June 29, 2017
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The County Commission is not happy about its decision to wait.

County Delays Tax Vote

Commissioners agree to Santa Fe City Council’s request to vote on tax hike after joint session

May 30, 2017, 9:45 pm

Facing a room full of sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, 911 dispatchers and jail guards who pleaded to find a way to ease a critical staffing shortage, the Santa Fe County Commission on Tuesday postponed making a decision on a pair of proposed gross receipts tax hikes.

Taken together, the measures would add slightly less than 19 cents to every $100 purchase of  goods and services across the county. That would mean nearly $7 million more each year for the county’s budget, or more than 50 positions across county departments and a million and a half dollars to open a behavioral health crisis triage center.

None of the five commissioners questioned the need for more public safety funding, mental health support or health care services—for which the tax increases are targeted. Based on comments from commissioners, in fact, It seemed likely the taxes would pass.

But the city of Santa Fe has asked the commission to wait until after a June 15 meeting of the two governing bodies. The tax hikes, which are roughly the same thing as a broadly applicable sales tax, will impact purchases across cities like Santa Fe. How much the city stands to benefit, particularly from public safety spending focused on unincorporated parts of the county, led the city to make its request.

While the county ultimately acquiesced to the city, commissioners were none too happy about it. No less than four staffers and councilors from Española spoke to the commission Tuesday. But only councilor Ron Trujillo showed up from Santa Fe. Trujillo did not speak. After public comment closed, County Manager Katherine Miller told the commission that Santa Fe City Manager Brian Snyder had emailed her asking that the city’s resolution addressing the tax hikes be read into the record.

“I am willing to wait and listen to what they have to say,” said District 2 Commissioner Anna Hansen. “I’m disappointed they didn’t come and speak to this commission.”

District 3 Commissioner Robert Anaya praised the efforts of Española to speak up for its needs. A small part of the city’s southern edge is in Santa Fe County. “I respect that you came today and that your presence was physically felt,” Anaya said, not mentioning Santa Fe.

Anaya also bristled at the suggestion that cities and county residents didn’t understand the need for the tax hikes. “In every single commission meeting we’ve had, we’ve said what this is for,” he said. The county has held three public meetings on the proposals since the beginning of April.

The proposals would not have an immediate impact, as the deadline passed in April to enact a tax hike that would take effect July 1. Both proposed increases would hit the books on January 1, 2018. The county would actually start seeing more money in March 2018.

“There’s not a rush. We don’t have to do this today,” said Hansen, urging patience from her colleagues. “It’s not like we’re going to miss the target and wait and have a meeting [with the city].”

The public safety community, however, had a different sense of how badly more help was needed.

James Yeager, a deputy at the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department, told commissioners even the smallest hike—an optional 1/16 of a cent—could fund six positions for a department that sometimes uses just a dozen deputies to patrol 2,000 square miles.

“I think if we look at it in the grand scheme of things, this is assisting our whole community. Our whole county,” the 17-year veteran deputy told commissioners. “Unfortunately we’ve been behind the eight ball for all of those 17 years.”

The county has seen calls to its firefighting stations increase by 33 percent in the past two years, the county manager said, a trend that has continued unabated despite the county having lost population to annexations by the city of Santa Fe.

The county doesn’t have long to make up its mind. The authority granted by the state to enact a 1/16 percent gross receipts tax expires at the end of next month. Commissioners would have to make a decision on the 1/8 percent tax by September if it were to go into effect on January 1, 2018.

The next county commission meeting after the joint session with the Santa Fe City Council is set for June 27.

 

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