[Editor's Note: This is part 2 of likely a multi-article series about the Grant County Commission work session on Oct. 25, 2022.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

The next discussion at the Grant County Commission work session on Oct. 25, 2022 addressed the potential to adopt a local option gross receipts tax.

District 2 Commissioner Javier "Harvey" Salas said he asked for the item to be placed on the agenda. "I am the last one to want more taxes, but I want a discussion on adopting a local option gross receipts tax. It's an option."

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce said it is always hard to raise taxes, "but we have needs. I'm open-minded. The only thing I would ask is that we have a plan to use the extra funding."

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards said she had the same concern. "What would we be doing with it?"

County Manager Charlene Webb, who was attending her first meeting since returning as manager, asked the commissioners to refresh her memory on past discussions on the issue.

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne said he thought it was to put in a 1/8th GRT increment that would not have to go to voters to approve. "It would be worth about $650,000 we estimated when we last talked about it."

Edwards agreed that the county would need a plan to expend the funding. "I would like some additional information on what the priorities were for this $650,000."

Webb noted that the increment could be added in January or July, but it would require an ordinance three months in advance, so it is too late for January.

Edwards said that time would give the commissioners a chance to discuss strategic planning.

"I knew it wouldn't be quick," Salas said, "but it would put the process in motion, so we can determine how to put the 1/8 increment to its best possible use."

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings said he appreciated the discussion on the item, not necessarily as a tax, but on prioritizing the best use of the funding, "for something we really need. I would like to know what other counties' gross receipts tax is and how much it would cost for those on fixed income. $80 a year is a lot, especially as food costs rise."

Salas said natural gas prices also will double. "We need a good plan."

Browne said it is too late for this winter, but "we need more efficiency in heating and cooling. It's a structural issue. The state put a cap on the increase in property taxes. Even if housing values are going up, we won't ever catch up. The cap shifts costs from county property taxes to sales taxes. The state is not paying for state detainees that we hold in our prisons. The state is forcing us to do this. But I appreciate the chance to start thinking about it."

Edwards agreed the burden in on the counties, because the state puts a 3 percent increase cap on property taxes and forces the counties to bear all the costs for state detainees.

"It's basically a state decision," Browne said.

Edwards asked if paying for state detainees and or revising the cap on property taxes is a state priority.

Ponce, who serves on the board of New Mexico Counties, said the detainees issue is a priority for the group to support at the Legislature. "I do not recall anything on property tax. When our budget for the Detention Center is $4.2 million out of a $14 million annual budget, and we receive $65,000 from the state, it's not right. It's a hard pill to swallow to follow so many state mandates. I think we need more resources from the state. I agree our employees need wage increases. I have represented for the unions. I am pro-union."

"But I'm going to throw out this," he continued. "There has to come a time when the union comes to us rather than we going to them. The contract is starting to expire. My idea is employees need to start a new union. They pay dues, but what are they getting for it? We have to get the union to come to the table and show us what we're getting. It's time for the employees to look at their representatives, which are not our county commissioners."

Browne said it is a structural issue. "Our discussion needs to be on the way the taxes are apportioned out by zip code. The revenues go to the municipalities rather than to the county. This merits discussion."

Edwards noted that counties are being asked to do a lot of things. "On things like this, we need to talk to our legislators."

Salas said, as his retiring as a commissioner nears, "I am reflecting on my service. Finances are going to be our greatest challenge. The county would be working for the jail. Just the increase in fuel costs will be a tremendous hurdle for you commissioners."

Edwards said: "Part of the discussion we had on the increase in gas and heating costs will be federal money coming from the Inflation Reduction Act, but not to lower-income residents. We need to focus on community solar and wind. There is a lot of pressure on fossil fuels. We need to be pro-active in renewables. I don't know what's in the Inflation Reduction Act, but I spent many years working with low-income families and seniors on fixed incomes. Federal funding doesn't go to renters, but to the landlords, so it doesn't directly benefit renters. Improvements that are funded don't go to single-wides. I encourage us to be proactive. We can't get a plumber or electrician when we need one. I can't find a handy-person, they are so busy. All of these things are interconnected. We need to think about trades, which brings us back to a vo/tech school."

Ponce said he has been talking with the university and with Freeport-McMoRan on a vocational center. "It's in progress. The conversations are still happening."

Edwards noted that all the ore that is pulled from Grant County is trucked outside the area for processing. "We should have trucking companies here."

Ponce noted that the economic development group talking about the film industry, just "shows we're always behind everyone else. It's already well developed in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. We're behind on the film industry, on renewables. We do not have the infrastructure, so we fall behind. If we have a plan for infrastructure, we can be ready."

The final article in this series will address potential funding for a county Health and Human Services Department, as requested by Edwards.

To read the previous article, please visit https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/75329-grant-county-commission-work-session-102522-part-1

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