Lessons to learn from Peralta


(Editor’s note: This is the third of a four-part series on the proposed incorporation of Rio Communities. Voters will make the decision on Tuesday, Jan. 8, whether the community will become the newest Valencia County municipality.)

(Editor’s note: This is the third of a four-part series on the proposed incorporation of Rio Communities. Voters will make the decision on Tuesday, Jan. 8, whether the community will become the newest Valencia County municipality.)

Waking up one morning to wonder if what happened the night before was for the best isn’t uncommon. For most people though, regrets come in the form of a confessed love or a bawdy tattoo.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: It has been slow but steady progress for the town of Peralta, says Mayor Bryan Olguin. The town, incorporated in 2007, is getting ready to break away from the county this year for services such as code enforcement and animal control.

For others, the “morning after” brings the realization that a new town has been born.

When Edward Archuleta woke up on March 7, 2007, he knew things were going to be different from there on out in Peralta, now officially the town of Peralta.

As one of the driving forces behind Peralta’s incorporation effort, Archuleta said he was familiar with much of the process. And with Rio Communities looking to become its own municipality, Archuleta offered up some observations about the “morning after” experience.

“I think there were a lot of things I knew about incorporation that other people didn’t quite understand,” he said. “So a lot of what happened didn’t take me by surprise.”

One of those things, while not surprising, was an unfortunate reality.

“The state doesn’t have any kind of support system for new cities,” Archuleta said. “There are statutes on how to incorporate, but there is nothing that supports you once you incorporate.”

By making the decision to separate from the county, Peralta, and any subsequent municipality, is truly standing on its own.

“Any county laws or ordinances that once applied are no longer in effect. Zoning goes away. Nothing that the county has passed applies anymore,” Archuleta said. “You start from scratch with anything you want to do.”

In any brand new town, the only applicable laws are state statutes, Archuleta said, and technically, the only law enforcement agency with jurisdiction inside that city is the state police.

“The county (sheriff’s department) can go in, but they can only enforce state laws,” he said.

Once a municipality gets far enough down the road to create and enact its own statutes, they can mirror county laws, Archuleta said.

“But first you have to pass your own,” he said.

One challenge that Peralta had to navigate, and Rio Communities will also if the vote is successful next week, is police protection. Archuleta said his town had four choices — cooperate with the county, state, the village of Los Lunas or the village of Bosque Farms.

“Bosque Farms was the most logical choice; they were already in place and our neighbors,” he said.

A bit of misinformation Archuleta said he has seen in the press about Rio Communities’ attempted incorporation concerns property taxes.

“They are correct in saying property taxes will not automatically go up, but they are a source of revenue,” he said. “However, the governing body does not have to go to the voters for an increase. It is up to the elected officials — they can go for a vote or simply implement it themselves.

“And quite frankly, without a property tax increase, it’s going to be difficult for them to form their own police force.”

While property taxes should remain steady, residents of the new city can expect to see a downward dip in gross receipts taxes — at least temporarily.

When a new municipality forms, the GRT rate in the area returns to the state’s base of 5 percent. Of that, 1.225 percent is returned to the municipality.

However, to get anything over that automatic 1.225 percent, the city has to self impose additional taxes, Archuleta said. It has the option of imposing 1.25 percent, either all at once or in increments of .25 percent.

“One of the first things we did, was bring the GRT back up to at least the county level. We went in eyes wide open, I felt. We knew the GRT would decrease,” Archuleta said. “At the time, we intentionally didn’t increase it to the level of our neighboring municipalities.”

Once Peralta had its city tax number from the state, Archuleta made sure a notice was sent to all the businesses within the new city, alerting them to report GRT to the state under Peralta’s number.

“One of the problems was we had two different addresses — Peralta and Los Lunas,” he said. “The post office let us bring all of Peralta’s incorporated area under the Peralta zip code.”

As the process moved forward for Peralta, Archuleta said there were a myriad of things that were not unknowns but still rather frustrating.

Spending money, for instance. Assuming the city had money, Archuleta points out that until an elected body is in place and implements policies and procedures, there’s no way for a municipality to pay for anything.

“The (county) commission has no governing authority. And then after the election, we were faced with no money — I mean zero,” he said.

If the Rio Communities incorporation passes, the city will have to hold a municipal election for a mayor, four councilors and judge. Those officials will assume office on July 1.

“We had to publish the election notice in the paper, which costs money. Everything costs money, but we had no money. And you can’t spend public funds without a process,” Archuleta said. “Someone has to be working diligently to put it all together.”

For Archuleta, that “someone” was then former commissioner Mary Andersen.

“Thank God for Mary. She had researched all the GRT issues and knew we had to implement them and when, but there are waiting periods. You can’t do everything at once,” he said.

