By Charlie McKee
In the Reports Section of the rescheduled meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 22, the Town of Silver City's Finest made a case before the Town Council that the Public Safety Tax funds portion of the Gross Receipts Tax (GRT) are necessary to provide basic "protect and serve" functions to the Town.
The .125% (or one-eighth of one percent) designation of the GRT to be used only for purposes of Public Safety was voted into place in the 2004 Municipal Election and has an automatic "sunset" termination after ten years. Silver City's residents must vote to reinstate the tax or not in the March 4, 2014, Municipal Election.
Both Police Chief Ed Reynolds and Fire Chief Rudy Bencomo emphasized that the Public Safety allocation is not a tax increase, but would be a continuation of the tax, which amounts to 12.5 cents per $100 spent. They explained the crucial role the Public Safety Tax allocation plays in their respective abilities to respond to the Town's safety needs. The tax has been used primarily to fund additional personnel (3 police and 1 fire officer) and new vehicles for both departments. Bencomo noted that the most significant need for the Fire Department at the inception of the tax 10 years ago was a ladder truck. The Department was able to purchase the ladder truck as a result of the tax and is now able to adequately respond to fire emergencies at the taller buildings in town, including the new Western New Mexico University (WNMU) housing. The current urgent need in the Fire Department is for new, reliable ambulances. Reynolds echoed the need for replacing worn and unreliable vehicles, citing excessive mileage and age on numerous police cars and trucks.
Continuation of the tax would allow both SCPD and SCFD to adequately respond to and prepare for protecting Silver City's residents in times of natural disasters such as wildfires, as well as health and safety emergencies. Councilor and candidate for Mayor Mike Morones observed that, if the vote to continue the tax fails, it would make the job of the new Town Council (after the March 2014 election) very difficult. The new Council would be faced with a major challenge in juggling the Town's budget in order to safeguard the public. Councilor Cynthia Bettison agreed, stating that the Council is charged with protecting the health and safety of its citizens and, without continuation of the GRT allocation, it would be exceedingly difficult to do so. Mayor James Marshall echoed their comments, reiterating that "We have to be able to respond [to citizens]."
Continuing Staff Reports, Town Clerk Ann Mackie reported that the public should be aware of the following important dates with regard to the upcoming Municipal Election on March 4, 2014:
· January 28 – Start of Absentee Voting
· February 4 – Last Day for Voter Registration
· February 12 – Start of Voting by Machine at City Hall
Lastly, in the New Business portion of the meeting, the Council approved the following items:
· Bid #13/14-3: Blackhawk Road Gravity Sewer Improvements, Phase II project, which was awarded to Diamond Construction, Inc. for a bid of $340,373 before tax. The award is contingent upon approval by the Office of Natural Resource Trustee (ONRT) who is allocating the funds from $10 million ground water reparation assessment against Freeport-McMoRan.
· List of Volunteer Election Workers for the March 2014 Election.
The Town Council meeting was then adjourned.