legislative district.
The state could get rid of some buildings and consolidate some of these field operations, you say.
Not so fast. Meet the Property Control Division of the General Services Department. Property Control controls every square foot of the state’s office space.
No building is built, nor rental rented, until Property Control has approved the plans and eliminated all excess.
As much as possible, a state building is exactly fitted to the number of expected occupants and the intended usage, with regulations governing maximum square footage per employee. Your dentures should fit so closely.  No palatial managers’ offices or extravagant employee lounges. Room for expansion, just in case? Not likely.
If the new administration wants to combine or consolidate these scattered offices and their scattered functions, it will have to spend a lot of money (yours and mine) moving things together before the efficiencies can happen.
Back when the state could spend money, I thought it would make sense for each county to have a state government plaza where all the agencies could locate, have common parking and be easy for the public to find and use. This year that idea is a waste of breath.

Merilee Dannemann
NM News Services