New federal standard may knock Santa Fe from metro- to micropolitan | Local News

City officials say Santa Fe could be at risk of losing much-needed federal funding if the U.S. government follows through with a recommendation to change the population threshold for metropolitan areas. 

The federal government is contemplating doubling the population requirement for core cities in metropolitan statistical areas from 50,000 — the level set nearly 70 years ago — to 100,000, pushing nearly 144 out of 392 cities out of the classification, including Santa Fe and Farmington. Those cities would instead be classified as “micropolitans.”

Santa Fe has a population of about 85,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

If approved, the new standard would not go into effect until 2023.

City officials say the change could lead to losses in federal funding allocated to metropolitan areas to aid with issues such as housing and transportation for low-income residents. 

The proposal has raised concerns nationwide. On Tuesday, a group of 53 members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, D-N.M., sent a letter to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget requesting clarification on the need for the designation change.

Mayor Alan Webber also sent a letter this week to Office of Management and Budget Deputy Administrator Dominic Mancini, asking the office to oppose the recommendation, which was made earlier this year by a committee tasked with reviewing statistical area standards.

“The depth of the consequences of the proposed change are unclear,” Webber wrote. “What does seem clear is the consideration that the City of Santa Fe could lose access to critical Federal funding needed to support low-income residents and improve and maintain local infrastructure.” 

According to Webber’s letter, between 30 percent and 50 percent of the budget for the city’s mobility assistance program is federal funding. The city also relies heavily on Community Development Block Grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to buttress housing programs.

Erick Aune, senior transportation planner for the Santa Fe Metropolitan Planning Organization, which helps guide transportation decisions across greater Santa Fe, said the designation could lead to the loss of funding for the agency. 

Aune said that if that happens, more strain might be put on city and county workers to address transportation planning, something the agency has spearheaded since 1982. 

The Metropolitan Planning Organization also wrote a letter Thursday to the Office of Management and Budget, requesting more review of the proposal.

A March 6 bulletin from the office acknowledged statistical areas are used as the basis for some federal funding and said it would try to work with Congress on any potential effects to cities. 

The Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Area Standards Review Committee said in its recommendations the minimum population requirements needed to be updated because the original metropolitan threshold of 50,000, set in 1950, did not keep pace with American population growth.

About 86 percent of the U.S. population lives in regions designated as metropolitan areas. The change would whittle that number down to 80 percent. 

Webber argued in his letter the nation’s population growth has no effect on funding needs in urban areas with a population over 50,000.

“When it comes to issues of urbanization, including mobility, housing, infrastructure, integrated response to climate change, social policy and more,” he wrote, “the City of Santa Fe is, in every respect and by any reasonable definition, a metropolitan area and a metropolitan entity.”