South Valley City Limits
Residents work toward self-governance
By Marisa Demarco
Seven city councilors would vote to support the South Valley in its efforts to become its own city, town or village. So said the South Valley Incorporation Group at a Wednesday, April 23, meeting.
Early estimates put the number of people in the area at 41,000 to 44,000.
Councilor Don Harris was missing from that number because he couldn't be reached, said Mike Ciesielski. Jerome Padilla, Ciesielski, Rep. Miguel Garcia and others visited each of the councilors and asked how they would vote if a resolution came before the Council. The resolution would allow the South Valley to move forward with its petition to Bernalillo County to hold an election and a census. One meeting attendee expressed offense at having to ask Albuquerque for permission to incorporate, saying, "They don't ask our permission to dump on us."
The group has not yet contacted Mayor Martin Chavez, who would also have to approve the incorporation effort, said Garcia. "The group decided to hold off on meeting with the mayor until we actually have a draft proposal for the City Council," Garcia said. But, he added, if Chavez chose to veto the measure, "we have the votes in the City Council to override the veto."
The South Valley may not even need the city's approval due to a legal loophole, said Randy Van Vleck, attorney for the New Mexico Municipal League, a nonprofit that provides services to incorporated municipalities. "That would be a huge leap in your favor," he told the audience of about 50 at Rio Grande High School.
"One Approach Toward Autonomy"
Garcia, a state legislator who represents a portion of the area, spoke of independence. "We've got the desire," he added. "It's an ideal that is long in the making." Garcia made a point of trying to dispel the notion that Albuquerque wouldn't let the South Valley become its own entity. "That myth has kept us from really making things happen in our community," he said.
Albuquerque and Bernalillo County are always at odds with one another, Garcia said, and the South Valley ends up in the crossfire. The county has a hard time providing basic services to the area, Garcia said. In 1996, the South Valley voted down an effort to create the South Valley County. In 2003, the area voted against city-county unification. "That only leaves us with one approach toward autonomy, to self-governance, toward empowerment as a community and local government," he said.
"This is Going to Cost Money"
Van Vleck, an expert on incorporation, offered some words of caution. "The decision as to what level of service this community is going to provide is also up to you, because—don't kid yourselves—this is going to cost money." If the South Valley were to incorporate, it would be responsible for things like law enforcement, a fire department and emergency medical services, among other things. "You want better roads? You're going to have to fund that. You want more parks? You're going to have to fund that," Van Vleck said.
He also explained the process. First, the incorporation group needs to come up with a name and solidify its boundaries. The group might run into some trouble with the map it's set up so far, he added, because the law requires a population density of one person per acre. "What you're going to have to do is scale back from the West a bit," he said, referring to an area that is sparsely populated. Then the group needs to circulate a petition and get the signatures of 200 South Valley residents who are registered to vote. Finally, a census must be conducted to determine, among other things, whether the South Valley can afford to be a municipality.
Gross receipts taxes provide 77 percent of a city's income, Van Vleck said. "What the study is going to show is whether or not there is sufficient business to generate gross receipts taxes so you can have a viable community."
"Bringing in the Shoestrings"
Looking at the map, in the sea of tan that is the area the group would like to incorporate, little pockets of blue emerge. Some of the blue puddles are "shoestring annexations," areas of land Albuquerque has claimed as its own. One such annexation is under a Wal-Mart, which generates a notable chunk of change from gross receipts taxes. Those taxes go to the city of Albuquerque because of the annexation. "We would have to be our own municipality before we could even look at bringing in the shoestrings," Garcia said. Another blue section encircles the Metropolitan Detention Center, an area the group wants to stay under Bernalillo County's control.
Would incorporation mean the South Valley would have to be home to more businesses? "We want manufacturing. We want businesses to locate in our town," Garcia said. "That's what solidifies economic stability for our community."
At the end of a list of tasks is a ballot question: Should the South Valley become its own municipality? But elections cost money to run, even mail-in ballots like the one Garcia's planning. Garcia said he got a price estimate from Bernalillo County for an election of about $125,000. He and other area legislators brought down $78,000 from the state Legislature to help fund it, though Garcia contends it's Bernalillo County's responsibility to pay for it. "All of us here have the right to vote on the South Valley incorporation, either thumbs-up or thumbs-down," Ciesielski said. "That's our right. Nobody can take that away from us." The group is hoping to hold its election in January of 2009 or January 2010.
Garcia secured $45,000 from the state Legislature for a study conducted by UNM about the financial ins and outs of a South Valley incorporation. The study should be completed before June. Garcia said the incorporation could also help the area have more influence in the state Legislature. "It will cause greater awareness among South Valley state legislators," he said. "I don't think we really utilize our influence in a unified manner. Why? Because our boundaries are real helter-skelter."
The South Valley Incorporation Group meets on the second Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. in the Rio Grande High School library. If you have questions, call Rep. Garcia at 877-8131.
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