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Board of County Commissioners of County of Arriba v. Board of County Commissioners of County of Fe

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

December 12, 2019

BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE COUNTY OF RIO ARRIBA and GEORGE MARTINEZ, Petitioners-Appellees,
v.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE COUNTY OF SANTA FE, Respondent-Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF SANTA FE COUNTY Sarah M. Singleton, District Judge

          Adan E. Trujillo Española, NM for Appellees

          R. Bruce Frederick, Santa Fe County Attorney Rachel A. Brown, Deputy County Attorney Santa Fe, NM for Appellant

          OPINION

          MEGAN P. DUFFY, JUDGE

         {¶1} This appeal arises from the district court's peremptory writ of mandamus compelling the Board of County Commissioners of the County of Santa Fe (Board) to publish notice of Petitioners' annexation petition pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 4-33-3 (1947, amended 2019). The Board appeals, arguing that the annexation petition was facially defective and thus it had no duty to publish notice. At the heart of this appeal is what is required to effect a valid annexation petition, an issue of first impression in New Mexico. Because we conclude that the annexation petition was legally defective, we reverse the district court with instructions to quash the writ of mandamus.

         BACKGROUND

         {¶2} The City of Española lies within the boundaries of both Santa Fe County and Rio Arriba County. Residents living on the Santa Fe County side of Española must travel to the City of Santa Fe (the county seat of Santa Fe County) to access county services, such as the county clerk or county assessor, whereas residents living on the Rio Arriba County side of Española are able to access these same county services at Rio Arriba County satellite offices located in Española, as well as at the county seat in Tierra Amarilla. Petitioner George Martinez and others who live within the Santa Fe County side of Española wish to access the county services available at the Rio Arriba County satellite offices in Española, given their proximity. To accomplish this, Martinez and others began the process to annex the Santa Fe County portion of Española to Rio Arriba County, pursuant to NMSA 1978, Sections 4-33-1 to -3 (1947, amended 2019).

         {¶3} Martinez prepared a "Petition for Annexation" in light of the requirements set forth in Section 4-33-2, which provides:

A petition executed by at least fifty-one percent (51%) of the qualified electors residing within the portion of the county proposed to be annexed shall be filed with the county commissioners of the county in which such portion is located. Such petition shall set forth the facts showing the existence of the conditions described in Section [4-33-1] . . . hereof and shall accurately set out the boundaries of the portion of the county proposed to be annexed.

         The statute required the annexation petition to set forth facts showing that the following two conditions existed:

[(1)] Whenever, because of the location and conditions of roads, or the existence or nonexistence of transportation facilities, it will be more convenient for the residents of any portion of a county to travel to the county seat of some other contiguous county, and [(2)] because of such location and condition of roads or the existence or nonexistence of transportation facilities, it will be more convenient and economical for such other county to render governmental services to such portion of such other county, the portion of the county so affected may be annexed to such other county in the following manner.

         Section 4-33-1; see Youree v. Ellis, 1954-NMSC-002, ¶ 12, 58 N.M. 30, 265 P.2d 354 (stating that these conditions are "the decisive grounds upon which alone the court is authorized to order an election on annexation"). The first condition- hereinafter referred to as the "county seat condition"-forms the basis of the parties' dispute in this appeal.

         {¶4} Two maps were attached to the petition. The first map described "[t]he Santa Fe County territory proposed to be annexed into Rio Arriba County." The second depicted the distances and travel times from Española to the Santa Fe County offices in the City of Santa Fe and to the Rio Arriba County satellite offices in Española, and showed that the Rio Arriba County satellite offices were closer for the petitioning residents.

         {¶5} Martinez delivered the petition to the Santa Fe County Manager and requested that the Board publish notice of the petition, as required by law. See ยง 4-33-3 (1947, amended 2019) ("Immediately upon the filing of such petition . . ., it shall be the duty of the county commissioners with whom such petition is filed to cause a notice to be published in some newspaper or newspapers of general circulation in each county affected."). The Board declined to take any action on the petition after concluding that it was "legally defective on its face" in that "it [did] not set forth facts showing that . . . because of the location and conditions of roads or the existence or nonexistence of transportation facilities[, ] . . . it would be more convenient for citizens in the area proposed to be annexed to travel to the county seat of Rio Arriba County (Tierra Amarilla) as opposed to the county seat of Santa Fe County (the City of Santa Fe)." The Board advised in a letter to Martinez that it "was not making a judicial determination ...


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