County revenues decline

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County Manager Delilah Walsh reported a $5 million decrease in property valuations at Tuesday’s county commission meeting held at the Socorro County Annex on Neel Street.

Walsh said county revenues will suffer.

“The most we are allowed to collect is 11.85 mills in the property tax, and we are collecting that now,” Walsh said in a telephone interview following the meeting.

The county mill rate cannot be adjusted up to compensate for the reduction in assessed property valuations, she said. The lowered property valuation means the county will lose $19,000 in revenues in fiscal year 2012-13.

Socorro does not have much flexibility to adjust tax rates when property values go down because the county does not have a high property tax base in the first place, Walsh said. To make up for the low tax base, the county levies the highest mill rate allowed by the state. Walsh said the long-term impact on county revenues could not be calculated without more information from the county assessor’s office.

“We’re in great shape financially now,” Walsh said. “We have reserves. If this is a one-time event, we can absorb it. But I can’t advise the commission until I get more information from the assessor.”

Deputy county assessor Sam Jojola had left the meeting when Walsh announced the decrease. He declined to comment on the valuation decrease when he was contacted after the meeting.

In other business:

  • Nick Keller, president of the Socorro senior center citizen’s advisory board, announced a fundraising golf tournament scheduled for Oct. 6, starting at noon at the Tech golf course.
  • Commission Vice Chairman Pauline Jaramillo, acting as chairman in Danny Monette’s absence, thanked everyone for supporting the county fair, and Commissioner Phillip Anaya called for a moment of silence to honor of the firefighters and others who died in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.
  • County Treasurer Genevie Baca reported the property tax collection rate was 90 percent in 2011, with an average of 97 percent over the last 10 years. Overall, the state-formulated residential property tax rates have increased slightly in 2012. Tax rates on non-residential (unoccupied) land have remained about the same. The county is putting pressure on the state taxation and revenue department to collect delinquent property taxes. The state notified 181 property owners in and around the city of Socorro that it was planning to sell their land at auction because of delinquent property tax bills. The treasurer’s office contacted 149 property owners in an effort to collect back taxes before the October auction. Of these, 40 parcels have had their tax bills paid in full to the county. Owners of 108 parcels have had or are in the processing of making payment arrangements with the county. The county was unable to contact the owners of 33 parcels, and one parcel has an access easement on it. A county website is in the works to pair up potential sellers of delinquent properties in subdivisions in northern part of the county with interested buyers. Having the properties bought by county taxpayers instead of sold by the state at auction would keep the property tax revenue in the county during that tax year, she said. Socorro County attorney Adren Nance said he checked with New Mexico Real Estate Commission to be sure the website does not require oversight by a real estate broker. Baca said the county treasurer’s office is still working to convert 10 years of property tax records to the new computer system, so the 2012 tax collection procedures will not change.
  • In her report, County Manager Delilah Walsh said repairs to Water Canyon Road (CR 79), will go forward without much cost to the county, thanks to a monetary commitment from New Mexico Tech that augments a federal grant. The repairs should keep the road in good shape for the next five years.
  • Walsh is working on a “band-aid fix” to make sure county emergency dispatch services are seamless, even during shift changes. She will discuss the feasibility of creating a regional dispatch center in Socorro County when she meets with the Valencia County dispatch center director this week.
  • County transfer station attendants will not accept any burn barrels. Walsh reminded the commission of the state law prohibiting open burning of household trash.
  • Walsh said Cottonwood Valley Charter School’s governing council has decided to postpone the classroom building project until 2014 because of funding uncertainties. The county will re-consider partnering with the school on the project at that time.
  • A contract with Cibola County Detention Center to house overflow Socorro County inmates at a cost of $54 per day per inmate was approved.
  • A request by Herman Ganadonegro for $1,400 to pay for entertainers at Alamo Indian Day Celebration was approved.
  • A lease agreement with Caterpillar Corp. to replace five county graders with five brand-new and bigger machines at a $57 savings per machine per year was approved.
  • Abeytas volunteer Fire Chief Kelly Vorhis gave a report on the status of the county’s volunteer fire departments. Socorro County volunteer fire chiefs oversee 100-120 first responders, $8 million in equipment and nine buildings. VFDs respond to between 200-250 emergency calls per year on average. The commission approved a streamlined purchasing procedure that allows VFD chiefs to purchase items for their departments amounting to less than $500 without having to obtain a purchase order ahead of time.
  • Commissioner R. J. Griego said his request to the state to pour a concrete pad to upgrade accessibility at the west end of the Socorro Senior Center has been “moved up to critical status.”
  • The commission proclaimed September as National Recovery Month in Socorro County and called upon the community to support Socorro County Community Alternative Program’s efforts to support people who are struggling with substance and/or mental health problems. SCCAP case manager Josefina Pérez announced the program’s first annual Recovery Month event to be held from 3 to 10 p.m. Sept. 29, at Sedillo Park.
  • A Socorro County Commission special meeting will be held at the Magdalena Senior Center at 6 p.m. on Sept. 25.