Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Tale of Two Proposed South Valley Cities: Atrisco and Anthony

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.


Theresa Fisher said...

With incorporation approved, when will public meetings be held for input from residents? Concerns include the selection of leadership both elected and appointed and the lack of a transition agreement to prevent the loss of services from the county before the municipality is ready. This happened in Sunland Park.

Jose Z. Garcia said...

Apparently there are no state regulations requiring public meetings after a vote for incorporation, just as there are no regulations that I know of requiring residents to be notified they are the target of an incorporation effort. Few people in Anthony even knew they could vote on an incorporation that would affect their tax burden.

Until the laws are tightened up requiring transparency, you are on your own, and if the past is a prelude to the future, promoters of incorporation will avoid providing information about any part of the process except to those of their choosing. If you want to help draw the lines you will have to do it on your own, or form a committee to do it, or seek help from the New Mexico Municipal League. I ran into Espy Holguin yesterday at a meeting and she indicated she would be willing to help people interested in the incorporation process, since she was deeply involved in Sunland Park's incorporation a long time ago.

leila said...

It may seem that "most people were well informed" of the issue of incorporation in the South Valley, but the high turnout was likely due to a massive fear campaign begun by our own County, who opposed the incorporation.

The citizens advisory committee was open and had been meeting for a couple years, but folks who opposed incorporation didn't come to these meetings. In fact, they only came out of the woodwork about 6 weeks before the vote, organized their own meetings, fundraised and planned a huge 'get out the vote' with signs and robo-calls. Their campaign cry was 'no new taxes', and even claimed that property taxes would triple, which was repeated on the evening news.

The county took the economic study and added arbitrary millions (from Farmington's budget!) to the town's suggested expenditure numbers to show significant tax increases or decreases in services. Our county commissioner also spent the last 6 weeks campaigning against incorporation (armed with these false numbers), and saying that he hadn't met a single constituent who was for it (apparently if you're for it, you're not his constituent, because I and other pro-incorp have met with him). Rather than listening to his constituents, he preached at them.

Some folks I know who worked the polls (early voting, and on election day) saw so much ignorance in the voters: elderly folks who came to vote 'against the tax increase' and folks who would complain about County services then say, 'That's why I'm voting against it'. Others who were sure that their County firefighting or police job would be lost, and still others who thought they were voting 'against joining the City of Albuquerque'. The news media also consistently misinformed saying 'the South Valley is voting to break away from the City of Albuquerque'-- but we are unincorporated! Apparently that is a difficult thing to understand. Many do not even know the meanings of the words 'incorporation' and 'municipality'.

The incorporation group never raised money or campaigned (had no idea what they would be up against), so the argument for an independent, local government (and a defense against Albuquerque's annexations and Bernalillo County's urbanization) didn't really get out there. So I wouldn't say that residents were all that informed on the benefits of incorporation.

From what I've read here, Anthony didn't do much better at informing, but from what I've learned of the benefits of municipalities in NM, I congratulate you and wish you the best of luck. You choose your elected officials and you decide what your new town's laws will be. NM State Shared Gross Receipts Taxes are a wonderful thing, and now they're yours.

Anonymous said...

Andrew Moralez For Mayor- can you purchase ads on this blog?

Jose Z. Garcia said...

As I've said before, Mr. Moralez does not live in the boundary lines of the proposed municipality and, as I understand it, is not eligible to run. If I'm wrong about this, let me know, because I would be enthusiastic about his running. Some people apparently wanted incorporation only because they thought they might be able to vote for Mr. Moralez.

Anonymous said...

I do not know why people are spreading the evil rumor that Mr Moralez does not live in Anthony and can not run for Mayor. Andrew Moralez will be the best person to do the hard job as mayor.