Albuquerque Journal
By Antonio Sanchez, Reporter
PUBLISHED: Feb 6, 2016

Impact fees and governing body cooperation were among the topics addressed by the hopefuls for three city council seats during a candidate forum at Premiere Cinemas on Thursday morning.

Eight of the 10 candidates for the districts 1, 4 and 6 council positions answered questions during the 1½-hour event sponsored by the NAIOP Rio Rancho Roundtable and moderated by Observer publisher Rocky Hayes.

The participants were Joshua Hernandez and Jim Owen, candidates for District 1; Marlene Feuer, Ron Hensley and Ryan Parra for District 4; and Cris Balzano, David Bency and Lonnie Clayton for District 6. District 1 candidate JoAnne Dudley and District 6 hopeful Chris Vanden-Heuvel did not attend.

The forum’s five questions were provided to the candidates prior to the event and each was allowed a one-minute response. Candidates also delivered 60-second opening and closing remarks.

Impact fees

The candidates offered a variety of opinions on the topic of impact fees — – payments developers make to the city to cover the cost of expanding infrastructure for a new development. In 2012, developer Curb North Inc. successfully sued Rio Rancho for enacting a two-year impact fee moratorium.

Hunsley and Parra said the city should lower impact fees, while Clayton and Feuer said it was too soon to form an opinion, saying they were waiting for an official court settlement in the Curb North case.

Although Hernandez and Balzano also said it was too soon to call, they agreed they would work to lower impact fees after a court ruling was made.

Businesses should be better educated about the city’s impact fees, said Owen, while Bency said city officials should question why Albuquerque’s impact fees are half of Rio Rancho’s fees.

Public/private partnerships and GO bond for roads

The candidates were in near-unanimous agreement – public/private partnerships are great for Rio Rancho and residents should vote for the proposed general obligation bond issue to improve the city’s roads.

Hensley was the lone candidate not fully supporting public/private partnerships, saying, “It always makes me a little nervous” when government entities work with for-profit entities.

“I don’t think a partnership is really the appropriate approach – I think a cooperative government is the appropriate approach,” Hensley said. “When we get involved in trying to develop properties for profit, we get behind in other responsibilities.”

Each candidate agreed that the city’s roads need to be improved. If approved, property taxes for residents with a $100,000 home would increase by approximately $7.30.

“S.O.S. – Save Our Streets,” Bency said. “If our streets keep crumbling like they are, people are going to start losing their home values.”

Owen said although he supports the general obligation bond measure, it is not his preferred option for fixing the city’s roads.

“I really understand what is happening with our senior citizens on fixed incomes,” Owen said. “It’s made to seem that a $7 deal is not a big deal, but over time they’ll see this inching away when you’re on a fixed income, it’s difficult to continue to make a decision as whether to pay my mortgage or my meds or whatever the case may be.”

Job development

A lack of available open space and physical plants hinders the city’s chances at bringing out-of-state businesses to the area, Clayton said.

“When businesses come to town and they say, ‘What’s available,’ at this point in time we are at a shortage of physical plants,” he said. “Some of the businesses come to town and say, ‘You don’t have available plants; we don’t want to build one.’”

Feuer and Hensley said the city should focus more on finding opportunities to make Rio Rancho more business-friendly; Feuer suggested streamlining the process for a business to settle in the city, while Hensley said the city should lower costs of business development.

Parra said he will listen to the public’s wants in regard to new businesses for the area.

“I believe myself, as a city councilor or any other city councilor, should be active in hearing from the business leaders and constituents in finding out about what type of businesses or sectors we need to grow,” Parra said. “If my constituents say ‘Hey, Mr. Parra, we need a Trader Joe’s,’ I will voice their concerns to the chamber or the Sandoval Economic Alliance to see what we could to bring them into our economy.”

Hernandez, Parra and Balzano made reference to the Sandoval Economic Alliance, each saying the organization has done a good job attracting businesses to the area.

Job retention, Owen said, should be a priority. He said the city needs to stop losing jobs and focus on creating opportunities with current businesses in the area.

Ability to compromise

Balzano said he was aware of the arguing among city council members last year – it was an issue brought to his attention by residents of District 6, and his wife.

“Last year, I had an opportunity to take my wife to the last city council meeting. She turned to me after the meeting, she looked at me and said ‘Do you really want to be a part of this?’” he said. “I looked at her and said ‘I’m not going to embarrass you.’”

Hernandez said his experience as manager of Club Rio Rancho, overseeing 100 employees, will help him get things accomplished with other council members.

“Council meetings need to stop being a drama show, like on TV,” Hernandez said. “We’re going to have disagreements, we need to do it at work sessions and not in front of TV cameras – it makes our city look bad.”

“Confrontation happens” was a sentiment echoed by most of the candidates – Bency and Hensley said the issue should speak for itself; Owen said attacks should never get personal; Parra said confrontation could come when communication among council members becomes unclear; and Clayton said he never heard a word about confrontation during previous city council administrations.

Feuer, who was a member of Rio Rancho’s first city council, said a disagreement should never become personal.

“I know when to compromise and I know when to stand my ground,” she said. “I think we have to have a more cohesive government and learn when we have to step aside a little bit on our own views.”


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