Rio Communities elections earlier than expected

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There were more questions than answers about the recent incorporation of Rio Communities at a meeting Tuesday night, but committee members asked residents to be patient and to become involved in the process.

About 125 residents of the newly incorporated city of Rio Communities gathered Tuesday night at a Rio Communities Association meeting to learn more about what comes next for the newest municipality in the state.

On Jan. 8, 37 percent of area voters went to the polls to cast their ballots on the issue, with 63 percent voting in favor of incorporation.

Friday morning, the three county commissioners present at a special meeting unanimously approved the canvass of the election, thus making the results official. Commissioners Donald Holliday and Mary Andersen were not at the canvassing meeting.

Mark Gwinn, RCA president and the point man of the incorporation committee, told commissioners he met with representatives from the New Mexico Municipal League on Thursday, and they gave him the tight time line under which a municipal election for the new town must be held.

Now that the canvass has been approved, the commissioners have 15 days to declare a municipal election. Then within 84 to 112 days from the date of that declaration, a municipal election must be held.

Once a date for the election is set, a date 56 days prior will be selected as the date on which candidates must declare for office.

The residents of Rio Communities will elect their first mayor, four councilors and municipal judge.

"This is going to move faster than we anticipated," Gwinn told the commissioners. "But we have an enthusiastic group of people."

At the Tuesday meeting, Gwinn told those in attendance that the committee would be working with the New Mexico Municipal League.

"They will help in the process of building this government," he said.

Gwinn also asked the residents to become involved in the next steps, including volunteering their time to sit on one of four steering committees — public safety, finance, administration and public works.

"There's a lot of great things that will be taking place in the next few weeks," he said. "We have several committees, but I just want everyone to know that we're going to have people from this community helping out. The next step is building these committees, so if anyone is interested … please let us know."

The questions from the audience started almost immediately, with one man asking about the location of the city's offices. Gwinn said once the mayor and council are elected, they will determine where the offices will be, but committee members have been approached with offers of donated facilities.

The next question was about the proposed name change of the area. Gwinn said while some want the name of Rio Communities changed, others don't, but that it will be up to the residents to decide.

"The committees we're working on, we're working on government," he said. "And as we move forward, and if that's something that the people really want to take to task, then that's what we'll do. But at this time, we want to build this government and let it take its course."

Helen Smith, another member of the incorporation committee, told the crowd she's the recruiter of the committees and asked for their assistance.

"We need your help," Smith said. "You've lived through zoning all your lives — good zoning, probably bad zoning, you've probably been in disputes about zoning. If you have that kind of experience and you can give us an hour a week, we could try and make this town to not have those kinds of problems.

"The same thing with public works. You all live here and know what the roads are like, the weeds are like, the fire dangers. If you have a special interest in that area, you can help this town."

She also pointed to public safety. Smith said residents know where people are dealing illegal drugs, where illegal dumping is occurring and who is painting graffiti.

"You have to be involved," she said. "You just can't sit back and think someone else is going to take care of it. We're not going to be that kind of town."

Smith also said committee members have discussed the idea of having one term limits for elected officials, who, she said, would serve on a volunteer basis.

"We want people who are going to be focused on getting the work of this town done," she said. "And if you can't get the work done in four years, they better get out."

One audience member asked if Rio Communities now had to abide by county commissioners' decision regarding a single solid waste hauler. Gwinn told the woman that only residents in the unincorporated areas of Valencia County were effected by the decision, which drew a huge cheer from the audience.

Another question posed to Gwinn dealt with the cost of the upcoming municipal election. He told the crowd they would work something out with the county commission, just as they had for the incorporation election.

"It didn't cost the people anything," Gwinn said. "We did it through fundraising, and we'll do this one through fundraising as well. That's how we'll pay for the election."

In an interview Wednesday, Gwinn said the total cost of the incorporation election was $6,400, which including legal advertisements.

Gwinn also said he has heard from representatives from U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.-D) and U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (N.M.-R), who offered to help with federal grants to help build the city. He said other people, even all the way from Hobbs, have contacted him offering their assistance.

"People throughout the state want to lend a hand to help build this community the right way," Gwinn said. "But the only way that it can be right is how we look at it. So it's going to take all of us."

Some of the other questions from residents inquired about a new zip code, municipal court, vacant properties, gross receipt and property taxes, Valley Improvement Association fees, sewer system versus septic, utility services, franchise fees and emergency services.

"None of these questions can be answered until after the election when we will be forming our government," Gwinn said. "These things are going to be up to the new mayor and council. We have to get through these next six months, and we will.

"The mayor, council and judge will represent us. That's six months away. We have a lot of work, but once we get there, then we can start addressing some of these issues."

Silvestre Saavedra, another member of the incorporation committee, addressed the audience, saying during the incorporation process he had come across a lot of negativity from various people in the community.

"We decided to attack the situation in a different way," said Saavedra, who said he's lived in Rio Communities for seven years. "When we talked to people, we asked them what their concerns were and what needs to be changed. The second question was, 'What is the solution to the problem?'"

Saavedra said he told those people that they needed to become involved in the community and band together to fix some of these problems.

"We have a great community here, we are going to be a great community, because as far as I'm concerned, we worked very hard to make this happen," he said. "Look at where we are now. We made it happen. You made it happen. But we need you now.

"We have a lot of highly intellectual people in this community. We have a lot of people who have a lot of experience who can help put this town together and put it on the map. We talked about making history here in Rio Communities, and we're making it happen. Join us, be a part of us. Help us make this a better community."

For anyone who would like to volunteer for any of the four steering committees, call Mark Gwinn at 264-3412, or email ggwimc@aol.com.

(News-Bulletin reporter Julia Dendinger contributed to this story.)


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