Rio Rancho County? Some want split study

RIO RANCHO, NM (KRQE) — Rio Rancho is one of New Mexico's fastest growing cities, the third largest in the state. Could it be outgrowing Sandoval County?

Some city leaders in the City of Vision are talking about studying the idea of splitting from the county and forming its own county.

The idea's gained some steam since last month's election. A shortage of polling places and polling machines left some Rio Rancho voters with up to a five hour wait on election day.

Some Republicans accused Democratic Sandoval County Clerk Sally Padilla of trying to shortchange the right-leaning city's voters.

"The whole integrity of the election process brought into question our whole relationship with the county," said Rio Rancho Planning Board member David Heil.

Voter registration data shows a political mismatch between the city and the county. In Rio Rancho, registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 41 percent to 37 percent. In Sandoval County as a whole, Democrats have a big edge, 44 percent to 35 percent.

But in Heil's eyes, there's a cash issue too.

Heil's impression is that Rio Rancho contributes far more into Sandoval County than it gets out. A county spokesperson told News 13 Thursday afternoon that finding the exact numbers when it comes to that issue could be tough to nail down if not impossible.

"There's always a perception by some people in Rio Rancho that Rio Rancho may not be getting its fair share of the taxes," said Rio Rancho Mayor Tom Swisstack.

But Swisstack says Rio Rancho is far better with Sandoval County than without it.

A "Rio Rancho County" would have to provide a county jail and would lose any benefits from cost sharing between the county and the city.

"By kind of separating and dividing and having different governments develop all you do is weaken government," Swisstack said. "You're not maximizing the dollars or services that you're providing to the people you're serving."

Rio Rancho City Councilor Timothy Crum told News 13 in an email that the idea of Rio Rancho becoming the state's 34th county is worth studying.

"I've given the idea some thought and believe it is worth carefully exploring," Crum wrote. "The duties of my office compel me to weigh all options that present themselves as a way to better the community."

"Time will tell whether or not establishing our own county will be the way to go, but vetting the concept is, in my opinion prudential."

Forming a new county would not be simple. It would require approval from the state legislature. State law also appears to require a majority vote from city residents on the issue of splitting into a new county.

The last new county in New Mexico was formed in 1981 when Valencia County was split and Cibola County was born.

If a Rio Rancho County was formed with the Rio Rancho's existing city limits it would be New Mexico's smallest county at 73.4 square miles, a little less than three quarters the size of Los Alamos County. However, it would be the state's sixth most populated.

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New Mexico (change)

New Mexico is located in the southwestern region of the U.S. Inhabited by Native American populations for many centuries, New Mexico has also been part of Imperial Spain, part of Mexico, and a U.S. territory.
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