It may be time for southern Sandoval County communities to pull together to form a regional water authority to tackle future water needs in the area, Rio Rancho Mayor Tom Swisstack said Friday.
Swisstack joined Mayor Jack Torres of Bernalillo and Mayor Phil Gasteyer of Corrales for a “State of the Cities in Sandoval County” panel discussion at the quarterly membership meeting of the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce, attended by more than 100 people at the Destiny Center.
They addressed economic development and the impact on the county. Topics ranged from greatest challenges to creating jobs to the impact of home-based businesses to infrastructure needs.
Torres, who disclosed he will seek re-election, rated water issues among the biggest infrastructure challenges facing Bernalillo.
“I’m really worried that our whole region, not just the Rio Grande Valley, (but) the state, the Southwest, is really walking down a slippery slope and it scares me to death,” he said. “The more I learn about water, the more I learn about the realities of how finite the information is — we really don’t know how much water our aquifer has — the tribes have propriety information they prefer not to share … I’m sincerely concerned about what the future will bring for our grandchildren.”
Swisstack, addressing the infrastructure question, said for the city to tackle deteriorating roads and water lines and provide more sidewalks and recreational amenities, “We, as a community, are going to seriously have to decide how you want to address those issues.
“Those issues generally are addressed by most local governments as an ongoing continuous bond cycle,” he said. “Once you put it on a bond cycle, your property will be taxed, but it will be taxed according to the value of your home.”
He noted city voters passed one bond issue, but the most recent one failed, taking the city off the cycle.
Swisstack agreed with Torres’s comment on water.
He also said, “Why don’t we, as a county, as small municipalities, start to look at developing our own water authority like Albuquerque and Bernalillo (County) have? How do we start to acquire water collectively to take care of our respective southern end of Sandoval County, because that’s where the growth and development is going to occur?”
Gasteyer, who is undecided about seeking another term, noted that the village relies on domestic wells and septic tanks. He said he has been an advocate for beginning a sanitary sewer system, but added, “The only thing that’s flowing down that sewer system to Albuquerque at the moment are my re-election chances.”
He said as local government shoulders more of the burden to provide public services, its challenge will continue to be “how to pay for these big-ticket items like providing sanitation and basic water and sewer.”