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County waives minimum late fee on small tax bills

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Chaves County residents with very small delinquent property tax bills will not have to pay a $5 minimum late fee again this year.

The Chaves County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Thursday to suspend the $5 minimum late fee, which is provided for by state code. It affects delinquent accounts of less than $100, which represent only about 1,000 of the 40,000 tax accounts collected by the Chaves County Treasurer’s Office.

Even with waiving of the minimum payment, all delinquent taxpayers still have to pay a late fee, but it would be capped at 5% maximum of the taxes owed.

The one-year waiver has been approved by commissioners since about 2008, according to Treasurer Charlotte Andrade. In prior interviews, she said the $5 minimum fee could be considered punitive to people with small bills.

With the $5 minimum late fee, a person owing $1 in property taxes would be charged a late fee higher than the taxes owed.

Andrade reiterated to commissioners Thursday that the small amount collected is not significant enough to require the $5 minimum, especially given how successful the office is at collecting taxes owed.

“Based on the exceptionally high rate of property tax collections, it is felt the minimum of a $5 tax penalty is not necessary,” she said. “The property tax collection for the prior 10 years is 99.23% as of June 30, 2019.”

She added that so far this year, the Treasurer’s Office has collected $32.15 million of the $33.6 million due.

Commissioner Robert Corn again voted to oppose the measure, as he said he has done most years he has served on the board. He has explained that he thinks late fees established by statutes should apply to all people and on Thursday he said, as an example, that he recently had to pay a penalty for a tax error that was larger than the error.

The commissioners also approved several other resolutions and agreements Thursday.

• Commissioners voted to allow the closure, or vacation, of an easement in the Berrendo River Estates Subdivision that had been requested by two homeowners and supported by several of their neighbors. The vote followed a public hearing in which no one spoke against the easement vacation.

• They approved a substitute resolution asking the governor and the New Mexico Legislature to take steps to promote economic development and job growth in the state. The original resolution was voted on June 27, and it was opposed only by Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell Jr., an oil and gas lawyer. The original resolution included language about decreasing reliance on the oil and gas industry and talked about the “chilling” decision by the Public Service Company of New Mexico to assess Facebook for a utility line. The new version omits that verbiage.

• Commissioners voted to approve the county’s Infrastructure Capital Improvements Plan for 2021-2025, which included a listing of the top 10 funding priorities. Continuing work to improve law enforcement radio systems and enhanced security measures for the Chaves County Courthouse are the top two priorities.

• They voted to allow the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office to sell 20 rifles and two pistols to licensed dealers. The credits received will be used to purchase more weapons or ammunition. County staff said the weapons are obsolete.

• Commissioners approved two future public hearings. A Sept. 19 hearing will consider renewing a franchise agreement between the county and Berrendo Cooperative Water Users Association Inc. The water association provides water to businesses and residences not connected to city water, and the non-exclusive franchise agreement allows the association to use county roads, alleys, highways and other property for maintenance or work on water lines. The original agreement was signed in the 1970s, according to county staff. The other hearing will consider amendments to the county’s Right-of-Way ordinance to clarify how county roads are to be repaired when they have been cut to allow for utilities.

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