The most distinguishable bustle in Leroy and Michele Catanach’s neighborhood came from dogs. Large dogs, small dogs, and menacing guard dogs all sent out a piercing cacophony wherever Javier Gonzales walked. But the Catanach’s dogs proved friendly.
His encounter with the couple was welcome for the mayoral candidate, much more so than the cold shoulders from some of the voters uninterested in politics on a frigid Saturday afternoon. Other doors didn’t swing open for him because the residents either weren’t home or refused to answer his knocks.
He was targeting known voters in the area, ranked by his campaign with different tiers based on the voter’s history of casting ballots. He notes tier one voters are people “who we know are going to vote,” tier two voters “sporadically, may vote,” and tier three voters “are obviously brand new voters who are just registered.”
It turns out Gonzales is an old acquaintance of the Catanachs—they’ve been friends with the family for “30, 40 years”—and they greeted each other accordingly. With experience in government, they say they’re frequent voters, likely on the tier one list, who plan on casting their ballots for Gonzales.
But residents on this block aren’t accustomed to the door-to-door salesmanship of campaigning in February. The street located about a mile north of Las Acequias Park between Rufina Street and Agua Fria Road wasn’t even part of the city until last month. Santa Fe County holds its primary elections in June and general elections in November.
The neighborhood’s residents are among some 4,445 households that were formally brought into city limits as a part of the 2008 annexation agreement between the county and city that’s projected to add about 13,250 to the city population.
Letters that arrived at their houses last year foreshadowed small, but in some cases irritating, changes in the lives of these residents. Annexed residents whose water wells require re-drilling might have to apply with the city and connect to city water lines, reads the letter, which also notes the fees for hooking up to the city’s water and sewer systems. Businesses in the annexed area will need to fork over $35 to register with the city and begin charging a gross receipts tax of 8.1 percent—higher than the county’s 6.8 percent.
Residential property taxes will increase by $58 annually per every $100,000 of market value of a home. The letter notes that the new city residents will be represented by the council and the mayor, but it didn’t provide elections dates.
All that leads to a fundamental question: will the quality of life for these residents—many of whom are on limited incomes— improve now that, as of Jan. 1, they’re residents of the city?
The March 4 election is around the corner, and candidates like Gonzales are promising them the shift to the city from the county will be worth it.
“I think that a lot of people in the annexed area—they have some concerns,” Gonzales says. “It’s not so much about providing services but creating places where there are employment centers and jobs.”
He says many residents in the newly annexed are “highly dependent on services, and many of those services are downtown.”
His opponent Patti Bushee says she’s been hitting the annexation areas since December—both by door knocking and mailing out campaign literature.
She says annexed residents on the Southside also tell her they’re in need of services like bus lines, Internet access and medical care. But the longtime city councilor notes that much of the annexed tracts are already built out. The city collects revenue from impact fees charged to, for instance, a new construction project.
Without any new development in the area, argues Bushee, the city has inherited tracts without also inheriting fees the city would have charged for development of those tracts.
“The demand for services right now is great,” in the annexed areas, she says, “yet the new tax base is not going to be equivalent for the demand of services.” It’s the city’s duty to “immediately” start delivering services to those areas, she adds.
District 3 City Council candidate Angelo Jaramillo argues that newly annexed residents, all of whom belong to that district, have to organize themselves to get the attention of City Hall.
But “[there’s] kind of the apathy which we know in the Southside,” he says, which, “unfortunately has the lowest registered voters and the lowest voter turnout.”
Nearly 58,000 voters are registered in the city, and about 12,503 are in District 3, home to much of the newly annexed land. Even with the additional territory, it’s the smallest number of registered voters in the four council districts.
The Catanachs have been living in their home as county residents for over a decade and say their biggest worry is burglary. The couple noted they have lots of new neighbors, but they’re not sure whether the new population will vote or participate in government because of language barriers.
Louie Valencia, 50, who lives across the street, says he’s also had visits from candidates and that he’s on the fence between supporting Gonzales or Bill Dimas, a current city councilor also seeking the mayor’s post. Valencia says his main concerns are immigration and the minimum wage.
Walking through the neighborhood, Gonzales and a campaign aide found one friendly dog, a stray that followed them for blocks.
But annexation threatens to even affect the dogs: While city and county officials have worked in recent years to make animal control rules similar across jurisdictions, there are more animal control officers per square mile covering the city area than the county. More doggy cops could mean less freedom for the pooch.