Valencia County commissioners have initiated a process that could lead to the formation of a voter-approved arroyo flood district to address regular, damaging floods.  

At the April 17 meeting, the commissioners voted 4-0 to petition the 13th Judicial District Court to allow for the formation of the Valencia County Arroyo Flood District.  

Under state statute, the court must set a date for a hearing on the petition — which was filed April 18 — for June 18 or after. If approved, the question of whether or not to form the arroyo flood district will be placed on the November general election ballot. The petition has been assigned to Judge Cindy Mercer. According to online court records, a hearing date has not been set as of Tuesday. 

Valencia County Commissioner Troy Richardson said the possible formation of an arroyo flood district would create an agency that could take on the operation and maintenance of flood control infrastructure of proposed flood mitigation project in the Belen watershed, which has federal funding attached. 

Troy Richardson
Valencia County Commissioner

“The (Natural Resources Conservation Service) presented a project working on the design (on April 10). It includes everything from the escarpment on top of the mesa down to the river, and on the south between Feeder 3, which is north of where the Highline Canal crosses under the freeway, to just a little north of Canon Road (in the city of Belen),” Richardson said during the commission meeting. “It looks like the cost will be in the tens of millions of dollars to complete, and NRCS voiced a willingness to construct. All they need is an entity to take ownership of the completed project and maintain the infrastructure. This flood district would suit those needs.” 

Los Chavez resident Gail Goodman told the commissioners she was “astonished” to learn the commission was considering the creation of a flood control authority. 

“This is another bureaucracy with taxing authority that, once created, the county doesn’t control,” Goodman said, calling the proposed district “absolutely unnecessary,” and arguing the county and MRGCD “can figure it out. I understand this is for maintenance and moving silt. Moving silt doesn’t take rocket science.” 

Saying he believes in smaller government, Commissioner Joseph Bizzell said he thought it was best to let voters decide whether they want the district or not. 

Richardson moved to approve the resolution to send the petition to district court and Commissioner Morris Sparkman seconded. The motion passed unanimously, 4-0. 

In an interview after the commission meeting, Richardson said technically, the county could be the agency to take on the operation and maintenance of any infrastructure resulting from the watershed project, but it’s a risky proposition in terms of the liability involved in flood control. 

“If something doesn’t work and people get flooded anyway, any lawsuits would be put against the county’s general fund, which would put all the rest of our services at risk for flood control,” he said. 

He added that flood control would be a “new venture” the county doesn’t really know much about and would still require the expense of hiring a director, staff and purchasing equipment. 

“To do that we have to either increase taxes or cut services. I’d hate to cut out anything for flood protection,” the commissioner said. “I understand Gail’s point of view. It’s a very libertarian attitude. I don’t like big government or tax increases, but I do think this is necessary.” 

Richardson pointed out that while NRCS is willing to build flood mitigation infrastructure using federal money, “it’s not free. It’s (taxpayers).  

“I would encourage voters to think about it, read everything they can about it,” Richardson said. “I would like to see a district formed for this county.” 

If the court approves the petition and the flood district question is put on the November ballot, there will also be a slate of candidates voters can choose from to form a five-person flood district board. 

“It is a very different process to do this at the same time,” said county attorney Dave Pato, “but this is how it’s laid out in state statute.” 

To be considered for a board position and have your name on the ballot, county residents need to present a petition to the district court with the names of five qualified electors from in the county by Aug. 7, which is 90 days before the November election. Pato said if the district isn’t approved by the voters, the board will not be formed. 

The district would include the entirety of Valencia County, both incorporated and unincorporated areas.  

The board has the authority to impose a half mill levy — a property tax of 50 cents per $1,000 of taxable value — without a public vote. Increases to the flood district mill levy would have to go to the voters for approval. 

“Ultimately, the voters get to decide if this is formed,” Pato said. “We are just petitioning the court to put this on the November ballot.” 

If formed, the district would be a political subdivision of the state and subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act and Inspection of Public Records Act. 

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.