‘It’s been a privilege serving you the past six years’
As my term as your mayor comes to a close, and with this being my last regular column, I want to give thanks and acknowledgement as well as reflect on where our community has been, what it has accomplished, and give my final thoughts on what we need to do in the future.
First and foremost, it has been an honor and privilege to serve as your mayor for the last six years. I want to thank citizens for their trust and belief in me. The single greatest asset local government has is its employees. Thank you to past and present city employees for your hard work and dedication to serving the members of the community. Past and present local, county and state elected officials I have worked with over the years, thank you to those that believe, like I do, that collaboration and teamwork are critical and the best approaches to take in order for Rio Rancho to realize its full potential. To community stakeholders and other groups, it was a pleasure working with you on shared goals and objectives.
While in office, I made it a top priority to communicate with citizens of all ages and get their input. In this regard, I used a number of different approaches. I also sought to engage community members more to take part in offering the solutions to the challenges our city faced. The experiences associated with these efforts are what I will remember most from my time as mayor.
As we all know, Rio Rancho has not been immune to the recession and economic downturn that has plagued our country. As a result, Rio Rancho local government hit its financial tipping point in 2010 when it faced a multi-million dollar deficit. This was the most arduous issue I experienced as mayor. The governing body and then-City Manager James Jimenez were faced with many difficult choices in order to maintain public service levels for a growing community. Time has shown these decisions, while not popular to some, served their purpose, helped to address a structural budget imbalance, and put the city’s finances on a path of long-term stability.
As mayor, and also as a long-time resident of the community, I take great pride in what has happened in our city over the last few years. The fact that Rio Rancho has seen two new college campuses begin to serve students and two new full-service hospitals open their doors to patients is absolutely tremendous. These projects and the services being offered are the result of many dedicated people and the vision and desire of voters to invest in their community.
As I prepare to leave office and think about the future of our community, Rio Rancho must continue to take steps forward regarding a variety issues in order to remain a nationally ranked best place to live and raise a family.
The 2009 road bond approved by voters helped begin the process of chipping away at our road infrastructure issues. Only through a regular bonding cycle will the city be able to make substantial progress improving our roadways.
Local government’s public safety focus is reflected in the fact that more than 50 percent of the city’s general fund goes toward these services. As city revenues have improved due to a recovering economy and past actions taken by the governing body, the city has used additional available funding for public safety personnel, equipment and facilities. Out of the largest cities in the state of New Mexico, Rio Rancho is the safest, and there is no reason why this will not continue. The forthcoming data from a public safety staffing study will assist city leaders for planning and resource allocation in the years to come.
Over the last four years, the governing body has made a variety of necessary decisions in order to address water-infrastructure and water rights acquisition needs. Soon, water service line replacement work will begin, which has been substantially aided by our state legislators. Through sustained priority focus, Rio Rancho will continue to head in the right direction related to water issues.
It has been said by others before, and I will take this opportunity to say it again, the next 30 years in Rio Rancho will not look like the past 30 years. The reasons for this are antiquated platting and lack of aggregated land — issues that stem from before Rio Rancho local government was formed. Today, a vast amount of remaining, undeveloped land in the city is in half-acre lots with no infrastructure using platting from more than 40 years ago. Antiquated platting prevents the city from proper master planning using modern principles, hinders retail and commercial development which generates gross receipts taxes to fund public services, and, as flooding events have shown, poses safety concerns. In order to address these unique Rio Rancho issues, a unified effort must be put forth by the community.
In terms of economic development, and despite a down economy, the city has experienced success and shown a willingness to do what is necessary to attract and land businesses and create jobs. This is evident via projects like Hewlett-Packard, Premiere Cinemas, and Stolar Research Corporation to name a few from the past few years.
Recently announced good news for the community is DHF Technical Products, a metal refining company, relocating to Rio Rancho and the expansion of Presbyterian healthcare facilities and services.
Going forward, economic development and addressing retail leakage (present when I was mayor in the mid-1990s) will continue to be on-going issues needing leaders to work in a positive, proactive manner.
In closing, I want to stress that Rio Rancho is a city full of outstanding people. It is because of Rio Rancho’s people that I leave office feeling confident that the solution to any challenge can be found and agreed upon, and that the best is yet to come for the community.
Mayor of Rio Rancho
Thomas E. Swisstack