Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Chaves County is projecting a $39.31 million budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, as discussed in a Thursday budget workshop that included some pointed discussions about funding decisions affecting the city of Roswell and the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp.
“This budget really has an eye on 2020,” said Chaves County Manager Stanton Riggs. “This is fiscal year ‘19 coming up in July, and we are planning all the way to 2020 on this thing.”
The workshop gave county commissioners a preview of the proposed interim budget prior to a May 21 public meeting, when commissioners are expected to vote on it.
The interim budget then will be sent to the state for review and comment. The final budget will be submitted by July.
Riggs told commissioners that the goal is to have the approved interim budget 99.9 percent complete so that a final budget can be easily prepared and submitted.
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Riggs described the highlights of the budget as the addition of three steps to the county’s general wage charts to make pay more competitive with that offered by other counties; increasing elected officials’ pay starting in January; increasing wages at the Chaves County Detention Center by 5 percent for entry-level employees, 4 percent for sergeants and 3 percent for lieutenants; adding and upgrading positions in the Sheriff’s Office; and giving $100,000 to the Pecos Valley Regional Communications Center.
Board of Commissioner Chair Robert Corn also stressed what he characterized as a departure from some of the “doom and gloom” of budget discussions.
The county will receive $3 million from the federal government for Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), which federal agencies pay to counties on public lands instead of remitting property taxes. County officials had earlier concerns that PILT payments would be cut significantly this year due to possible funding cuts to the Secure Rural Schools program, which makes some of the PILT payments.
During the workshop, the commissioners discussed two items at some length that affected other area entities.
In one decision, the county plans to increase the rate it charges the City of Roswell to detain people at the Chaves County Detention Center from $65 a day to $75 a day.
Riggs said that the county had charged the same rates for 13 years but feels it must recoup more of its costs. The county is also increasing the rates it will charge other counties and the state for housing their detainees, with those rates going to about $90 a day, but varying depending on detainee needs and circumstances.
Riggs said the county had respected the city’s request not to raise the rates for the past two years, but that City Manager Joe Neeb had said he understood that the county would do so in the coming fiscal year.
Board Chair Robert Corn added that the city recently raised the detention center’s water bill by almost four times, without prior notification to the county.
“That is the reason why now is the time,” he said. “We have given them two years to think about increasing the costs that we were going to charge them and we just got it (the bill) in the mail.”
Corn also made a point of discussing his view that the county should provide no funding to the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., which had requested $75,000 for the coming year.
Saying the situation was causing him “some heartburn,” he described frustration about what he feels is a lack of communication, transparency and coordination between the county and the economic development group, which works to bring new businesses and jobs to the area.
“The Economic Development Corp. can be a very important tool to bringing more business and business activity to Chaves County and I recognize that,” he said. “I am just not sure that now is a good time. I am not happy with the progress that has been made and they haven’t come in and discussed it. Promises were made. Part of the problem is, in my mind, is that promises that were made were not kept.”
Corn said, however, that he was deferring to other commissioners, who said they wanted to give the group the $48,750 recommended by the budget committee, the same amount given to the group the previous year.
Some commissioners talked about designating whatever money was provided only for creating “certified sites” for new businesses, county properties that have utilities and have been approved by state and local government for development. The final consensus at the workshop, which still can be revisited at the May 21 meeting, was to provide the funding without restrictions but with clear expectations of better communication and coordination.
Kurt Gass, treasurer of the EDC board of directors, said in a later phone conversation that he has met with Finance Committee members and was surprised to find that they did have concerns about communication and coordination, given that one of the commissioners regularly attends EDC executive committee meetings. He also said that he provided additional information to the Finance Committee after learning of their concerns.
“It is really critical for the EDC to have the full funding for the $75,000, although we will have to make other plans and find other ways to do development activities,” he said. “I am disappointed that they didn’t do the whole amount, but we appreciate whatever they do give us and we consider them to be an important partner along with other groups in the community.”
In addition, major department budget requests included the following items.
• The Sheriff’s Office has requested increased funding to hire two additional deputies and to upgrade two sergeant positions to lieutenant positions.
• The Road Department has asked for a $300,000 increase up to a total of $1 million for various road projects throughout the year and a $100,000 boost for fuel costs to a total of $400,000. It also has asked for $665,000 to purchase and lease new vehicles, including $90,000 for a vacuum unit to clean cattle guards, a unit expected to reduce labor hours required for those tasks.
In regard to elected officials’ annual pay, recommendations are to increase county commissioners’ salaries from $26,257 a year to $30,196 a year. The assessor would earn $75,733 a year, up from $65,855. The sheriff would be paid $78,952, an increase from the current salary of $68,654. The Chaves County probate judge would have an increase in annual pay from $23,028 to $26,482.
Their chief deputies also would get increases, as those salaries are required by state statutes to be 95 percent of the elected officials’ pay.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.