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The Eddy County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve nearly $600,000 in public service contribution cuts to the county’s municipalities.

That funding is utilized by Artesia, Carlsbad, Loving and Hope primarily to cover the cost of emergency services – including police, fire and EMS – rendered by the cities and villages to county residents.

The cuts will include a $210,000 drop in Artesia from $360,000 in Fiscal Year 2017 to $150,000 for FY 2018, which begins in July. Carlsbad will lose $321,000 – down from $571,000 to $250,000 – and funds for the villages of Loving and Hope will be cut from $58,500 to $20,000 and $33,000 to $10,000 respectively.

County Manager Rick Rudometkin told the board he had heard often and heatedly from officials in the four communities regarding the proposed cuts but maintained they were needed in order to shore up the county budget as it continues to struggle through the downturn in the oil and gas industry.

Rudometkin also indicated the county should consider raising taxes to prevent additional funding cuts.

The budget reductions were listed under the commission’s consent agenda for the day, meaning their approval could have come as part of the bulk passage of agenda items and without the opportunity for public input.

Commissioner Jon Henry of Artesia pulled the item from the agenda for discussion and questioned whether the board should have better communicated its intentions to the municipalities prior to the budget proposal’s public release. To that, Rudometkin responded the county was not being “secretive,” pointing out the cities do not discuss their budget-making processes with the county.

Artesia Mayor Phillip Burch was on hand Tuesday to express his opposition in person, chiding the county for slashing funds while still expecting the cities to continue providing the same levels of service.

The communities’ emergency services are often called upon to assist with incidents outside their limits, Burch pointed out, referencing the Artesia Fire Department’s response to more than 300 calls within the county.

County public safety personnel, meanwhile, voiced concern that the reactions might imply their services were ineffective without assistance. Both Sheriff Mark Cage and Fire Services Director Joshua Mack emphasized the efficacy of their personnel and their commitment to continue protecting all citizens of the county, whether inside municipality limits or out.

Rudometkin assured officials the commission did not opt to reduce the funding lightly, and stated the cuts were necessary in order to prevent layoffs and/or further department restructuring that would negatively affect the county government’s ability to operate in the face of the continuing budget crisis.