County, Rio Communities meet to discuss services

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Rio Communities' mayor and city councilors came to the county commissioners June 13 for answers to how to provide more services to New Mexico's newest city.

The answers might not be what they wanted to hear.

Rio Communities Councilor Kaylon Northcutt cut right to the chase, saying the city needed more services and didn't want to settle for what the county was delivering now.

"If we need to pay to get more, then so be it," Northcutt said. "We need better influence with the police, better services from planning and zoning. During the election, the constituents I talked to were not happy with the services they are getting now.

"Is there a time frame when we will know how much money we will get from the county?"

There was silence from the commissioners and confused murmurs from staff.

County Commissioner Mary Andersen said the only money the city could expect from the county would be property tax distributions.

"So there is no money from the county? That's not what we were told during the election," Northcutt said.

Commission Chairman Charles Eaton said he thought the city could anticipate revenues from gross receipts taxes to start coming in later this fall.

County Attorney Adren Nance clarified, saying the city would have to enact its own GRT ordinances to impose on its residents.

Andersen recommended the council and mayor work with the New Mexico Municipal League to determine what funds they were eligible to receive.

Rio Communities Mayor Mark Gwinn said Rio Communities would like the same assistance the county provided the town of Peralta after its incorporation in 2007 — public safety from the sheriff's department, public works and animal control.

Councilor Mary Lee Serna said all the candidates ran on a platform of public safety and police protection.

"We need to know how many officers you can afford us. People are very concerned about the response times they get from the sheriff's department," Serna said. "Whatever assistance you can afford us, we will greatly appreciate it."

Councilor Cyndi Sluder said she and the rest of the governing body fully recognized the "bitter-sweet" nature of their request.

"We said, 'We're not happy with your services; we want to do it on our own.' 'Go ahead.' 'But we can't,'" Sluder said, summing up the push-pull relationship city and county are now in.

She said the city of Rio Communities was asking for the same assistance the county had given Peralta.

Andersen said when the county provided services to Peralta, its finances "weren't tied in knots. One reason there are complaints about services is there isn't enough money. And when you take your share of GRT and property taxes, there's even less. I'm not sure how we're supposed to continue to provide services, let alone more."

Gwinn said there was a precedent set with Peralta.

Andersen agreed, but pointed out there was an memo of understanding for each service provided, not a "blanket agreement."

As for law enforcement, Nance pointed out the sheriff's department has general law enforcement in all municipalities.

The attorney continued, saying the sheriff's department could enforce city laws in Rio Communities, but those ordinances need to be drafted first.

"If you want us to do code enforcement, you have to adopt a code for us to enforce," he said.

County Manager Bruce Swingle asked what the new city's plans were for the Rio Grande Estates Fire Department, the Del Rio Senior Center and solid waste services.

Gwinn said plans for the fire department and senior center haven't been discussed yet.

As far as solid waste was concerned, with three haulers serving Rio Communities now, Gwinn said the council was inclined to keep the status quo and let residents choose their own haulers,.

Eaton encouraged the mayor and councilors to seek advice from the municipal league on how to best identify potential sources of income for the city.

"You incorporated to gain control of your own destiny, to enhance your community and make it better," Eaton said. "With the position we're in with county finances, you're not going to get a lot better services than what you have received over the last few years any time soon.

"As for additional services demanded by residents, you might as well tell them this will be a continuation of the services they have today, because that's all we can do."


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