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Voters to weigh in soon on $9M road repair bond

The fate of a $9 million general obligation bond issue for road improvements is in the hands of city voters in the March 1 City of Rio Rancho municipal election.

The Rio Rancho Governing Body decided to put the measure on the ballot in December. When voters head to the polls, this is what they’ll be asked: “Shall the City of Rio Rancho issue up to $9,000,000 of general obligation bonds, to be repaid from property taxes, for the purpose of designing, constructing, repairing, preserving, rehabilitating, enhancing and otherwise improving roads?”

City officials estimate that if the bond is passed, the owner of a $100,000 home would see a property tax increase of about $7.30 for the next two years.

How would the money be spent? According to the city’s website:

⋄  The reconstruction of High Resort Boulevard (from Broadmoor Boulevard to NM 528) at a current estimated cost of $6.5 million.

⋄  Mill and inlay work on Sara Road (between NM 528 and Southern Boulevard) at a current estimated cost of $2.3 million.

⋄  Under the Delma M. Petrullo Art in Public Places ordinance, 1 percent of the proceeds of each general obligation bond issuance is to be dedicated to works of permanent public art that enhance the city environment.

⋄  Bond issuance costs.

⋄  Any remaining funds would be used for additional road-related work as directed by the governing body.

In a guest column in the Rio Rancho Observer in December, City Manager Keith Riesberg referred to the bond issue vote as an “opportunity for the community to make an investment in itself.”

“Local government must also make investments to not only meet the needs of its citizens, but also to support private sector projects and ensure the community is a place where such investment wants to be and can flourish,” he said. “One of the ways government can accomplish these objectives is by taking care of public infrastructure such as roads.”

A general obligation bond cycle could provide a recurring and predictable source of funds for infrastructure, according to city staff.

“If voters approve this bond question, every two years going forward, with voter approval, an additional $9 million could be made available for city needs such as additional road projects without a corresponding property tax increase,” Riesberg said. “To put this into perspective, this would mean an additional $45 million of public investment infused into the community over the next 10 years.”

Harry Gordon, the husband of City Councilor Cheryl Everett and a 13-year resident of Rio Rancho, is a taxpayer who is not overly enthusiastic about a hike in his taxes.

“Over the years, past administrations and city staff made a lot of mistakes that are now negatively impacting us and continue to cost Rio Rancho taxpayers lots of money,” he stated in an Observer guest column published in November. “As for the road situation, for years city leadership and staff allowed developers to build substandard roads in residential developments. These roads are now failing or have failed, and the fix is very expensive.”

But he added, “The reality is, there is no more roadway left to kick the can down. If citizens want all these fixes now or in the near term, they have to be willing to pay the piper.”

Councilors were split 3-3 on the proposal to put the road bond question on the ballot, with Mayor Gregg Hull voting in favor of the measure to break the tie.

“It’s not where I stand on the road bond, but getting the (question) out to the voters so they can make an informed decision,” Hull said. “The tie I broke was to send it to the voters. As a community, we need to explore every option on how we’re going to repair our infrastructure.”

Councilors Chuck Wilkins, Mark Scott and Dawnn Robinson voted “no” on the measure.

In an interview with the Observer last week, Scott disputed the claim that the GO bond is business-friendly.

“Commercial property and business owners in this town should be taking a pitchfork and torches to elected officials who raise taxes,” he said.

The outgoing District 4 representative said there’s a 3 percent yield control cap on raising residential property taxes, but not so for commercial property. Scott, who plans on relocating out of Rio Rancho soon, contended another property tax increase would drive the private sector, investors and businesses overall away from Rio Rancho.

“We have a bond and then another bond,” said Scott. “Then there’s a property tax increase and guess what? There’s a water rate increase. If we keep this up, nobody is going to bring their businesses here.”

Scott used his own business as an example.

“My property taxes have gone up 54 percent since 2008 – during a recession,” he said. “My commercial rents have gone down 30 percent since 2008 – during a recession. I can’t even get an offer on my building.”

Gordon said he felt the current city administration is not at fault.

“They have to work with the hand dealt them,” he said. “Remember Rome was not built in a day, and Rio Rancho will not be rebuilt overnight.”

Passing road bonds is not something Rio Ranchoans do easily.

In a 2011 special election, an overwhelming majority of the 3,102 residents who voted rejected a $22 million bond GO bond issue for road design, construction, repair, enhancement and improvements over four years. Including absentee and early voters, 2,160 voted against the bond.