Area mayors talk about economic development, water and taxes

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A panel of five mayors held a discussion on their small-town economic development at the 2013 Rural Forum held at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus last week.

The panel included mayors Robert Vialpando of Los Lunas, Robert Knowlton of Bosque Farms, Rudy Jaramillo of Belen, Phillip Burch of Artesia, and Mark Gwinn, mayor of the recently incorporated Rio Communities.

Jim Covell, of Covell Consultants, asked the mayors questions about their economic development activities, how they will handle water demands and how to protect small, local businesses from big-box stores.

The consensus on big-box stores seemed to be that some small businesses were lost, but overall, their small businesses weathered the change and continued in business.

"I, as a mayor, have a vision to see our community get back to what we were (when we were) youngsters here," said Belen Mayor Rudy Jaramillo, who was born and raised in the Hub City.

Jaramillo said incentives should be offered to big-box stores to draw them into small communities, because they provide jobs and insurance.

"I've seen my kids move out because of jobs," he said. "You see a lot of your friends and families moving out of your community because the jobs aren't there."

Building roads and bringing utilities to land available for business growth is important to economic development, he said.

The principal economic activities which support Artesia are the oil and gas industry, as well as the agriculture and dairy, similar to many other rural towns.

Artesia citizens passed a tax to fund economic development, but state government is an obstruction, said Artesia Mayor Phillip Burch.

"I keep hearing from Santa Fe what we can't do," Burch said. "If they would get out of the way … communities could grow much faster, and communities, by and large, would do a good job."

But not all the mayors in attendance at the forum, have been as eager for the growth of their communities.

Back when he was a village councilor in the 1980s, Mayor Robert Vialpando was concerned about growth because he didn't want the village to lose its rural, small-town character. Now he strives to integrate both.

"I'm always happy to see whatever services and goods come to Los Lunas to serve the population, serve not only the residents of Los Lunas, but that serve Valencia County as well," Vialpando said.

The challenge, however, is the traffic congestion on Main Street, because it is the only interstate access.

"I have seen ambulances actually going in the opposite (lane) on Main Street, heading off for emergencies," said Vialpando.

It's one of the challenges that will take the village and state years to remedy.

Economic development in Bosque Farms hinges on private landowners because the village doesn't own any land along N.M. 47, where most of the commercial activity flourishes, said Mayor Robert Knowlton.

"Within that 2 1/2 mile stretch, we've got a lot of vacant property, and a lot of vacant buildings, and I'd love to be able to fill those in with some private businesses," Knowlton said. "Given that we don't have a lot of property there that has the potential for industrial or large-scale, commercial-type stuff, we're probably mainly looking at retail coming in there."

On the other hand, Rio Communities has only just begun assessing how they want to strengthen the community.

A few different committees have been formed, including an economic development committee that is looking at everything they can do to help the business community and to survey what the residents desire.

"We are mainly retail, and we're looking to grow that to better serve our community," said Mayor Mark Gwinn.

Most of the mayors said they have enough water for future growth and development, but irrigation water is another matter.

Bosque Farms has a rural character, but that may change over time because of a lack of water flow issued from the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.

"We have a large number of residents living in Bosque Farms that have horses and irrigated pastures," said Knowlton. "If we're not able to get flow from MRGCD, these fields are basically going to dry up."

Water rights are also a concern for municipalities.

"Our aquifer that the city of Artesia is on is a recharging aquifer, which is very, very healthy," Burch said. "Our problem isn't the amount of water ― there's enough water for the city of Artesia to draw from for years to come. The problem is water rights. Unless you have the right to pump the water, the fact that it's there is useless."

Covell also brought up the gross-receipts tax increase of three-eighths of 1 percent on goods or services allowed by the state for municipalities affected by the elimination of the hold-harmless provision that has offset GRT losses from tax-free food and medicines.

Burch said Artesia put that in front of the voters in 2005, and it passed by 75 percent.

Los Lunas and Rio Communities officials are considering it, but Belen isn't willing to go down that road.

During the three-day economic forum, the village of Los Lunas won the EDDY award from the 2013 Rural Forum and was honored at the dinner Wednesday night. The award recognizes the state's Best Economic Development Marketing Campaign.

The EDDY honored all the branding and marketing work the village has been doing with its Small Community, Big Possibilities effort. The trophy was made by Tomé Art Gallery.


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