County OKs interim budget at deficit

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Eight to 15 Socorro County employees could lose their jobs if the county can’t come up with another way to address a budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1. A lack of revenues generated through the assessor’s office was largely to blame for a $291,975 deficit to the $12,334,801 interim budget approved by the county commission at its May 22 meeting.

Eight to 15 Socorro County employees could lose their jobs if the county can’t come up with another way to address a budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1. A lack of revenues generated through the assessor’s office was largely to blame for a $291,975 deficit to the $12,334,801 interim budget approved by the county commission at its May 22 meeting.

During discussion of the budget, County Commission Chairman Danny Monette asked County Manager Delilah Walsh point blank whether she was comfortable approving a deficit budget this year.

“No,” she said. “I don’t want to deficit spend, if we knew the assessor’s office would come up with the money. If not, the only place (to reduce the deficit) is to lose employees. If we don’t get the revenues, we’re going to lose employees.”

Walsh said the assessor’s office increased valuations by 3 percent, the minimum required law. That translated to only a $10,000 increase to the general fund.

Walsh said it’s already too late to make any changes this year. Evaluations can’t be altered after Jan. 1, she said.

Walsh said she knows some assessments aren’t accurate, having done a cursory review of properties utilizing Google maps. One “U” shaped building, for example, was described on the assessment as “L” shaped.

“So you know that’s wrong,” she said. “At some point the commission is going to have to decide how much we’re going to stick our neck out.”

Walsh also complained that the assessor’s office had failed to turn in three reports, as required by state law.

Two are annual reports for 2011 and 2012. The other was a reevaluation plan that has since been received. The purpose of the reports is to assist the commission with budget planning.

County Assessor Henry Jojola, or anyone else from his office, did not attend the meeting, and Monette wondered why.

“They were invited to be here,” he said.

Monette said he wouldn’t want to see anyone lose their job.

“It’s not a popular thing to say, but the county should be run like a business,” he said.

Three Options

Walsh presented the commission with three plans to reduce — and in one case eliminate — the deficit. But each one required eliminating jobs.

Two options she proposed would bring the deficit to nearly $100,000 and wouldn’t go into effect until the beginning of next year.

The first option would eliminate 15 jobs: four maintenance positions, which would leave just one position in that department; three contract employees in senior citizen food services; one employee while combining the solid waste and road departments; the manager’s receptionist; clerks in the treasurer’s, assessor’s and clerk’s offices; emergency management and detention administrative assistants; and a civil processor in the sheriff’s department.

Overtime would also be completely eliminated.

The second option cut eight jobs: four in the maintenance department, three contract senior center food services workers and one while combining solid waste and the road departments.

Overtime would be cut in half under that option.

A third option would eliminate the deficit and would go into effect July 1. It would reduce the county’s workforce by 11.5 employees.

Four maintenance positions, three contract senior center food service workers and one job as the result of combining solid waste and road departments would be eliminated. The county manager’s receptionist, clerks in the treasurer’s, assessor’s and clerk’s offices, administrative assistants for detention and emergency management, and the sheriff’s civil processor would become part-time employees, working 20 hours per week.

Under this option, overtime would also be cut in half.

While the commission took no action on the options Walsh presented, it did pass the interim budget with the deficit intact. Commissioners Juan Gutierrez and Pauline Jaramillo voted to approve. Commissioner Phillip Anaya voted against without comment.

Commissioner R.J. Griego was absent.

The interim budget now goes to the state Department of Finance and Administration for approval. If approved by the state, the commission will consider affirming the 2012-13 budget in July.

A Different Situation

While the county has passed deficit budgets the past two years, this time it’s different.

Walsh said in other years the deficits were due to shortfalls in the treasurer’s office. The commission passed those budgets, she said, expecting the treasurer’s office to generate revenues to make up the difference and each time it did.

That’s not the case this coming fiscal year.

“If I were 100 percent confident the assessor’s office would pick up all the un-assessed property on the books and that would be applied to taxes, then we’d be OK using $300,000 in reserve this year,” she said. “But I’m not confident. The bottom line is there’s nothing to indicate revenues will improve.”

Walsh said Gross Receipt Taxes coming from road projects being conducted by the Department of Transportation have provided a boost in recent years, but those projects are close to being completed.

The commission took action earlier this year to increase GRTs. If approved by public vote in November, it would add about $125,000 to the general fund for fiscal year 2012-13.

Finance Director Roberta Smith told the commission that it should reconsider granting 2 percent raises to employees, as provided in the interim budget. She also recommended against dipping into the county’s reserve fund.

The county has about $5 million in reserve, but there’s nothing on the horizon to support revenues in years to come.

Excess Overtime

Overtime was another issue discussed by the commission at its last meeting.

Smith said the Sheriff’s Department had already incurred $100,000 in overtime. The county usually only budgets between $40,000 and $50,000 in overtime pay, she said.

“A hundred thousand dollars in overtime; that’s ridiculous,” Monette said. “Maybe we should eliminate overtime … It sounds like abuse.”

Commissioner Gutierrez said excessive overtime was a subject that had come up before.

“It always seems to be the same people getting overtime,” he said.

Walsh suggested the commission could consider converting overtime to comp time as a budget control measure.

County attorney Adren Nance said to do so would require changing policy, but a draft of a new policy could be drawn up.

 


-- Email the author at tslast@dchieftain.com.