County approves budget
The Socorro County Commission approved the county’s interim budget to submit to the state, which includes a deficit of about $686,000 in the general fund, during the commission’s regular meeting May 28. Discussion soon segued into what’s going on at the assessor’s office and raises for crucial staff members.
County manager Delilah Walsh said this interim budget is not the final budget, but something the county has to send to the state Department of Finance and Administration for review. The commission can still make changes to the county’s fiscal year 2013-14 budget.
County finance director Roberta Smith said the final 2013-14 budget is due to the DFA by July 31. The interim budget had to be submitted by June 1 so the county will have a budget to enter the new fiscal year.
Walsh said most of the county’s grant funds are fine. In the general fund, she said staff trimmed line items as much as possible, removed all but one temporary position and removed extra staff requests, but still ended up with a deficit of about $686,000.
Walsh said she is working on operational changes that should show savings for the county in about six months’ time, and the county assessor’s office is picking up more property valuations for tax revenue all the time.
Julie Griego, office manager at the assessor’s office, said she did a value tracking that day and found the office has picked up about $555,000 in taxable value of net new construction since January.
Walsh pointed out the county can’t tax on the updated valuations until November 2014 since property taxes are assessed according to valuations as of January.
Walsh said the only way to cut the county’s budget further is to cut staff, but the county can’t afford to cut staff. Departments are already understaffed, and the county won’t be able to provide services with fewer personnel. Cutting staff would be detrimental to the community as well as the employees the county should be looking after, she said.
Walsh said no raises were granted from the general fund because the fund is short, but Griego was able to cut expenses in the assessor’s budget to make room for a raise for the office’s chief appraiser, Elaine Briggs. The raise is to compensate Briggs for the additional duties she is taking on.
“It is a reasonable request,” Walsh said.
Griego said Briggs is state certified, and she should have had a raise upon achieving that — especially since not many people can pass that test. She said very few people in the entire state are thus certified, and Briggs may be the first ever in Socorro County.
Griego said due to the workload at the assessor’s office, they can’t afford to cut the two temporary positions, but there is one vacancy in the office. Rather than fill that position, Griego said they could use part of that money to give Briggs a raise.
“I really believe that being state certified and making $11 an hour is not fair,” Griego said. “And you’ve got other people in the county who are making a lot more.”
Griego said Briggs is the lowest paid chief appraiser in the state. She added the office has received over 100 protests this year from landowners, and Briggs will have to process those somehow.
Griego also said it would be nice to get holiday pay for the two temporary appraisers since they don’t currently get that, which causes them a hardship every holiday. She added if the assessor’s office can’t keep staff, they will be in the same boat they were before they hired the temps and won’t be able to keep picking up taxable land values at the rate they have been.
“It’s hard enough with the four,” Griego said. “I would like to have five appraisers.”
Smith said the only county department that got raises other than the tiny educational raises is the DWI program, and that was only because the program is funded by grants. Road department staff were included with those who did not get raises.
District 1 Commissioner Pauline Jaramillo noted they never see a raise for the road department, even though other departments are able to get the small educational raises for taking professional development courses. She added road department staff are generally not able to take the courses due to overtime denial.
“They deserve something,” Marty Greenwood, road superintendent, said. “I’ve got some guys that — I guarantee you, if they quit tomorrow, we’re in a (world of) hurt. They’re building cattle guards … they can take a truck from scratch, tear it down, put it back together and make it run. And we’re paying them pennies.”
Smith agreed that all salaries in the county need to be pushed up, but pointed out the road department was included with raises the county gave over the past three years to try to get salaries up where they should be.
Smith also said PILT, or payment in lieu of taxes from the federal government, decreased by 5.1 percent due to federal budget sequestration. It means the county will get about $60,000 less than it received for this past fiscal year.
Walsh said she doesn’t anticipate PILT payments ever going back up again.
In other business, the Socorro County Commission:
- Approved a construction contract with Ramstone Inc. to build the Sabinal Community Center following nearly an hour in executive session that included discussion on procurement protests from Ramstone and Advanced Environmental Solutions, among other topics. Commissioners approved the contract 3 to 2, with Jaramillo and District 2 Commissioner Martha Salas voting against awarding the contract to Ramstone. Ramstone’s bid was for $66,280.08, according to the notice of award included with the county’s agenda packet.
- Approved a work and financial plan agreement for fiscal year 2013-14 with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a wildlife damage management program to protect against damage caused by predators or nuisance wildlife. Walsh noted the county approves the agreement every year.
- Tabled an agreement with the DFA for a grant and distribution of funds for the county’s DWI compliance office. Walsh explained Theresa Rosales, DWI & Community Alternatives Program director, needed to finish some paperwork.
- Approved two requests from AT&T to modify existing cellphone towers on U.S. Highway 60 at Sais Canyon and Scholle Canyon.
- Approved vendor checks in the amount of $197,263.63 issued from May 16 through May 23.
- Approved payroll for May 16 in the amount of $172,361.71.