Insights: Rio Rancho’s neural network needs updating

Cheryl Everett Rio Rancho resident and former city councilor

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — In the last two years, the City of Rio Rancho has raised roughly $4.1 million in municipal bonds to fund police vehicles and other public-safety equipment that had exceeded its useful life.

In the samae time period, the city requested and received more than $10 million in bond funding to rebuild major Rio Rancho thoroughfares.

In contrast, the city’s information technology (IT) system, which serves the data needs of all city departments, is functioning at standards from over a decade ago. It operates — barely — only because city staff has managed to augment its antiquated functions with Excel spreadsheets.

But Band-Aids will not always be an option. Eventually software patches for the current system will no longer exist, and there will be no service providers to keep it operating.

Citizen support for funding public safety and roads has been demonstrated in public opinion surveys and affirmed in mayoral and city council races over the last several years. Public safety and roads are widely regarded as the city’s most critical needs, and rightly so.

But is knowledge power? How would we know?

We do know that technology moves fast; software, hardware and vendor charges are moving targets.

Meanwhile, in the 15 years I’ve been involved with city government, overhauling or replacing the IT system is seldom seriously considered.

For one thing, upgrading the system will cost several million dollars. And as one onlooker wryly observed: “Information technology isn’t as ‘sexy’ a cause as police protection and passable roadways.”

Still, I was cautiously optimistic when I walked into a Rio Rancho Governing Body work session recently to hear a consultant’s report on addressing the city’s IT needs. What followed was, to put it kindly, uninspiring.

The $70,000 study presented five options for the mayor and councilors to consider. These ranged from “do nothing,” to training on better use of the current system, to upgrading or partially replacing the current system, to installation of a new system.

Governing body members posed questions to the consultant about costs associated with each option. But not many answers were forthcoming.

After the meeting, when I asked one councilor which option he/she would favor, the response was “do nothing” until we have better information.

So we won’t have a better information system until we have better information? The irony speaks volumes about Rio Rancho’s existential dilemma.

Many local leaders talk a good game about “the City of Vision” and our need to attract new business if we’re ever to break out of our “bedroom community” orbit around the city of Albuquerque.

But where is our “political will” to risk partisan disfavor by raising taxes or issuing bonds to pay for what it takes to become a world-class city?

About 20 percent of Rio Rancho’s population routinely complains about city government but refuses to pay for fixes. If and when the other 80 percent steps up to speak and vote for adequate government funding, Rio Rancho can truly fulfill its promise as a self-sufficient community with an efficient, data-driven city government.

(Cheryl Everett is a Rio Rancho resident and former city councilor.)

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