Published: 2:20 pm, Sun. Sep. 3rd, 2017Updated: 2:15 pm
The citizens’ group that spearheaded the effort to put the Eddy County Commission’s recent Gross Receipts Tax increases to a public vote says its primary motivation has been a lack of communication from the board of commissioners regarding the need for the hikes.
And as the county prepares this week to send out ballots for the mail-only referendum, the group says it remains surprised the county hasn’t done more to explain its position.
Residents Against Frivolous Taxes (RAFT) was formed following the commission’s special meeting in May at which a trio of sales tax increases – one-twelfth of 1 percent for Safety Net Care Pool Payments, one-eighth of 1 percent for Eddy County Detention Center funding, and one-eighth of 1 percent to benefit the general fund – were passed.
Commissioner Jon Henry of Artesia dissented on all three votes, citing his belief the county had not done enough to make the public fully aware of the specific needs the additional money would be addressing. Commissioner James Walterscheid of Loving dissented as well on the general fund ordinance, stating that due to the fact general fund monies can be used at the county’s discretion, he agreed the specific uses the commission had in mind should be explained in detail to county residents.
Commissioners Stella Davis, Susan Crockett and Larry Wood all said at the time that the need for added tax revenue had been “explained to death” and that no amount of public meetings was likely to change the minds of those already opposed to increased taxes.
“Initially, there were several of us that were disenfranchised by the lack of communication from the county,” said RAFT volunteer Cody Price. “They didn’t seem to want to communicate with the public, or the cities or the business industry, for that matter.
“But once we all realized we could do something about it, that it wasn’t just a one-and-done, the county voted on it so we’re getting the taxes whether anybody knows why or not, we said, ‘Let’s get together and make this happen.’”
Under the ordinances as they stand, the sales tax rate in Artesia would increase from 7.5625 percent to 8.1458 effective Jan. 1, 2018, with Carlsbad’s rate climbing to 7.9 percent. Rates like that are a red flag to businesses looking at possibly setting up shop in Eddy County, Price says.
The county has posted a GRT Election FAQ on its website, www.co.eddy.nm.us, that offers explanations for its funding shortages, but many citizens say it doesn’t go far enough.
Some residents who’ve read the FAQ say they question the need for costly improvements at the ECDC when the county has stated the facility will have to be completely replaced within the next few years and that the FAQ still doesn’t list specific intended uses for the general fund revenue.
“All of us have been pretty shocked that, since the petition’s gone through, the county hasn’t attempted to do anything,” said Price. “We kind of thought that they would try to hold a public meeting, that they would do something to say, ‘OK, let’s do a better job of explaining to the public what we’re doing, let’s roll out the budget numbers and the cost estimates,’ but they haven’t made any real attempts to take their case to the people for why the taxes are needed.”
Price says the frustrations over the potential effects of the taxes aren’t limited to Artesia. Although North Eddy County was most active in pushing the petition that led to the referendum, she says RAFT includes volunteer members from Carlsbad, as well.
“This is definitely not a ‘divided Artesia-Carlsbad’ situation,” said Price. “We have a lot of support in Carlsbad.
“And we’re all just looking to put the responsibility back on the county to get their spending in order instead of asking taxpayers to add more money to their already-increasing revenue.”
Ballots for the referendum – which asks county residents to vote yea or nay for the two one-eighths of 1 percent increases – will be mailed Tuesday to all registered voters in Eddy County. Voters will then have until Tuesday, Sept. 26, to return them, either by mail or to the Eddy County Clerk’s Sub-Office, 602 S. First St. Those who do not receive a ballot by mail may also visit the clerk’s office to obtain one.