Archuleta said the Middle Rio Grande Council of Governments and the New Mexico Municipal League were both very helpful and “sympathetic to our cause. But not sympathetic in the way of funding,” he said, laughing. “I think they did a lot of things for us at no cost.

“The county also set a lot of precedents with Peralta that they need to follow for Rio Communities. I know Commissioner (Ron) Gentry was very adamant that when Rio Communities incorporated, they would provide the same services they did for Peralta.”

When Archuleta and the committee were pitching the idea of a new city to the residents of the area, they did so on the idea of small government, no employees and keeping government to a minimum.

“That is actually very, very difficult to do,” he said. “In reality, the demand for services will require that you have employees and the means available to provide those services.”

In addition to the elected officials, state statute also mandates that a municipality have a police officer, municipal clerk and treasurer, although the jobs of clerk and treasurer may be combined and filled by one person. These positions can be either full- or part-time.

“The residents aren’t always sympathetic that you don’t have money. They expect the same or better,” Archuleta said. “You have got to figure out a way to provide services.”

The biggest surprise for Archuleta and the rest of those lucky enough to be elected to office was the sheer amount of time it took out of their lives.

“Once we were incorporated, the phone rang off the hook with people wanting us to do things about weeds, trash. And who was out there cutting the weeds? Me,” said Archuleta, who was elected Peralta’s first mayor. “If neighbors are having a dispute over a property issue or nuisance and you don’t have ordinances, all you can really say is, ‘Please, can you do this?’”

The time it took to serve as mayor was well worth it, Archuleta said, but he strongly advised anyone interested in running for office in a new town not have a full-time job.

And it will take time to see the city become what the people ultimately want it to be.

“With any incorporation, not a whole lot is going to happen quickly. There are pressures to do a lot,” Archuleta said. “Peralta has been around five years, going on six. Still on a daily basis, there’s something new and they’ve done a lot.”

While Archuleta was the first mayor, Bryan Olguin was the second and remains the current of Valencia County’s newest city.

When he took office in 2008, Olguin said his main priority was securing a town hall for Peralta, a home.

“For the first several months, the town office was out of my truck, in my suitcase,” Olguin said. “The first council wanted to start zoning, but I felt one of the biggest things we needed was office space; a place people can call.

“People were calling me, chasing me down, and they had every right to do that — I ran for the office. It was never overwhelming, but it was tough.”

In the time leading up to the incorporation, Olguin said there was an outpouring of offers to help and volunteers to run the new town.

“After incorporation, everyone kind of scattered. People were still willing to help, but they wanted to know how much you were going to pay,” he said. “We didn’t have any money, so I was the clerk for several months.”

And there’s the issues of money again. Olguin said Peralta didn’t begin to receive GRT until a couple months after he was in office.

“We qualified for small city assistance, but we had to have generated one year of GRT to get it,” he said. “Some advice I would give (Rio Communities) is the day after the election, go up to DFA and take out a loan of $50,000 to $100,000 for start-up money. So you can do things like get stationary, phones, hire someone to answer the phones.”

Olguin said for Peralta, the fire department was the smoothest transition. The department went from being a county fire district to just covering Peralta.

“We have a great chief and the state fire funds, and about $35,00 to $40,000 comes from us,” he said.

In the area of public safety, Peralta’s choice for law enforcement was very challenging, Olguin said.

“We basically got bids from the county and Bosque Farms. We almost got lynched. There were some very hard feelings. There was a very strong contingent that wanted the sheriff’s department,” he said. “But the proposals were not equitable. Bosque Farms offered so much more.”

Peralta is “tickled pink” with Bosque Farms’ law enforcement, Olguin said, but the town is in the process of weaning itself off the village’s services.

“We are looking at weaning off by next year while still working with village,” he said. “Prior to my next term in office, I would like to have a Peralta police department in place.”

Olguin was frank, saying that kind of independence would probably involve some sort of tax increase.

“We’ve talked about it a few times, and if it’s for police or fire, no one had a problem,” he said.

Peralta is also starting to take over services such as animal control and code enforcement that the county has continued to provide.

This month, the town is sending its public works employee to get his animal control certification, and Olguin said they are hopeful that by next fiscal year, the town will be able to purchase a vehicle and equipment to pick up animals.

The town is also conducting interviews currently for a code enforcement officer.

And speaking of ordinances, Olguin said everyone wants ordinances but don’t want the laws to effect them.

“They want a weak ordinance, but not for them — for that guy,” he said. “These are classic cars, not junk. There are always loopholes. We revised our fireworks ordinance four times.”

From insurance to furnishing the office to purchasing vehicles, Olguin said there’s always something.

“There have been so many surprises,” he said. “But it’s all worth it. One of the things that helped us immensely was the village of Bosque Farms. They are the ideal neighbors and laid out the carpet with a smile and open arms.

“I think Belen will be the kind of neighbor for Rio Communities like Bosque Farms was to us.”

-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.