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Nonprofit group saved from possible lease termination

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The roof of the county-owned building leased by SOY Mariachi has “extensive damage” due to hail storms in May, which brought the issue of lack of insurance to the attention of county officials. The city of Roswell also cited the property in November for being in violation of ordinances regarding weeds and litter. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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A local nonprofit group serving area youth has been given a reprieve from a possible lease termination, provided it complies with Chaves County and city requirements.

Bobby Villegas tells county commissioners during their Thursday meeting that the SOY Mariachi group strives to keep the property it leases clean because it earns money to pay bills by renting out the building for events and parties. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Chaves County Commissioners voted against terminating the lease of SOY Mariachi during their Thursday meeting, but they told the director of the group, Bobby Villegas, that he must meet all county and city requirements and report to the county on a monthly basis about efforts to come into compliance.

SOY (Save Our Youth) Mariachi teaches area youth in the arts of mariachi music and dancing while also passing along the Character Counts personal development philosophy. The money earned during performances is put into college funds for the students.

The nonprofit organization has leased a county building at 1120 S. Grand Ave. since 2008, but was given a 90-day notice Aug. 31 of the possibility of the lease being terminated because the organization did not have the $500,000 insurance policy required.

That fact came to the attention of county officials after they conducted inspections of roofs of county-owned facilities following the hail storm in May and found “extensive damage” to the Grand Avenue building roof. When repairs did not occur, the county sent a letter to Villegas in July inquiring when repairs would occur.

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Villegas then met with County Manager Stanton Riggs and Public Services Director Bill Williams, telling them that he did not have the insurance and being informed that he needed to carry the insurance as a requirement of the lease.

Riggs wrote Villegas Aug. 31 saying he had 90 days to comply or the county would seek to terminate the lease.

Then a city of Roswell code enforcement officer notified the county on Nov. 6, a notice forwarded to Villegas, that the property was in violation of city codes regarding weeds and litter.

Those violations meant SOY Mariachi was also in violation of another lease provision requiring it to keep the property in good condition, Riggs said.

County staff decided to take the matter to commissioners, asking them to consider terminating the lease.

In asking for leniency, Villegas noted that SOY Mariachi had made many improvements to the building, including replacing the roof in 2008, replacing windows, painting the building, renovating the bathrooms, installing new carpeting and adding a recording studio, which was partly funded by the state.

“When we took the building over, it was in really bad shape. It was basically an abandoned building,” said Villegas.

He said the original condition made the building uninsurable and, later, the organization just forgot about the insurance requirement.

He added that the group strives to keep the property clean, especially because it earns money to pay utilities and other bills by renting the property out for weddings, birthdays and other celebrations.

Villegas requested that he have until the end of the lease term in June to make the roof repairs and meet lease requirements.

Commissioner Will Cavin said, “I had a lot of students that I had when I taught at Nancy Lopez (Elementary School) who participated in your program and I know it is a good program. One thing we have to have to take into consideration as commissioners is the properties that we are responsible for. And we have to make sure that it is insured as it is supposed to be, No. 1, and No. 2, that the upkeep, so we are not receiving a notice from the city of Roswell that it is not meeting city codes.”

Some discussion occurred about whether the county could pay for the roof repairs with its insurance, with SOY Mariachi paying the deductible. Riggs said that question was unclear. The county’s other lessees, including the Roswell Refuge, the JOY Centers and La Casa Behavioral Health, have the required insurance, he said.

“This is a first for us,” Riggs said.

An original motion made by Cavin to table the issue was voted down, so Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell Jr. offered an amendment to the original resolution allowing SOY Mariachi to maintain its lease until the end of its normal term in June provided it repairs the roof, obtains the insurance and complies with city ordinances regarding the property condition. The amended resolution also requires the organization to communicate monthly with the county about progress made.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the amended resolution, and Villegas indicated that he intended to remove the weeds this weekend.

“Bobby, you have your work cut out for you,” said Commission Chair Robert Corn.

During a public comment period toward the end of the meeting, County Treasurer Charlotte Andrade, also a member of SOY Mariachi board, thanked commissioners for their decision.

“I have been involved with this program for about 12 years now,” she said. “I’ve been a chaperone for many of the performance groups as we have headed to Las Cruces and Albuquerque. I’ve been there to help clean the walk area. I have been there sweeping the floors. It is really a team effort. If you could see the commitment that all the adults have — they do this free of charge to teach these kids. A lot of them come from underprivileged homes, and it really makes a difference.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.