RC council debates site of city hall

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The Rio Communities City Council continues to debate where to house its city hall after the owner of the first building took back his keys.

Even before the new city became a legal municipality, Ron Gentry, a former state representative and county commissioner, donated an empty building on Damon Street. The building, most recently used as a law office, had been cleaned by area volunteers who anticipated the city would move into it.

Gentry said before the city officially became a municipal entity, he allowed the volunteers to use the building to meet for committee meetings. But because the city council couldn't make up its mind, and because of liability issues, he said he could not continue allowing the city to use the building.

"I could not, from an insurance standpoint, allow them to use the building for city hall," he said. "They didn't have insurance. Once (Rio Communities) became a legal entity, you have to have a lease and appropriate insurance. If something happens in that building, and the city doesn't have the proper insurance, I'll be held liable."

Gentry offered to lease the building to the city of Rio Communities for $1 a year, as long as the city would acquire insurance and pay for the building's utilities. The Valley Improvement Association offered the city the same $1 rate until March 2014, but for a much larger space in its building, which would involve higher utility bills.

But once Gentry took back his keys, the city is left with considering only the VIA option.

During last week's council meeting, Councilor Mary Lee Serna told the public that the VIA's offer was amended to offer a smaller, 860-square-feet space to the city.

"My concern is that the building isn't big enough to house our judge," Serna said of the VIA space, which was her concern about the Gentry building as well. "We need to be realistic, it's just not enough."

Councilor Cyndi Sluder said the city has no money and expressed concerns how it was going to pay utilities regardless of where city hall was located.

"I just don't think this a good time to go into negotiations about the building; we don't have the finances to do that," Sluder said.

Councilor Frank Stasi said he's concerned about the condition of the VIA building, saying it has problems with water leaks. He also said he was concerned with the higher utility costs.

Mayor Mark Gwinn said the New Mexico Municipal League would pay for the insurance on a city hall until the city could pay for it itself.

"I'm for looking for a smaller place for the council and for the judge until we get a little further along," Stasi said. "I don't think it's appropriate for us to go into something bigger that we don't need."

Gentry said while he did take back the keys to the building and hasn't offered the building again to the city, and if he hasn't rented it yet, he's not opposed to working with Rio Communities in establishing a city hall at the Damon Street building.

"I'm open if they want to come and ask me for it, but I'm certainly not going to push for it," he said. "I was just trying to help out, but if they don't want to take it because it was inadequate, it's fine with me."

Gwinn said Friday he believes a smaller building would be better for the city at this time because all they need is office space for the clerk. He said the city hasn't adopted any ordinance for the judge to rule on, so it's not imperative to move into a larger facility at this time.

The mayor hopes this issue will be resolved soon so the council can focus on the future of Rio Communities.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Helga Woerner read a letter to the council, saying, in part, that she hoped the council would reconsider the Gentry building.

" … For two of the councilors, and they know who they are, it was not good enough," Woerner wrote. "They had grandiose ideas, bigger, more room, they insisted, on going into the VIA building …"

Resident Gloria Perea said listening to the council talk about the buildings is like "listening to a broken record." She said the Gentry building is too small and is not ADA accessible.

Sue Moran, who lives in Tierra Grande, said the council was elected to make tough choices, and said "there comes a time when you just have to make a decision and, if your decision is to start us out in the red, then I'll be very disappointed."

In other action, the council voted to post several gross receipt tax ordinances, including for general purposes, infrastructure improvements and liquor licenses. Mayor Gwinn said when the city incorporated, the gross receipts tax in the city went down from 6.375 percent to 6 percent.

Stasi said the council isn't looking to raise taxes anymore than it was, but wants to raise the GRT back to 6.375 percent to be back where it started. He did say that any other increases would have to be approved by the voters.

The council will consider adopting the ordinances at the next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 27.


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