County coming up short, looking for money

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Socorro County commissioners are looking at increasing the gross receipts tax rates for unincorporated areas of the county in the hopes of fending off a projected budget shortfall for the next fiscal year of nearly half a million dollars.

County Manager Delilah Walsh said the county was looking at a shortfall of $400,000 for the fiscal year that begins in July.

“We are not anticipating increased revenues, but fuel costs and other costs are going up,” Walsh said. “Every summer, as you know, we have some of our air conditioning units fail. Revenues are not keeping up with expenses.”

The commissioners present, Juan Gutierrez, Pauline Jaramillo and Daniel Monette, unanimously passed the publication of the description of a county ordinance that would adopt two GRTs — one dedicated to the county general fund and a second tax to help support the operational expenses of the county correctional facility at their April 24 meeting.

Walsh said the county assessor has certified the property values for the county and they cannot increase property taxes.

“We only have control of GRT. This would be 1/16 of 1 percent for the general fund and 1/16 dedicated to operation and maintenance of the county jail,” she said. “We can enact these without voter affirmation. The rest of the GRT options available would have to go before voters in November.”

Commission Chairman Monette clarified that the 3-0 vote that evening was just to publish the ordinance description, not approval of the tax.

“We publish this and then the public can bring comments,” Monette said. Walsh said after the commissioners hear from the public, there may be revisions to the ordinance.

“We could do a lesser amount — 1/32, or not pass it at all,” she said. The taxes would become valid 30 days after approval but wouldn’t take effect until January 2013.

The manager said these two GRT increases were the only ones that could go through the commission only — other increases, such as for emergency management services, have to go to the voters.

She pointed out that the GRT rates for the village of Magdalena and the city of Socorro were 6.8750 percent and 7 percent, respectively. The GRT rate for sales in the unincorporated parts of Socorro County is currently 5.9375 percent.

County attorney Adren Nance said with little funding coming from the state, when the county does make requests, the amount of the local GRT option enacted is a factor.

“Not having it does harm to lobbying efforts in some ways,” Nance said.

Walsh said that topic has come up in some grant hearings concerning the jail and health services for the county.

“They want to know why we haven’t enacted these taxes,” she said. “We let them know we are a rural area and can only impose so much.”

If approved, the GRT would bring in $125,000 for the general fund this fiscal year and double that for the next, Walsh estimated.

This year, the county received GRT from $8 million in bridge projects going through on Interstate 25 and another $6 million in resurfacing projects.

“That has bolstered our revenues, but there is nothing beyond that,” Walsh said. “We are looking at 2013-2014. We have to look at the future.”

She said if the GRT increases pass, the county could be facing a $400,000 shortfall. Without them, it increases to $500,000.

“Nobody wants look at increasing taxes, but I think we have to,” Monette said.

Walsh said most of the GRT that comes to the county is from state highway work and travelers.

“People coming through the county,” she said. “The city and village have most of commerce. Our constituents will not be impacted as much.”

The commissioners will hear public comment on the proposed GRT increases at their May 22 public hearing.

In other business, the commissioners unanimously accepted the donation of four lots in Rio Grande Estates.

Walsh said the lots came from relatives of people who left them the property. She said county staff have looked at the parcels and found no hazardous material or other issues.

“If you accept the lots, they will go out for auction and be put back on the tax rolls,” she said.

Walsh said there were about a dozen lots that have been donated to the county.

“We are going to see if we can pull base course from some of them and get the rest ready for auction,” she said.

 


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.