County backs off tax plan

By Jack King

Curry County probably will not be able to give Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad a property tax abatement in order to fund an overpass over State Road 467, County Assessor Randy Williams told county commissioners Tuesday.
Under an agreement signed by the county and the railroad May 20, Burlington Northern will provide 10 percent of the cost of the construction, up to $500,000.
In addition, the agreement stated, if state law allowed, the county would give the railroad a property tax abatement. The railroad would then apply the full cost of the abatement toward the cost of the overpass.
But Williams said Mitch Bonney, chief of the State Assessed Properties Bureau, told him at a recent meeting of the New Mexico Association of Counties that, because of the way property taxes are figured in New Mexico, Curry County probably cannot give BNSF a property tax exemption.
Emma Ortiz-Johnson, director of the Property Tax Division of the state Department of Taxation and Revenue, agreed with Williams’ statement Tuesday.
“The railroad’s properties are centrally assessed by the state, because they cross county lines. The state assessor then reports a percentage of that total to a county’s assessor. As far as I’m aware, not even the state can give a property tax abatement to a railroad for property in a county,” she said.
Curry County Attorney Stephen Doerr said the county has always been aware that state law might not permit giving the tax abatement. That’s the reason the agreement was phrased to say the abatement would be given “if state law permits,” he said.
“All along, the property tax abatement was thought to be a minimal amount of money,” he said.
County Manager Geneva Cooper said it isn’t clear what the county will do to replace any money the tax abatement might have generated.
Williams said one alternative is that the county could reserve a percentage of the property tax revenue it collects for itself to contribute to the overpass. But Cooper said such an alternative would have to be approved by the commission.
County Treasurer Linda Hall reported her office has sent out 3,989 letters to county residents delinquent on paying property taxes.
Hall said that by May 31, the Treasurer’s office had collected 93.9 percent of the 2002 taxes, for a total of about $9.3 million. The Treasurer’s office has collected 97.7 percent of 2001 taxes, for $9.7 million and 99 percent of 2000 taxes, for a total of $9.5 million.
She said county delinquent taxpayers have until June 30 to send in at least part of their payments. Otherwise the accounts will be sent to the state for collection.
Hall said unpaid property taxes account for only a small percentage of Curry County’s projected budget shortfall.
“Anything has an effect on the county budget, but, as you can see, our collection percentages are pretty high,” she said.
In other business,
–Deputy County Clerk Coni Jo Lyman said, under the federal Help America Vote Act, the state Secretary of State’s office will pay for the installation of a high-speed data transfer cable in county offices. The new line will permit voter registration records to be centralized in Santa Fe and will allow the county to save money on a variety of Internet services, Lyman said.
–The commission approved a lease agreement with Oasis House Inc., the operator of a safe house for children from Curry County and Eastern New Mexico.
–The commission approved county participation in a homecoming celebration for Cannon AFB personnel.