RC residents circulate petition to disincorporate

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Less than a year after voters approved the incorporation of Rio Communities and four months after it officially became a city, several residents have initiated a petition that would return it to the county.

The residents, who want to disincorporate, say there's neither any clear objectives nor a specific plan for the city's success. They want to know how the city can offer the citizens services with the amount of property taxes the city will receive and the amount of gross receipts taxes generated by businesses in the city.

According to state statue 3-4-1, if one-fourth of a municipality's registered voters petition their county commission, the commissioners have 14 days to certify the petition and then adopt a resolution calling for a special disincorporation election.

The statute says that a special election shall be held no less than 50 days, or nor more than 60 days, after the commission adopts the election resolution.

Rio Communities resident Joyce Moss initiated the petition in August, saying that, from the beginning, she didn't like what she was seeing.

She said about 125 signatures have been collected so far; 835 are needed for the commission to call for a special election.

George Salas, one of the residents who has been meeting with those circulating the petition for the past several weeks, says even though he has not asked anyone to sign the petition himself, he supports the effort.

"We want to make sure, first of all, that we dispel this perception that we're a subversive group and that we have this secret agenda. We do not," Salas said. "We would like to see the city succeed, but we don't see a pathway toward success and they have not shown us one."

Rio Communities Mayor Mark Gwinn said he's heard about the petition and has spoken with a couple of the group's members, but said it's too early for residents to think about throwing in the towel on the new city.

"We just started and we're only four months into it," Gwinn said Monday. "Instead of trying to undo what we've done, why aren't they trying to help us and get us to success? I don't need two different groups pointing fingers at each other — I need people to jump on board and help give us solutions."

Salas said he and others repeatedly have asked the council to identify the issues needed to be accomplished to make the city successful, but says he has not yet seen anything.

He also questions why the council hasn't created a one-year plan for the city, including what revenues will be raised to accomplish the goals.

Salas approximates that the amount of GRT the city has received since incorporation isn't enough to sustain the city or the services the citizens need. Based on the first month of gross receipts taxes for July — $7,200 — Salas says the city will only take in about $84,000 a year.

Gwinn, on the other hand, said no one can estimate the total based on the first month's revenues. While the city cleared more than $7,000 in July, the disbursement for August was a bit less at $6,800.

"Every month is going to be different," Gwinn said. "Until a good year has passed, there is no way we'll know what's coming into the city."

Gwinn also explained that because the city is so new, not all of the businesses in Rio Communities have registered with the state's tax and revenue department as being in business in the city. This also will take time, he said.

The mayor said the state will soon send the city a list businesses that are paying gross receipts taxes in Rio Communities, which means, with the help of the Rio Communities Association, businesses that haven't registered with the state can be identified.

Gwinn also noted that business owners have several options when they pay their gross receipt taxes — monthly, quarterly, biannually or annually — that affect how much and when the city receives its funds.

Regardless, Salas says, of the estimated GRT or property tax revenues, he believes the city cannot raise enough to have a sustainable city.

"Nobody is showing us how they're going to raise enough money to do it," he said. "Everyone is comparing us to Peralta. But there is no comparison because it's apples and oranges. Peralta has so many more gross receipts revenuers that we can't make a comparison."

Salas said since incorporation, the roads in the Rio Communities have deteriorated more rapidly than when the county took care of them. He said while it might of taken the county a long time to fix a road, it would have eventually been done.

"As long as the county was maintaining the roads, such as fixing the potholes, it wasn't that much of a problem," he said. "But once the streets deteriorate so much that we have to have the road repaired, we're talking about a multi-million-dollar project, and where are we going to get the money for it?"

Salas said if the council could show them a path to success, the group would drop its petition.

Moss said another concern is the cost of law enforcement. The council's intentions of working out an agreement with the city of Belen is too expensive for Rio Communities, she said.

"It's going to cost us more than $62,000, and that's just for salary and the uniform allowance," Moss said. "That doesn't include insurance, the cost of dispatch or even the vehicles needed."

Dorothy Trujillo, another resident circulating the petition, said before incorporation, she heard everyone complaining about the lack of law enforcement and the senior citizens were concerned about security. But she said no one feels any safer now than they did before incorporation.

"I need to have a budget for my household," Trujillo said. "So why doesn't the city have a budget?"

"I just see a big failure," Moss said. "I don't see how this can work. The dollar store can't keep us going."

Of the people who have been approached with the disincorporation petition, Trujillo said she's received a mix of responses. Some, she says, voted for incorporation and have told her they're waiting for the city to succeed. Others have told her that they'll happily sign the petition.

The group also has concerns about not paying the new city clerk.

At last week's meeting, city council approved Brenda Spencer as city clerk, and Gordon Warwick as city treasurer, both on a volunteer basis. The law firm of Rael, Robles and Anaya also is volunteering its legal services for now.

Salas says while the treasurer and lawyers can work on a pro-bono basis, he believes a clerk, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, must be paid at least minimum wage. Gwinn disputes this claim, saying that, according to the labor department, having a volunteer clerk was acceptable.

The mayor says building a city takes time and the council, while he admits is divided on a lot of issues, is trying to work things out.

"We're still trying to identify us," he said of the governing body. "We're trying to build this thing, and we have so much to look into and to focus on. We're working on building our plan and working to get capital outlay that will have impact on our community."

The mayor says the residents have valid concerns, but maintains many of their facts are inaccurate and their goal to disincorporate is too early.

"Maybe if we were five or eight years down the road, and it wasn't working, then maybe," he said. "But this is too soon to think about. Hopefully, we, as a council, will look at these things that we can address.

"If they think it's going to happen overnight, it's not. It will be a four- or five-year period to see anything happen."

As for the future, Gwinn said the council will soon talk with legislators about possible capital outlay funds and potential grant writers to start identifying at least three projects to focus on during the first year.

"I hope the residents give this a chance and, right now, we're exploring our options, talking to people," he said. "The sad thing is that four of us have to turn around and run for election after the first of the year. So we're focusing on that as well.

"Give us a chance, give us the opportunity," he added. "Rome wasn't built in a day."

While Salas said he's willing to give the council members a chance to prove themselves and hopes the city will succeed, Moss and Trujillo don't believe it will.

"Once we're in debt, it will be harder to disincorporate," Moss said. "And it will be the residents who will have to pay for it."

Trujillo, who said it's not too early for disincorporation, said she wants to hopefully inform the residents before it's too late.

If any Rio Communities resident is interested in signing the petition to disincorporate, or would like more information, call Joyce Moss at 977-8321.


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