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County officials cautious as budget finalized

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Chaves County Finance Director Joe Sedillo says the county and city of Roswell received less gross receipts tax in July compared to the previous year. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Chaves County commissioners voted Thursday to approve what is called the “final” budget for 2019-20, and some of them — and a couple of county managers — say the fiscal outlook shows some strengths but also some reasons for caution.

The budget, considered the “final” fiscal year budget by the New Mexico Department of Finance, totals $42,582,742, the estimated amount of total expenditures for the year. In practical terms, however, the budget won’t be final until the end of the fiscal year in June or July 2020, said Chaves County Finance Director Joe Sedillo.

The commissioners had reviewed specific department requests and funding at prior workshops and commission meetings. The Thursday discussion focused on some of the major differences between the interim and final budget and the factors that could impact the budget in coming months.

Sedillo said some of the good news is that the cash balance for the beginning of the year has increased by $2.1 million from the estimates that were used to create the interim budget. The cash balance now stands at $75,949,071. He also said that no reserves are expected to be needed to balance the budget.

County Manager Stanton Riggs added that the budget is strong and that the county will pay off its long-term bonds used for the renovation of the Chaves County Courthouse by Aug. 1.

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But they and some commissioners also said that there are some indications of possible fiscal difficulties in the coming months. Riggs mentioned that gross receipts taxes received have been down two months compared to previous years. 

“It is cause for concern,” said Riggs. “It is not alarm, but it is cause for concern.” 

According to information posted by the New Mexico Department of Taxation and Revenue, the county received $1,041,870.88 in July 2019 for its portion of gross receipts taxes from May transactions. That is a 3.53% decrease compared to the July 2018 distribution of $1,080,014.30.

In addition, Sedillo indicated, the May 2019 distribution of $1,071,890.78 for March transactions was down 0.3% compared to the previous year, although the June 2019 distribution of $1,038,571.23 was a 6.38% increase compared to June 2018. The hold harmless tax, which is being phased out, has been down May, June and July this year.

Sedillo said that the city of Roswell also experienced lower gross receipts taxes in July 2019. State information indicates that the city of Roswell received $2,819,888.55 in July 2019 and $3,087,018.16 in July 2018.

During the earlier budget workshops, Sedillo had told commissioners that he was using conservative revenue projections for the 2019-20 budget because of indications that several economic sectors in the Chaves County region are experiencing slow growth or stagnation.

Commissioner Robert Corn added that the county is doing what it can to ensure stable PILT and SRS federal funding. Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) are paid by the U.S. Department of Interior for federal lands in the county that are not on property tax rolls. Secure Rural Schools payments are from the U.S. Forest Service.

Corn also said that county officials and staff will meet to decide what to do about the juvenile detention center, one of the few in the state. It has operated in the red for at least the past three years, he said, with the deficit totaling $892,000 for 2018-19.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.