BERNALILLO — Leaders of Rio Rancho area local governments are pushing to maintain their own elections and get state money for local projects during the upcoming legislative session.
Mayors Gregg Hull of Rio Rancho, Jack Torres of Bernalillo and Jo Anne Roake of Corrales, and Sandoval County Manager Wayne Johnson spoke about their legislative priorities Tuesday morning during the Sandoval Economic Alliance breakfast. It was in-person at the county administration building as well live-streamed.
When it comes to brick-and-mortar projects, Johnson said extending Paseo del Volcan to I-40 is the county’s first priority.
“We see PdV as being one of the keys to economic development and growth on the west side of the river,” he said.
The county is also prioritizing a more permanent animal shelter, which Johnson hopes will have an emergency veterinary clinic.
Thirdly, Sandoval County is asking for state money to add to funds it already has for a new public-safety complex.
“We’ve been chasing the rabbit, if you will, on the construction costs of this building for two, probably three years,” he said.
County leaders also want to remodel the 13th Judicial District Court building to have more courtrooms. To accommodate growth in cases for the next 15 years, Johnson hopes to have the sheriff’s office move from the district courthouse to the proposed public safety complex, remodel the vacated space and have the Sandoval County Magistrate Court move into the district court building.
Finally, Johnson and the county commission want to remodel the administration building to turn the third-floor commission chambers into offices and have the chambers moved to a new building beside the current administration building for convenience, security and expanded office space.
Hull highlighted a long list of project funding requests.
“The state said they have a silly amount of cash, so we’re going to ask for a silly amount of money, right?” he said.
Among those “asks” are $1.8 million for the next phase of Campus Park, $1.3 million for the next phase of Broadmoor Senior Center and multiple requests for public-safety vehicles. City leaders are also hoping for $350,000 to rehabilitate Sabana Grande Recreation Center.
“That’s a highly used facility, one of our original buildings, and it really needs some attention at this point,” Hull said.
He said the city opposes any legislation that would diminish home-rule authority, including its ability to manage its own elections. He said he had concerns that mingling municipal issues with those of other jurisdictions on a ballot would cause confusion.
“I get a little bit of angst when we want to hand off non-partisan elections to a partisan elected official that would oversee that,” Hull added. “We’ve done really well with our elections over the past 40 years, so we’d like to make sure we continue with that.”
The city’s legislative priorities also include additional mental-health resources and money to help public safety workers assist people in crisis; having the state continue hold-harmless payments to local governments to make up for revenue lost when the gross receipts tax on food was removed; and allowing people who earned retirements benefits from the Public Employees Retirement Association, especially law enforcement officers, to return to work without losing their benefits.
Torres said Bernalillo’s governing body members and employees also preferred to manage their own municipal elections.
“Just changing the date alone, from March to November, would not be a good thing for our community,” he said.
Torres said Bernalillo leaders oppose removal of hold-harmless provisions, but support behavioral health resources, especially crisis intervention teams that would work with multiple agencies and return-to-work provisions for PERA retirees.
“It impacts all of us,” Torres said of return-to-work rules.
Torres said return-to-work provisions should include restrictions to prevent abuse, but he would like to allow law enforcement, fire and water or wastewater system employees to go back to work after retirement because it’s hard to fill those positions.
Differing with the county, he and other Bernalillo governing body members oppose the extension of PdV.
“… The biggest concerns we have really factor around the impact to our community in terms of additional traffic through 550,” he said.
If 75,000 cars or more roll down US 550 every day on the way to PdV or other places, Torres said, the road wouldn’t be able to handle the load, making town businesses hard to get to and thus hurting their income.
Torres and other Bernalillo leaders also want the legislature to cap interest rates on payday loans at 36 percent.
“They suck dollars out of your community,” Torres said of payday lenders.
When it comes to brick-and-mortar projects, Bernalillo representatives are asking for $15 million to improve the town’s wastewater treatment plant, several million more to improve the water system and $5 million for a new fire station to expand services.
Roake, who isn’t running for re-election, spoke last.
“We are in the same boat in terms of many of the issues that confront us, particularly local municipal authority and autonomy,” she said.
The state has passed civil rights and cannabis legislation without thinking about town like Corrales, she said, causing worries about future legal and financial liabilities. Like Rio Rancho and Bernalillo, Corrales leaders want to keep their own local elections.
Regarding projects, Corrales is asking for $16.5 million to install a sewer system, protecting more than 1,500 homes, she said. The village doesn’t have a water and wastewater system, so most residents use wells and septic tanks.
“We really believe there are some issues with our groundwater. We really need to circle back and look at a decent wastewater sewer kind of hookup,” she said.
A sewer system won’t affect wells, Roake said, but will protect groundwater quality.
Village leaders are also asking for money for a firetruck, police equipment, building remodels and $10 million for a multi-generational center for economic and cultural events.
“I hope we will be successful in getting some traction on our larger asks,” Roake said.