Fifty-seven percent of Curry County voters on Tuesday rejected a request by the county commission to raise gross receipts taxes by one-eighths of one percent.
The vote was 2,371 against, and 1,807 for.
County Commissioner Pete Hulder, who opposed the gross receipts tax increase from the beginning, said the voters have spoken.
“I guess the message they’ve sent is that the county must live inside its revenues,” Hulder said.
County officials have said the county needed the tax increase because it doesn’t have enough money to cover growing expenses, mostly from its adult detention center. The county transferred $1.5 million from its reserves to cover expenses this year, but doesn’t have another $1.5 million if exploding costs continue, they said.
Like all the other commissioners reached for comment Tuesday, Hulder said he did not know if the commission will now vote to raise property taxes.
“I could not begin to tell you. I’d have to look at the budget. I think it would be wise if the commission waited awhile. As a taxpayer, I think if I voted against this gross receipts tax increase and the county turned around and approved a property tax increase, I’d be bitter,” Hulder said.
Commission Chairman Tim Ashley said the county has only two options — “raise the property tax or reduce services, unless someone can think of another plan,” he said.
Commissioner Albin Smith said he was disappointed by Tuesday’s vote.
“If I had looked at this a year ago, I probably would have voted against it, too. But, knowing what I know now, the county needed that money,” he said.
Hulder said he has heard the governor’s Blue Ribbon Tax Commission has recommended the Legislature should pass a one-eighths of one percent gross receipts tax increase specifically targeted at county detention centers.
County Commissioner Geneva Cooper said she is aware of the state proposal, but, as far as she is knows, it is only a suggestion from the New Mexico Association of Counties to the tax commission. Ashley said even if the proposal were forwarded to the Legislature, it isn’t clear when it would be considered for passage into law. Gov. Richardson has said he might call a special session on October.
Both Hulder and Ashley said the failure of the gross receipts tax increase will have no effect on the county’s plan to build a special events center, since that money is already budgeted. Smith said he doesn’t know, at this point, what the effect will be.
Commissioners Ed Perales and Kathrynn Tate could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.