Bill Williams

Chaves County Manager Bill Williams said that department heads reduced their budgetary requests by $2.8 million for the proposed fiscal year 2022-23 budget, presented Thursday morning to Chaves County commissioners during a budget workshop at the Chaves County Administrative Center. Commissioners are expected to vote on the budget May 26.

Chaves County administrators and commissioners who work to prepare the annual budget are planning to increase all employee wages by 5% as a cost of living adjustment and raise minimum pay to $15 an hour for the upcoming fiscal year, without raising taxes.

That’s the message county officials shared during a Thursday morning budget workshop convened by the Chaves County Board of Commissioners to give the public its first glimpse at the fiscal year 2022-23 budget.

The proposed budget shows $30.47 million in general operating revenues, a $3.62 million decrease from the 2021-22 year. General operating expenditures are at $30.55 million, a $2.86 million decrease from the previous fiscal year.

The entire Chaves County budget, which includes income and expenses not part of the day-to-day operations of the county, such as grants and federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes, is expected to have balanced revenues and expenditures of $59.94 million, which includes $2.83 million in reserves.

Details were not shared about a lot of items, but Chaves County Chief Financial Officer Anabel Barraza said that specifics will be available after commissioners vote on the budget, which is expected to occur at a May 26 meeting. The budget is due to the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration by June 1.

Commissioners emphasized the wage and salary increases.

“With our commitment to raising what we pay our family members who work for Chaves County, we have a big hill to get over, $15 an hour minimum wage and 5% increase across the board,” said Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell Jr., a member of the Finance Committee. “That money had to come from somewhere, and we appreciate the sacrifices the department heads have made in toning down some of their budget requests. And that is what is enabling us to give pay raises to everybody.”

Commissioner Dara Dana said, “We will not be asking taxpayers for more taxes. We will not increase your taxes. We live within our means.”

Commission Chair Will Cavin added that he would like to see sheriff’s deputies, who are represented by a union, reach an agreement about wages prior to the scheduled May 26 vote.

Barraza added that the budget reflects the county’s priorities and paraphrased a quote by billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson to say “Chaves County employees are our greatest assets and our people are our product.”

One department head who voiced a concern was Chaves County Treasurer Charlotte Andrade, an elected official. She indicated she had made a request of Finance Committee members that she wants to make sure gets into next year’s budget.

She said she wants to transition an entry-level position in her department that was approved as a part-time position last year to a full-time position for fiscal 2022-23. She said she had difficulty filling the part-time job during the past year because a person hired for the job quit to take a full-time job. The change would entail an additional $18,196 a year, according to Barraza.

Andrade said that her office has a good track record of property tax collection for the county, having already collected 92% of property taxes for the current fiscal year, with about $37 million in collections expected. The office also has other responsibilities, she said, and is facing the upcoming retirement of one of its most senior staff members.

“That is minimal to let us do our job. I proposed this to the budget committee. I cannot stress enough how dire the need is to keep us going,” Andrade said.

She added that she would be willing to withdraw a $10,000 capital request for furniture to get the funding for the full-time position.

Commissioners did not ask questions or respond, although Cavin said that he appreciated her.

The budget workshop focused primarily on the largest operating units for the county, the Sheriff’s Office, the Roads Department, Chaves County Detention Center and Facilities Management.

Sheriff Mike Herrington, who is asking for about $324,000 more this year than last, or $5.54 million, said part of that increase is due to another $6,000 for overtime pay for clerks compared to the previous year because of employee absences and the “influx” of Inspection of Public Records Act requests.

“The IPRAs have overrun us,” Herrington said. “They are having to work overnight. They are having to come into the office on Sundays to get these out in a timely manner.”

He said he also has asked for an increase of $48,000 in a line item for expendable supplies to buy laptops and $10,000 for boots for deputies that will present a uniformed look and be able to withstand the wear and tear required of them.

For its capital request, the Sheriff’s Office is asking for $30,996 for two all-terrain vehicles.

Joe West, director of the Roads Department, said its budget, coming in at $7.72 million, is about the same as last year. One significant difference is increasing one of its road project funds from $243,888 for 2021-22 to $1.25 million for 2022-23 because the department expects to receive a much larger New Mexico Department of Transportation grant this year. The Transportation Project Fund grant requires the county to provide only 5% in matching funds. West said the department intends to use the state grant funds in the coming year for improvements to Brasher Road.

The Road Department’s six capital requests for various types of equipment and an electronic message board total $780,000.

Chaves County Detention Center Director Justin Porter presented an $8.47 million operating budget request. He said that the county jail is experiencing increased costs related to its vehicles, supplies and other daily operating expenses. But a bigger increase expected for the upcoming year is $100,000 more to pay for juvenile inmates detained at facilities in other counties, now that Chaves County has closed its own juvenile detention center. The cost for the coming year is expected to be $550,000 for 2022-23. Porter said the average daily cost of housing a juvenile detainee is $200 to $250.

Barraza pointed out that the juvenile detention center was costing the county more than $1.1 million a year to operate when commissioners decided to close it, which was in December 2019.

Porter said the capital requests for the detention center for the year include $10,974 for an ice maker, $30,000 for a kitchen skillet and $32,217 for three washing machines.

Scott Massey, Facilities Management director, said that its $1.7 million budget is about the same as funded last year, although the unit has planned for increases in supplies and has budgeted for bringing some custodial services in-house rather than using outside companies for the services.

Massey talked about seven capital requests that cover several county buildings. They include $399,368 to reroof the Chaves County Courthouse, $107,906 to replace boilers at the Chaves County Administrative Center and $29,280 to build a foyer to the west entrance of the administrative center.

Four representatives of community organizations asking for county funding for the upcoming fiscal year appeared to make their cases about their contributions to county residents.

The Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. is asking for $200,000, up from $150,000 received in 2021-22.

President Mike Espiritu said that similar economic development organizations receive a lot more funding than the EDC does. He said the group needs to hire someone with digital marketing expertise and to improve its social media marketing efforts.

The Roswell Hispano Chamber of Commerce is asking for $25,000, which would be new funding. The Roswell Chamber of Commerce is asking for the same as it received in 2021-22, which President Andrea Moore said is about $57,000.

The Chaves County Extension Services Office is asking for $108,110 for 2022-23, a $2,649 increase from the previous year. Interim County Director Andrea Stapp said that the New Mexico State University-affiliated Extension Services offices have been authorized to increase their funding requests of counties, which supply about one-third of money for the office. State and federal programs provide the remainder. She said the retirement of a highly paid tenured staff member has reduced its payroll costs, so the office wasn’t asking the county for the entire 7% increase that it has been allowed to request.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.