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Empty homes neglected, vandalized

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Nearly three years after passing an ordinance to keep foreclosed properties from becoming magnets for vandals and graffiti artists, Rio Rancho councilors say neighborhoods are still rife with neglected homes.

This week, councilors spent half their monthly work session discussing how to find a practical, cost-effective way to combat the problem. The work sessions give councilors an opportunity to discuss issues publicly without taking any action.

Councilor Cheryl Everett, who opened the discussion, said about one in five of the homes on the Enchanted Hills neighborhood streets she walked during her election campaign were empty. Councilor Lonnie Clayton estimated there were more than 700 foreclosed on homes in Rio Rancho, some lacking garage doors, roofs and covered with graffiti.

In December 2011, councilors passed an ordinance requiring financial institutions that own foreclosed properties in Rio Rancho to register them with the city, maintain landscaping and secure the property from intruders. Violators are subject to citation into Municipal Court for a petty misdemeanor.

In 2013, 645 properties were registered. To date, 284 have been registered this year, city spokesman Peter Wells said.

City Attorney Jennifer Vega-Brown said the ordinance doesn’t give the city the power to compel a financial institution to clean up a neglected foreclosed home. She told councilors she is researching how the city’s nuisance abatement ordinance, which is separate from the ordinance targeting foreclosed homes, could be made more effective.

At present, the city can petition the District Court for an inspection order, but it is a months-long process.

She is also looking at creating a uniform housing code for Rio Rancho that would spell out in more detail the conditions under which the city could intervene.

Some councilors were concerned about how the city would pay for more intervention.

In an interview later, Councilor Mark Scott said he thought the 2011 ordinance was helping.

“But we don’t have the budget and manpower to be more aggressive,” Scott said.

Also at the work session, councilors discussed establishing an apprentice program. Councilor Lonnie Clayton suggested creating apprenticeship positions for the city’s vehicle maintenance workshop and possibly other departments. He said it would help provide a pipeline of skilled workers who could replace those who retire or go elsewhere.

Councilor Chuck Wilkins wants to ensure that such a program would not mean extra costs for the city.

Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce President Debbi Moore, who sits on the Central New Mexico Community College board, said CNM offers courses with concentrations in diesel mechanics and is looking for job opportunities for its students.

“We are open for discussion,” Moore said.

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