Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
An effort to scuttle sales tax increases is taking place in northern Eddy County where Artesia leaders are circulating petitions that could lead to the nullification of gross receipts tax increases approved by the Eddy County Commission in May.
Elected leaders in Artesia are calling for a special election to let voters decide whether the sales tax increases should be imposed.
“This was the only means in which we, as voters, have a say in it,” Artesia City Councilor and mayor pro tem Terry Hill said at the July 11 Artesia City Council meeting.
The Eddy County Commission voted at a special meeting May 25 for three new gross receipt taxes, all of which are set to take effect Jan. 1.
One of the tax increases would impose a one-twelth of 1 percent levy to be paid into a newly created Safety Net Care Pool Fund. It passed 4-1, with County Commissioner Jon Henry casting the dissenting vote.
Another tax increase would impose a one-eighth of 1 percent gross receipts tax to build a new Eddy County Detention Center, which also passed 4-1, with Henry dissenting.
The third ordinance would impose a one-eighth of 1 percent general purpose gross receipts tax. It passed 3-2, with Henry and County Commissioner James Walterscheid dissenting.
Collectively, the increases would add an extra 33.3 cents of sales taxes for every $100 spent on goods and services that are subject to gross receipts taxes.
Hill and Artesia Mayor Phillip Burch encouraged other city leaders at the July 11 Artesia City Council meeting to distribute petitions calling for a vote on two of the three gross receipts tax increases approved by the Eddy County Commission at a special meeting on May 25.
Hill and Burch said they oppose the ordinances to impose the one-eighth of 1 percent taxes for the detention center and general purposes, but not the tax increase to fund the newly created Safety Net Care Pool Fund.
One of the petitions being circulated states signatories, which must be registered voters in Eddy County, disapprove of the county correctional facility gross receipts tax ordinance and “respectfully request by this, our petition, that it be referred to the people of Eddy County, New Mexico, to the end that the same may be approved or rejected by vote of the qualified electors of Eddy County New, Mexico.”
The other petition states the signatories disapprove of the general purpose tax increase ordinance and “respectfully request by this our petition that it be referred to the people of Eddy County, New Mexico, to the end that the same may be approved or rejected by vote of the qualified electors of Eddy County New, Mexico.”
Burch said the petitions need to reach a threshold of 5 percent of Eddy County’s registered voters to force a special election, or 1,550 voters. The mayor said registered voters have 60 days from the time of the passage of the ordinances to reach the threshold and force the Eddy County Commission to call a special election on the tax increase ordinances.
“The state law indicates we have 60 days in which to file sufficient numbers of signatures on a petition to force the county commission to call a special election with these ordinances that they’ve passed on the ballot and allow the voting public to either support their contention that they need added taxes or to defeat it,” Burch said. “That’s the process that we’re in. That clock ends July 31st.”
Eddy County chief deputy clerk Darlene Rosprim told the Daily Record last week that the two petitions each had already received hundreds of signatures.
“Quite frankly, what we’re finding is that south Eddy County just would prefer to sit around and gripe about it rather than get up and do anything about it,” Burch said. “And so, the water is going to be towed by the folks here in north Eddy County, specifically in Artesia. The effort is moving right along. I think it’s probably going to be pretty close when it comes down to the 31st.”
Burch asked city councilors to take petitions to their neighbors, relatives, friends and other registered voters and ask them to sign the petitions.
“Because I am convinced, in talking with people in the community, that if gets on the ballot it will be defeated,” Burch said.
Burch was critical of the process in which the three ordinances were passed by the Eddy County Commission at the special meeting the morning of May 25.
“Those votes were taken and that was passed on a special meeting called on a Thursday at 8:30 in the morning, which most of the pubic is working about that time,” Burch said.
Burch said three people spoke against imposing the taxes at the special meeting, with eight people in support of them.
“They were all county employees,” Burch said. “That’s all that appeared at the meeting where all the taxes were approved. Most of the people that were talked to about this had no idea what was going on. They didn’t even know a vote was being taken, didn’t know a vote was passed, so it’s kind of been a learning process.”
Eddy County’s current gross receipts tax rate is 5.875 percent, of which the county collects 1.0833 percent for every $100 spent. If all three tax increases are imposed, Eddy County’s tax rate would increase to 6.2083. Chaves County’s current GRT rate is 6.4375 percent.
Municipalities also impose their own GRTs, tacked on to the state and county rates. Artesia’s rate is currently 7.8125 percent, Carlsbad’s is 7.5625 percent, Hope’s is 6.75 percent and Loving’s is 6.9375 percent.
Eddy County assistant county manager Kenney Rayroux said each of the one-eighth tax increases is estimated to generate $3.3 million annually. He said the detention center currently costs the county about $13 million a year to operate, and a new one could cost as much as $70 million.
“At some point in the not-too-distant future, we’re going to have to take a serious look at building a new facility,” Rayroux said. “Right now, without that one-eighth for the detention center, it is basically a $13 million unfunded mandate drain on the county’s general fund budget, because the state requires the counties to be the ones that have a detention center.”
Interim editor Jeff Tucker can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 303, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.