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Another BernCo Cash Grab

Another BernCo Cash Grab

Voters Have No Say in 3/16ths Cent Increase

Related Story:  Few Taxpayers Appear to Know BernCo Tax Increase is Coming

 

Bernalillo County government’s appetite for your money seems insatiable.

Just two years ago, the Bernalillo County Commission rifled taxpayers’ pockets by increasing the gross receipts by $30 million.

Money in the Bank

In 2015, the Bernalillo County Commission approved a two-sixteenths-of-a-cent gross-receipts tax increase to fund behavioral health programs. You may recall the county volunteered to do that after the Albuquerque City Council declined.

Each one-sixteenth brings in about $10 million a year. So what has the county done with its behavioral health money?

Pretty much nothing.

Since July 1, 2016, the county has collected $30.2 million through that tax increase but spent only $534,384 of it, with no behavioral health program yet set up.

Source: Bernalillo County

Now, the county is at it again, looking for another $30 million of your money in the form of another gross receipts tax increase.

If the Bernalillo County Commission approves the latest request for a three-sixteenths-of-a-cent GRT increase, it would send the GRT rate in Albuquerque to 7.5 percent – a double-digit increase from 2010 when it was 6.625 percent. That would represent $140 million in tax increases levied within both the city and the county since 2010.

Both the county’s overall spending and its payroll have swelled dramatically since 2009.

The growth has occurred despite the fact that the metro area’s economy and population have been stagnant. The area has yet to recover all the jobs it lost during the recession, and in the past few years it has seen a net outmigration of people.

So why does the county need an additional $30 million?

“Increases in expenses are outpacing revenue growth,” a county manager who asked not to be identified told ABQ Free Press Weekly. “There are many unfunded mandates that the county hasn’t done as it lives within its recurring budget. State and federal funding is steadily decreasing [and] placing a greater burden on the general fund.”

Some of those rising expenses include healthcare and workers’ compensation insurance premiums, maintenance for county buildings, and replacing things such as computer software.

County Growth

Since 2009: General fund spending: up 21 percent, from $203.4 million to $256.7 million this year.

Since 2011: Full-time workforce: up 9 percent, from 2,297 to 2,524 employees.

Source: Bernalillo County

What will happen if the five-member commission doesn’t approve the $30 million tax increase?

“Compromised service delivery and high costs associated with maintenance and repair due to increased damage resulting from extraordinary deferral of maintenance and increased cost of goods and services for the maintenance and or repair [of those facilities],” the manager said.

Another thing is clear about the proposed $30 million tax hike: Taxpayers really don’t have a say about it. As it did in 2015, the County Commission can approve the increase whether voters like it or not.

Clear as mud

The authority to raise taxes that the county wants to use was granted by the Legislature when state government began a 15-year phased elimination of the GRT on food and medicine in 2013.

To prevent counties that had relied on those revenues from being harmed, the Legislature gave them the power – on their own say-so – to incrementally increase GRT up to three-sixteenths of a cent over a period of years to keep their revenue stream steady.

But rather than raise taxes slowly, the County Commission wants to use all of its taxing authority all at once.

BernCo’s budget over time

2009    $203.4 million
2010    $208.9 million
2011    $215.1 million
2012    $229.5 million
2013    $234.6 million
2014    $237.3 million
2015    $242.7 million
2016    $252.9 million
2017    $256.7 million

Source: Bernalillo County

That has Commissioner Wayne Johnson, a Republican, crying foul.

Johnson said the county would be getting a windfall by getting new money while still getting what’s called “hold harmless” money from the state – a revenue stream that, while dwindling, will continue for 13 more years.

Johnson said the county needs to rein in its spending before hiking taxes again.

“It’s just wrong [to raise taxes]. As a small business owner, I can’t make you buy more of my products if I need more revenue,” Johnson said. “But the county can make you pay. That is fundamentally wrong.”

Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, a Democrat, said she is leaning toward approving the proposed tax hike. With Democrats holding a 3-2 majority on the commission, it’s likely some kind of increase will be approved.

“I’m leaning toward it,” O’Malley said. “It will help a great deal to know what will happen if we don’t get the money. Will we have to lay people off? Well, who and where?”

Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press Weekly.

 

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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  • Jono
    March 3, 2017, 3:57 am

    If the money is there, why can’t it be used to hire more deputies, lawyers, rehab, mental health facilities (as mentioned above) and corrections personnel to get violent/property criminals off the streets?

    Who has the power to spend it and who has the oversight to make sure it is spent on what’s needed? Why isn’t the available money being used at least?

    REPLY
  • S. R
    March 4, 2017, 5:20 am

    This city would be much better off with funds being redirected towards law enforcement, so we can attract businesses to create jobs and infuse cash into the economy. Taxing the existing base to death will only accelerate outward migration. This city is a cesspool, and it doesn’t surprise me that taxes are being raised to pay for……..software? Really? The shortsightedness is honestly very typical of the decision makers in this town, that’s how we got to be a crime-infested town in a state people can’t wait to leave.

    REPLY
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