The countdown has begun for a citizens group to put a gross receipts tax hike to a public vote.
The High Plains Patriots have circulated a petition throughout Clovis stating, “The undersigned registered voters of the City of Clovis ask that a special election be conducted on the adoption or rejection of the City of Clovis Ordinance No. 1953-2011, an ordinance adopting a municipal gross receipts tax.”
Supporters of the petition must have 456 signatures delivered to the city March 7. Friday was considered Day 1 of what is normally a 30-day window to acquire signatures. City Attorney David Richards said since the 30th day would fall on a Saturday (March 5), the deadline is extended to March 7, which is the next business day.
The tax, which would be in place for 10 years, would raise the city’s GRT rate to 7.8125 percent. It is expected to bring in about $1.5 million annually to help pay the city’s $36 million share of the Ute Water Project.
The $500 million pipeline project that will pump water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to members of the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority. Clovis would receive about 75 percent of the water, and is in the authority with Portales, Texico, Melrose, Elida, and Curry and Roosevelt counties.
The number of signatures required is representative of 20 percent of the 2,276 voters who cast ballots in the 2010 city elections.
The special election is what is called a “negative referendum,” where citizens would vote up or down on rescinding the commission’s vote. The gross receipts tax ordinance was passed 7-1 Thursday, with Commissioner Randy Crowder voting in dissent.
Crowder said he supports the project, but not raising taxes. He contends the project can be paid for by shuffling upcoming expiring taxes — including a pair of 1/16th of a percent taxes dedicated towards the landfill and Potter Park — to meet a $13 million obligation by 2018.
Kim Runyan, president of the High Plains Patriots, said the group endorses Crowder’s plan, and echoes his sentiments.
“We are for the water project. I want that to be very plain. We know there are alternative solutions to paying for it.
“We are just against the tax as the way to pay for it. Rather than the first (option) be, ‘Let’s tax,’ let’s see what we have in place, like people’s personal budgets. You cut back and find a way to pay for things you really need.”
Mayor Gayla Brumfield believes citizens understand that. She’s confident voters would support the tax increase, even though tax increases for county jail and courthouse improvements were overwhelmingly rejected in November.
“I have given about 12 presentations around town, I’ve had people calling me,” Brumfield said. “They’re on board for the Ute Water Project.”
“I think when it comes to water, people understand our aquifer is depleting at an alarming rate. For any potential growth in Clovis … we have to get a sustainable water supply.”
The city held a town hall meeting Monday. City officials explained where the city’s taxes go, including a 2004 GRT increase that has partially funded the city’s share of the water project.
“I don’t think there’s any question we’ve been transparent,” Brumfield said. “We’ve invited people to go in and talk to (City Manager) Joe Thomas and (City Budget Director Officer) Don Clifton and go line item by line item.”
Brumfield notes that solutions like franchise fees and property taxes heavily burden small groups, and a gross receipts tax is encumbered by anybody who shops in Clovis.
The petition is available on the group’s website, highplainspatriots.com, with a note that signees must be registered voters inside the Clovis city limits, and names and address must match voter registration records.
The bottom of the petition states, “Any person knowingly providing or causing to be provided any false information on a petition, forging a signature or signing a petition when that person knows that person is not a qualified elector in the municipality is guilty of a fourth-degree felony.”