There were two special elections yesterday, each for proposed incorporations in South Valleys. The first, and biggest, Atrisco, was in the South Valley of Albuquerque, where voters voted by an overwhelming majority (93%) against incorporation.
The second was in our own South Valley, where voters voted strongly (73%)in favor of incorporation.
The openness of the process by which incorporation came to be debated by citizens in each case was a study in contrasts. In the Albuquerque case, an advisory committee was formed two years ago (see my blog on July 1), providing multiple opportunities for citizens to meet, inform themselves, and debate the pros and cons of incorporation. Citizens participated in the process by which proposed city limits were drawn. Information meetings were held to discuss the kinds of services that might be expected, the impact of incorporation on taxes, etc. It is quite clear now that the more citizens learned about the implications of incorporation the more they opposed it. From remarks given to reporters last night, citizens simply concluded the costs of incorporation (additional taxes, limited services, the creation of a hungry bureaucracy) outweighed the benefits (more autonomy, more focused planning). From all indications, most people in the affected area knew about the elections, understood the implications, and voted against it.
In the case of Anthony there was no advisory committee formed. Citizens never met in an open process to ask questions, exchange information, debate. At the last minute (Dec. 17, in the middle of the holiday season), concerned about the lack of information, a resident of Anthony, Theresa Fisher, organized an information meeting, asking county Assessor Gary Perez to discuss the tax consequences of incorporation. Most citizens who attended the meeting expressed strong gratitude they were at last learning useful things at that meeting. The next night, at a church-held rally in favor of incorporation, Fisher was accused of being an "outside agitator," and when people stood up to explain she was an Anthony resident, they were invited to leave. Santa Fe attorney Frank Coppler) accused Perez of using "scare tactics" because he had simply pointed out that Mesilla, Hatch, and Sunland Park had raised property taxes when they incorporated. Coppler went on to imply that there might not be any need at all to raise taxes, since some gross receipts taxes now paid to the county would go to the municipality. But he never discussed how much that might be, nor what his evidence was, and the clear tone of the meeting was that open discussion or debate about incorporation was not to be tolerated.
From everything I've seen very few people in the affected area of Anthony knew there were elections forthcoming for incorporation, much less where the boundary lines were located, and even less what some of the implications of incorporation might be. This might explain why only one in five residents voted on the issue in Anthony, in contrast to the Atrisco case, where it is clear most people were well informed, and almost one in three persons voted.
The election is over, and Anthony will in due time incorporate itself. As stated here before, incorporation can have strong positive benefits, depending on the quality of the leadership. Let us hope that the process of incorporation will more transparent from here on out.