We Can't Have our Cake and Eat it, too! (or can we?)
05/06/2015 - Editorial by Renee Wilkins
At a recent Governing Body meeting the audience was chastised for wanting roads and services yet not wanting taxes to increase. This is the age-old frustration one feels when they are between a rock and a hard place. It’s difficult to get re-elected with a record of tax and fee increases.
It’s all about the attitude. We don’t want a Governing Body that indiscriminately jumps into hazards, nor do we want nail-biters who fear to take a step. Consider risk vs. reward and make decisions that create an atmosphere conducive to increasing our tax base without increasing taxes.
The Special Committee on Impact Fees took 6 months to recommend three options: (1) take no action; (2) perform a “short” study; or (3) a “long” study. The committee felt it was unfair they were ‘boxed in” by the pending lawsuit filed two years ago by Curb, Inc. Unfortunately, the longer we go without a decision, the longer businesses will sit in a holding pattern. Everyone knew the moratorium’s expiration date existed at its inception, yet the new majority waited until last September when it ended to begin addressing it. We’ve had just one commercial building permit since September.
Make lemonade out of lemons. During this week’s budget hearings, city staff implemented a modest, but heartening, $92k development fund to help offset the fact that Rio Rancho’s impact fees are 2-3 times higher than Albuquerque’s. This spurred Councilor Wilkins’ bold idea to create a new development program within the Utilities Fund. This program could be used to match water and sewer infrastructure costs for businesses required to pay impact fees for that infrastructure. By doing this, the city can keep overall costs down while they move forward with the study on impact fees. For a decade the city has employed some interesting avenues of dipping into the Utilities Fund to supplement the General Fund budget, as highlighted in recent months by the Utilities Commission and others. Wilkins’ proposed development fund would be a straight forward way of using this vibrant fund to everyone’s advantage; incentivizing businesses, providing necessary utilities infrastructure and increasing the city’s revenue, with the ultimate goal of keeping taxes lower for citizens.
Staying competitive and a step ahead are crucial to drawing businesses, gross receipts and jobs. The councilors who implemented the moratorium did not sit around blaming the previous governing body for giving the impact fee credits to Curb, Inc. for installing infrastructure in Cabezon beyond ordinance requirements. They assessed the situation, sought legal advice and made a decision that the reward was greater than the risk. During the moratorium, Rio Rancho saw the 3rd highest rate of commercial permits in the history of our city. Curb was given concessions as part of the moratorium: extending the period of time they could sell their impact fee credits by two years; and softening the reduction of residential impact fees to 50%, so Curb could continue to sell their credits during the moratorium. I’d say Curb made out just fine.
From 2012-2014 the city’s revenue, road maintenance fund and savings account increased, all while reducing fees and easing restrictions on businesses and residents. They proved that we can have our cake and eat it, too. For the newest Governing Body members, the challenge is listening to people who are able to think outside that “box” to end the 2015-2016 trends of increasing expenditures and decreasing revenue that inevitably lead to tax hikes.