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Proposing Placitas County

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two Placitas residents want to form new county

Fed up with being part of Sandoval County, two Placitas residents say it’s time the community became a county in its own right.

Charles Mellon and resident Gary Miles have spent Saturday mornings for the past couple of months sitting beside Highway 165 just east of Interstate 25, seeking to persuade passing drivers to sign a petition.

It begins: “We the People of Placitas and the surrounding areas declare our intent to create a new county to provide the benefits of self-government, to gain representation for the citizens of our community and to enjoy the benefits of our own labor and taxes.”

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Placitas is in Sandoval County.

The declaration lists grievances that they say Placitas residents have endured, including increases in property taxes, incompetence and scandals among Sandoval County elected officials, and absence of political clout at the county level.

“We’re just not represented,” Miles said.

Mellon himself ran for the County Commission District 1 seat this year, and for county treasurer in 2008, but he was unsuccessful.

Mellon estimated between 100 and 150 people had signed the Placitas County petition by Nov. 19, in an effort to persuade the governor and state legislators to take the necessary action to create the new county.

A website Miles launched recently, www.placitascounty.com, shows boundaries for the proposed Placitas County stretching east and north of Interstate 25 to the Santa Fe County line. The southern border would be the Bernalillo County line.

The website gives a list of “the top ten reasons why your life will be better in Placitas County,” which includes community policing, state-of-the-art fire protection, and “better services for your tax dollars.”

That approach can be misleading, said Paul Gutierrez, executive director for New Mexico Association of Counties, an organization that provides training for elected county officials and employees.

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By law, he said, each county must have an elected commission, a clerk, assessor, sheriff, treasurer and probate judge. Other requirements include a county administration building, courthouse, jail arrangements and providing for public health and safety through road programs, health programs and solid-waste handling.

Separation “sounds good on the surface, but when you get into the details of all the public health and safety services you have to provide, it gets pretty expensive pretty quick,” Gutierrez said.

At a recent meeting when Mellon discussed his Placitas County proposal, Sandoval County Commissioner Donnie Leonard pointed out the community has few businesses or commercial properties to yield the sales tax revenue that typically contribute significantly to local government revenues.

Mellon told the Journal he believes a Placitas County, with the population he estimates at 6,000, could pay for the necessary administration and services through property taxes.

Gutierrez warned that by law, residential property taxes can increase by only 3 percent annually, unless a home is sold, which could mean a new, smaller county might have to raise tax rates to meet its financial obligations.

Mellon first pushed the idea of creating a Placitas County in 2003 when he proposed to Sandoval County commissioners that a referendum of Placitas residents be held to gauge support for the concept. The commission did not take action on Mellon’s proposal.

The power to create a new county ultimately rests with the Legislature, Gutierrez said.

It has happened before. In 1981, the western portion of Valencia County, including the communities of Grants and Gallup, separated to form Cibola County.

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