Rio Communities votes yes on incorporation

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Some folks in Rio Communities are on cloud nine. And one of them is Mark Gwinn, the Rio Communities Association president and incorporation committee pointman.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Rio Communities resident Mark Gwinn, center, hugs Alice Metcalf Tuesday after residents approved the incorporation of the area. Pictured, at left, are Sue Moran hugging Helen Smith, and Valencia County Commissioner Lawrence Romero is at the far right.

“This is a great, great moment for us,” Gwinn said of the area’s successful incorporation efforts.

On Tuesday, incorporation of Rio Communities and the Chamesa subdivision was successful by a vote of 672 in favor to 391 against, or 63 percent to 37 percent.

The unofficial preliminary numbers included 39 absentee ballots and 30 early in-person votes. A total of 1,063 ballots were cast.

The election will have to be canvassed in order for the numbers to become official. The canvassing meeting has been scheduled for 10 a.m., Friday, Jan. 18, at 444 Luna Ave., Los Lunas, in front of the county commission.

“We are off and running onto the next step,” Gwinn said.

He and other members of the committee have been in close contact with the New Mexico Municipal League, the entity helping them through the incorporation process.

“We will most likely be making our first trip up to Santa Fe soon to talk with them,” he said.

The next step is to elect a mayor, council and municipal judge. Gwinn said that election will most likely take place in June, in time to get the newly elected officials sworn in for the beginning of the fiscal year in July.

“People are ready to move forward. We’ve had people calling since Tuesday night asking what committee they can be on,” Gwinn said. “There are some people who said, ‘We’ll just watch and wait for you to fall on your face.’ I told people with that kind attitude, I hoped they would be part of the solution.

“If you don’t want to be, that’s your choice,” he said. “But it was a three to one margin. That pretty much says what the community wants.”

Gwinn said people across the southeast part of the county were excited with what the community accomplished.

While there’s not an official governing body, there will be an RCA meeting at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 15, at the Rio Communities community center where Gwinn will bring people up to speed on the next steps in the incorporation process.

The area incorporated also included the subdivision of Chamesa just south of Manzano Expressway. Susan Campbell has lived there for more than a decade and is happy to see the incorporation happen.

While there were previous failed attempts, Campbell says they weren’t headed up by this particular group of people.

“This was and is an exceptional group of people involved in the incorporation project. They worked very hard. The time was right and the people were right for a new town for New Mexico,” Campbell said.

Campbell is recovering from surgery right now, but as soon as she’s up and able, she will be volunteering for the new municipality doing administrative work.

She is also hoping to work on the new city’s zoning ordinances.

“We had talked about looking at the various covenants in the different subdivisions so we can coordinate those with zoning and have homogenous zoning ordinances,” she said. “We also discussed having a little contest for school children to design a logo. We want to include everyone. This is theirs — this is ours.”

To make it even more “theirs,” Campbell said the name of the new municipality will be reconsidered. In order to begin the incorporation process, the committee had to file a petition with the state with the proposed name. While technically the city of Rio Communities, Campbell said one of the first things the committee would like to see the governing body do is consider a name change.

“The name has a rather complicated background,” she said. “Some people feel a new name would be appropriate.”

One of the few people who openly expressed doubts about the feasibility of incorporation was Bob Sanders. His main criticism was a lack on information on which to base an informed decision.

Sanders offered his congratulations to the incorporation committee on a successful campaign to incorporate, saying it ran a strong campaign touting to the community the value of incorporation.

“Now it’s time to turn words into action: A certified and trained police force offering 24/7 coverage, improvement of the roads in the community now suffering from neglect and a comprehensive zoning ordinance, among others,” Sanders said. “All that on top of creating a new city government, electing a mayor and council, and a myriad of other tasks. It will take some time, and I wish them well.”

The push to incorporate centered around two issues — better response time by law enforcement and code enforcement.

Valencia County Sheriff Louis Burkhard said his deputies would continue patrolling the area and responding to calls.

“What it boils down to is, we can’t negotiate talk about anything until a mayor and council are elected,” Burkhard said.

In looking at what the new city has budgeted for law enforcement, Burkhard said that would provide two officers.

“I’m not sure how they would stretch those two officers to 24/7, considering things like days off, sick days and training,” he said.

Until a mayor and council are elected and can officially negotiate with an entity for law enforcement or form its own, the sheriff said, “Everything will be exactly the same until they are established. We are certainly not going to leave them without protection. And even when they do get established, we will still help.”

With the incorporation comes an jurisdictional oddity on the bridge over the Rio Grande — the city of Belen’s boundary ends at the west side of the bridge, and the Rio Communities line starts on the east side. That leaves the bridge still in county jurisdiction.

Burkhard said that isn’t terribly unusual, pointing out that on Eastside School Road, the east side of the street is in the unincorporated county, while the west side is in Belen.

“It’s a bit of a checkerboard between city and county west of the bridge,” he said. “We do have mutual-aid agreements. The county co-commissions officers from Belen, Los Lunas and Bosque Farms, so if something carries over into the county, they handle it. That comes with the understanding that they don’t abuse it.”

Valencia County Community Development Director Jacobo Martinez said requests for services such as business licenses, lot splits, variances, code enforcement and zoning issues would still be provided by the county until the time of the municipal election in the new city.

“As I understand it, we will continue to provide those services and the zoning will remain the same until the election,” Martinez said.

After the new city has its own governing body, all county ordinances will cease to be enforceable inside its boundaries. Only state statutes will be applicable.

Valencia County Manager Bruce Swingle greeted the news of the incorporation with the declaration of, “Good for them.”

Swingle said the city’s formation doesn’t change anything, at this point.

“There will be a point when they formulate and formalize their government,” he said. “They will probably need some assistance from the county, and the commissioners are more than willing to work with them.”

The boundaries for the new municipality are Sherrod Boulevard to the north, Old Military Road to the east, Navajo Loop to the south, which changes to Rio Grande Stables when it crosses N.M. 304, and then west to the river. The western boundary follows the river all the way up to behind the Allsups on N.M. 47, where it ties back into Sherrod.

The new town is about is 4,700 acres and is the home to about 5,000 residents.


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