Usually when there are 50,000 people concentrated in one relatively small segment of land, we call it a city. Not so, however, in the case of the South Valley, an unincorporated area that receives its public services from the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. But that may soon change.
A number of South Valley residents want the area to become its own city [Newscity, "Could the South Valley Become Its Own City?" Aug. 16-22] so that it may reflect the values of their community, parts of which are older than Albuquerque.
If the South Valley incorporates, it will provide its own public services and will support itself by taxing its own citizens instead of paying taxes to Albuquerque. On Monday, Aug. 20, that dream took an important first step to becoming a reality with the release of maps with the proposed boundaries for the hopeful city. It marked the first step of many in the long journey toward incorporation.
“We want to look at how much revenue will come out of those boundaries and if that revenue could cover the expenditures for a separate municipality,” says Mike Ciesielski, a volunteer with the South Valley Incorporation Study Advisory Group.
On Aug. 20 the Advisory Group, which consists of a dozen longtime residents of the South Valley, approved the proposed boundaries. Now that the lines have been drawn, researchers at the University of New Mexico’s Institute for Applied Research Services’ Bureau of Business and Economic Research can dig into the feasibility study to see if the hypothetical city could support itself with its tax base.
The brunt of the budget for most New Mexican municipalities comes from an individual city’s gross receipts tax, which allows businesses to operate within the state of New Mexico. Each city determines its own gross receipts tax, and if the South Valley were to become a municipality, the tax would fall around 7 percent.
“This is the bread and butter for municipalities in New Mexico. They also have property taxes, but the yield for the property tax is usually much less than from the gross receipts tax," says Dr. Lee A. Reynis, director of the Bureau. "Gross receipt taxes provide around 70 percent of the funding source for all New Mexican municipalities.”
A city’s tax base provides funding for all city-sponsored services, from fire and police to public schools. If granted incorporation, the South Valley would become responsible for all of those resources, and if something went wrong, residents could no longer blame Bernalillo County or the City of Albuquerque for mismanagement.
“If we do end up becoming our own municipality or our own city, we know who to point the finger at,” says Ciesielski.
The county does provide services to the South Valley, a point County Commissioner Teresa Cordova, who represents the South Valley, would like to emphasize.
“One of the things that people are saying is that they are not getting services, which they are," says Cordova, "They get extensive services. The county is providing capital improvements and community services to this area.”
If made a city, the South Valley would remain within Bernalillo County, which would take on a reduced role within the area. But whether or not the county provides services to the Valley is not the point, at least according to some South Valley residents.
“The people who have lived here for many years are concerned with self-determination and [being able to take] responsibility for decisions," says Ciesielski. "What has gone on in the past in the South Valley is when something goes wrong, you can always point your finger at somebody else, because we are not in control, we don’t make the decisions.”
The feasibility study began July 1, following a $45,000 legislative appropriation sponsored by State Rep. Miguel Garcia, who represents the South Valley, but little could be done before the boundaries were decided. The study could take until June 2008 to complete, and it won’t provide any immediate answers.
“We’re not making any guesses. We’re going to do the analysis and see what it says. We’re hoping to tackle the gross receipts tax in the next month or so and then move on to the property tax,” says Reynis.
First, however, the Bureau will determine the employment base for the South Valley by examining activity at local businesses. Then they will analyze the area's economic growth over its history and attempt to project where it might go in the future.
“The city will be watching as the fiscal feasibility analysis rolls out and they continue to explore their options,” says Gail Reese, chief financial officer for the City of Albuquerque.
This is not the first time the South Valley has attempted incorporation. In 1995 the area tried to become its own county, but a similar feasibility study deemed the proposed county wouldn’t have had a sufficient tax base with which to fund their services.
“At the time, I thought they would have had a better chance to be incorporated if they had tried to be a municipality,” says Reynis, who was not with the Bureau at the time.
Ciesielski hopes this time around the South Valley will be more successful. “The county may provide us with services," he says, "but if we’re not in control, what good is it?”