Grant County Commission members, at their Tuesday, May 21 work session, heard a report on the county's preliminary budget to be submitted to the state by June 1, if approved at the Thursday, May 23, regular session.

County Manager Jon Paul Saari presented the preliminary budget for 2013-14. He said that Linda Vasquez, director of fiscal services, "catches all my errors."

"We sat with directors and got their wish lists," Saari said. "The budget includes some increases and even some decreases."

One column in the budget he presented to commissioners and county officials shows the county's recommendations based on what it knows at this time will be revenues. "It will be a couple of weeks before we know the true numbers. We always budget conservatively. Property tax brings in our major revenues, so we are budgeting that next year will be the same amount. Treasurer Steve Armendariz has already collect $238,096 of delinquent taxes. We have budgeted $175,000, because historically that is where we are."

He said the federal payment in lieu of taxes was budgeted at $1.4 million. "We usually get the PILT at the last minute. Because of the sequester, I think $1.4 million is a safe estimate. Over the next year, we will try to diversify revenues to make up for a probably decreasing PILT."

"We are doing the same thing the hospital has been doing," Chairman Brett Kasten said. "We are using non-recurring funds for recurring operations."

Saari concurred saying he had a recent conversation with Charles Kelly, now Bayard mayor, who was a county employee as well as later being a county commissioner. "He said he remembered 30 years ago, when the county began to receive PILT, and the county was told not to rely on it, but we do. If we lose PILT, that is a $1.4 million reduction in our revenues."

"Why don't we start chopping?" Commission Gabriel Ramos suggested.

"We've been reducing expenditures by 10 percent a year," Saari said. "Only the Sheriff's Department and the Detention Center have grown. We got rid of carryovers that departments could spend as they wished at the end of the year. We are watching trends. Copper is cyclical. I think next year we will see a jump in copper revenue, and we will be seeing increases in property tax revenues.  IF PILT comes in, we need to set it aside as a reserve for one-time expenditures. We have a requirement to keep a three-twelfths reserve, which is $2.5 million or more. We are also trying to get out of relying on federal funding.

"We took the payroll, and we are recommending no raises," Saari continued. "On the preliminary budget, we always try to stay flat. The only increases in salaries were for the treasurer and clerk. Both positions had not received the prior raise, but after the election of new terms, they were eligible for the previous raise. The treasurer is doing a reorganization of his office, and has requested salaries be higher by looking at job descriptions."

"It boils down to rather than requesting a new employee," Armendariz said, "we are reshuffling the duties of employees, and distributing them among the existing employees. I have asked for an increase for the chief deputy, and we have inherited the Southwest Solid Waste Authority collections as part of our department. It's a lot less expensive to give a small raise than to hire a new employee."

Saari explained that the solid waste authority was moved to the Treasurer's office, because the money has been moved from the General Fund to the Treasurer's fund. "We will ask Ted Martinez to do more duties and give him more work."

"He takes work home," Armendariz said. "With these liens being filed, there will be more to his job, so I have allowed the girls to accept solid waste payments."

Saari said there were no changes in the rest of the budgets.

The projected expenditures from the General Fund are $9.247 million. "The increase is due to the 15 percent increase in insurance costs of about $300,000."

The Road Fund requested increases for materials, but the preliminary budget is flat, except for cost of insurance. In the Corrections Fund, the county kept the revenues flat. The revenues include gross receipts tax, payment from the town of Silver City and the other municipalities, plus a small portion from the state, which "is not close to what they owe us," according to Saari. "A few years ago, the state owed the counties $51 million to detention centers for keeping their inmates. Last year, the Legislature set aside $5 million, but it's a huge unfunded mandate. We have to build jails and they 'let' us take care of their inmates. The issue is on everybody's radar for the New Mexico Association of Counties."

Saari pointed out the budget had a large difference between the requests for the budget and the county recommendations.

"Mike Carrillo (Detention Center administrator) sat down with his employees and asked them, not for their desires, but for their needs," Saari said. "They said they would need three more employees, some overtime, additional office supplies, more for fuel for transports and $88,000 for vehicles for transports, and uniforms and vests to get everyone looking the same. More is required for care of prisoners. We have a request for proposal out for health care to handle it in house and pay through indigent funds. In the past, inmates have come in needing a feeding tube; another with AIDS requiring the expensive monthly medications; meth mouth requires dental work, and a bum knee needing surgery. It's the law that we take care of them.

"We also have a lot more inmates, because we are housing prisoners from Luna County," Saari continued. "The department requested $2.6 million; we recommended $2.2 million. We already make about a $1.6 million transfer from the General Fund each year."

Ramos asked about prisoners from Hidalgo and Catron counties.

"We have talked to Hidalgo County about making their facility one for juveniles," Saari said. "It will be expensive, because juveniles have to be in individual cells, not dormitory style."

Carrillo said he met with the Hidalgo County jail administrator. "They haven't made a decision on the facility. If they hold juveniles, it will require 70 detention officers, because of state mandates."

Saari listed many of the requirements, including ratios of guard to juveniles, and described them as "very cumbersome."

Saari continued with the budget. "The assessor uses some of his own funds for 20 percent of the office's expenditures, with 80 percent coming from the General fund."

An article on county reports will combine those from the work session and the Thursday morning regular session.

Live from Silver City

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