By Charlie McKee
In its Tuesday evening meeting, June 11, 2013, the Town Council approved two resolutions, Resolutions Nos. 2013-21 and 2013-22, which will raise Property Tax Rates and Water and Sanitary Sewer Rates respectively. The rate increases will take effect in the 2013-2014 fiscal year budget.
Town Manager Alex Brown explained to the Council the criticality of acting now to begin to diversify the Town's sources of income in order to compensate for the State of New Mexico's recent actions reducing the Town's share of gross receipts tax (GRT). (See the Beat's prior Town Council article: Town of Silver City May Raise Rates.) The Town is currently utilizing GRT funds to subsidize the operational costs of providing water to its residents and of its sewage treatment facility. Brown stated that it behooves the Town to reallocate these GRT funds to the Town's general fund and begin to make the water and sewage operations pay for themselves. Brown also emphasized that it is critical to act now, as opposed to waiting until GRT funds are significantly reduced by almost 20%. The funding reduction, due to the phasing out of the hold harmless stipulation, which was put into place after gross receipts were taken off food purchases, will be phased over two fiscal years.
GRT funding represents the Town's major source of income. As an example, Silver City's share of the GRT this year is $9.3 million, and that would be reduced by $1.7 million once the state reductions are in effect. Property taxes are the third largest source of income to the Town, after franchise fees. The highest property tax rate in the State of New Mexico is currently 7.65%, while Silver City's property taxes are at a 2.099% rate, below the state's median. Brown therefore recommended a small increase in residents' property taxes as another area of income diversification to compensate for the Town's revenue shortfall.
Councilor Michael Morones stated that, while he generally emphasized caution regarding any property tax changes, "we are operating in a different environment today wherein the Town has less money, but its citizens are demanding more services." Morones supported Brown's premise that the Town should not wait until it is too late and the Town would be forced to act hastily with extreme increases; but the Town should act now and make a "reality-based decision" in favor of raising property taxes. He stated that the Town must "position itself better for changing financial conditions."
Councilor Cynthia Bettison also supported the income diversification approach and reiterated that the GRT reduction would represent a significant loss to the Town. Bettison pointed out that the property tax increase implemented in Resolution No. 2013-21 would amount to approximately $20/year on a residence assessed at $100,000. She also emphasized that the tax is on the Grant County assessed amount, as opposed to a real estate appraisal amount. Bettison stated that it would be a mistake "to fail to move forward now." The Council then voted to approve both Resolution Nos. 2013-21 and 2013-22.
Prior to the Business portion of the meeting, Mayor James Marshall proclaimed June 30, 2013 as "Social Media Day in Silver City." Silver City will be one of many host cities for the international event, and WNMU has organized a local event at 6:00 pm on June 30 at Alotta Gelato to raise money for The Volunteer Center's Food Pantry and to gather local small business entrepreneurs and non-profit managers together to share experiences.
During the Public Input portion of the meeting, two residents of South Bullard Street in downtown Silver City testified to the "unbearable conditions" of living there. Resident Caroline Morrison stated that the section of Bullard Street had become a "race track for cars" traveling at extremely high rates of speed and blaring loud music. She noted that there are no speed bumps and no law enforcement of the 15 mph limit or of the noise ordinance on that section of Bullard, contrary to continual enforcement thereof on North Bullard. Morrison read a letter that she had sent to the Town stating all of the above and on which no action had been taken by the Silver City Police Department. Mayor Marshall stated that the Town would enter discussion with the Police Department to develop new solutions to the problem and stated that "people need to slow down and respect each other."
In other Unfinished and New Business, the Council approved the following:
• Ordinance No. 1220 amending Ordinance No. 1195: Changes the name of the owner of the wastewater solar project to the current owner, Affordable Solar.
• Ordinance No. 1218: Implements the second portion of a property trade between the Town and Silver Consolidated Schools. This transfers the "Tennis Court Parking Lot" to Silver Consolidated Schools. (No sale is involved, since both parties are government entities.)
• Public Celebration Permit Application for the 2nd Annual Silver City Clay Festival for a Clay Poker Tournament Fundraiser on July 27, 2013 from 3-7:00 pm at the Old Elks' Lodge, 315 N. Texas Street, Silver City.
• Notice of Intent Ordinance 1222: Amends the size of the Planning and Zoning Commission from seven members to five members to ameliorate difficulty in meeting quorum.
Lastly, Councilor Jose A. Ray, Jr. stated that he has been researching the possibility of developing a "River Walk" along the Big Ditch. He has received letters encouraging the town to seek funding for the project and has referred these to Town Manager Brown.
The meeting was then adjourned.