The town of Taos is asserting that there are “five facts” that justify the annexation of the regional airport via six miles of highway right of way.
Without it, the town says in court filings it may have to “impose massive cuts to basic services” to pay for an expansion at the Taos Regional Airport.
The county is suing to stop the annexation, which was approved by the town council in March. The town says it needs to annex the facility to collect tax revenue that will pay the town’s share of a $24 million airport expansion project.
The county claims the annexation encroaches on a valuable commercial district in El Prado and will leave the county vulnerable to lost tax revenue.
Discussions between the two governments over annexation fell apart after the town repeatedly said it could not rely on the county to meet its promise to shoulder half the cost of the match amount and airport operations costs.
Last month, the county filed a joint suit with El Prado Water and Sanitation District, and it filed another suit on behalf of the Acequia Madre del Río Lucero. County officials admit the suits put the future of the airport expansion at risk, but they insist the issue is worth fighting.
The town came back with a response to both legal challenges May 2. In both responses, the town argued that, because none of the plaintiffs in the case own property within the annexed territory, they have no standing to bring a complaint. The court filing states that five facts — the town owns the airport, the state owns the highway, and neither the county, acequia or water and sanitation district own property to be annexed — are enough to conclude that the annexation is valid.
The town solicited and received a letter from the New Mexico Department of Transportation (DOT), owner of the highway right of way, saying that the agency would not oppose the annexation.
The response goes on to argue that the annexation is necessary to pay for the runway expansion and that the “specious lawsuits” are jeopardizing the entire project. Without the approved annexation, the response says the town will be forced to “impose massive cuts in essential services” to fund the project.
The responses conclude by asking a judge to dismiss the complaints and award the town costs and attorneys fees.
Joining the responses were briefs detailing the history of the regional airport and the work done to secure the grant. According to the brief, the town spent nearly 30 years trying to compromise with Taos Pueblo over concerns related to air traffic over pueblo lands.
The brief also alleges that the method by which the county brought the suits was inappropriate and they should be tossed out.
The county’s complaint, filed last month, admits that it is not a property owner within the area proposed for annexation, but the county contends that it has a legal right to question the annexation procedure. The complaint notes that it could lose gross receipts tax revenue as a result of the annexation.
The county’s complaint alleges that the town did not provide a detailed map of what property it intended to bring into its boundaries before approving the annexation.
The complaint also says El Prado Water and Sanitation District owns property along the highway corridor and has substantial interest in the case because it provides water and sewer service in the area.
The filing for the acequia contends that the town failed to follow its own code by approving the annexation without developing a water plan. The town challenges that assertion by pointing out that the town has been heavily involved in negotiations on the Abeyta Settlement, which is meant to settle long-standing water issues in the Taos Valley.
As owner of the airport, the town petitioned itself for annexation and intends to use six miles of highway right of way to keep the town boundaries contiguous as required by state law.
The primary objective of the expansion is to construct a crosswind runway at the airport, which will allow planes to land 99 percent of the time, rather than the 94 percent that pilots currently enjoy.
The study also points out that Taos has repeatedly proven that it cannot support commercial carriers without giving them significant subsidies to guarantee revenues. Proponents of the project point out that future growth could make such flights viable and they argue it’s important to get the runway project done now while the grant is available.