Letter To Editor: SF County Working To Benefit Espanola Residents

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Letter To Editor: SF County Working To Benefit Espanola Residents

By Henry P. Roybal, Santa Fe County Commissioner – District 1

Recent court filings and newspaper articles suggest that Santa Fe County (“SFC”) doesn’t want to work with the City of Española (“Española”) and Rio Arriba County (“RAC”) and is acting illegally to prevent RAC from annexing the Española portion of SFC.  As the County Commissioner for SFC District 1, I am writing to set the record straight.   

Knowing the financial challenges facing Española, I and my fellow commissioners budgeted funds for Fiscal Year 2016 (July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016) to help Española with the joint RAC-Española 911 dispatch center.  Unfortunately, before that fiscal year began, Española sued SFC over the SFC Hold Harmless Gross Receipts Tax (HHGRT), a countywide tax enacted to fund County facilities and infrastructure. 

Española’s lawsuit isn’t just about the SFC HHGRT.  Española’s legal arguments would invalidate all HHGRTs enacted by counties and municipalities statewide, including the Española HHGRT. 

This situation is like having a neighbor who is struggling financially.  But, when you offer to help, the neighbor tries to force both of you to take a pay cut. 

Earlier this summer, I met with Española officials.  I left the meeting optimistic that the lawsuit would be dropped and our governments could work together on various projects.  Española, however, decided to press on with its lawsuit, making such collaboration impossible.  Would you help a neighbor who was actively trying to harm itself and you?

Legally, the annexation issue is straightforward.  Pursuant to state law, because of the location and conditions of roads, or the existence or nonexistence of transportation facilities, it must be both more convenient for residents of the Española portion of SFC to travel to the county seat of RAC – Tierra Amarilla – rather than the county seat of SFC – the City of Santa Fe – and more convenient and economical for RAC to provide services to the Española portion of SFC. 

The annexation petition that was submitted to the SFC Board of County Commissioners this May did not address both conditions.  It alleged that it would be more convenient and economical for RAC to provide services to the Española portion of SFC.  It did not, however, allege that it would be more convenient for Española residents to travel to Tierra Amarilla.  The Board acted properly to disapprove the legally defective petition.

RAC sued SFC over the annexation petition, accusing SFC elected officials and staff of underhanded and illegal acts.  RAC’s scathing allegations are untrue and most unfortunate, as I could imagine SFC collaborating with RAC on various projects.  Would you work with a neighbor while they are hurling insults and untruths at you? 

The benefits of annexation to SFC residents within Española are far from clear anyway.  

Municipal residents receive many core governmental services directly from their municipality.  Annexation would not change much, if anything, in terms of the municipal services that SFC residents receive from Española, 

With regard to services provided by a county to all county residents, such as voting, property tax collection, and property valuation, SFC’s services are some of the best.  The SFC Clerk offers extended early voting opportunities throughout SFC.  The SFC Treasurer allows property taxes to be paid online and offers extended office hours throughout SFC during tax season.  The SFC Assessor’s innovated efforts in customer service have recently been recognized by the International Association of Assessing Officers. 

Frivolous lawsuits prevent governing bodies from collaborating.  It’s time for RAC and Española to tell their attorneys to put down their pens and for their elected officials to pick up their phones.  Only then can we can work together for the residents of SFC, RAC, and Española.  Regardless of previous litigation, I remain committed to serve the constituents in the affected area and all of Santa Fe County.

About the Author:  Henry P. Roybal is the Santa Fe County Commissioner for Commission District 1; he took office on January 1, 2015.  He encourages residents with questions regarding the proposed annexation, pending litigation, or Santa Fe County government to contact him at hproybal@santafecountynm.gov or his liaison, Orlando Romero, at oromero@santafecountynm.gov.  Santa Fe County’s response to the Rio Arriba County lawsuit is available on the County’s website.