County To Spend $33M To Renovate $4M Building
It was tax and spend night Tuesday at the Bernalillo County Commission.
The commission approved a $30 million tax hike and voted to buy a Downtown building for $4.1 million and spend $33 million to renovate it.
The 3-2 vote to hike the gross receipts tax by three-sixteenths of a cent and buy the building came after very little debate. Less than a handful of people showed up to speak against the tax increase.
Commissioners voted to dedicate one third of the tax increase, or $10 million, to public safety and things like new vehicles and other equipment for sheriff’s deputies and firefighters.
The commission’s three Democrats—Debbie O’Malley, Maggie Hart Stebbins and Steven Michael Quezada—voted for the tax increase and the building purchase, while Republicans Wayne Johnson and Lonnie Talbert opposed them.
The tax increase will take effect July 1 and will raise the GRT in the city to 7.5 percent. Each one-sixteenth of a cent raises about $10 million. The increase will add 18.75 cents to the cost of a $100 purchase.
It was the county’s second GRT increase in two years. In 2015, the commission imposed a three-sixteenths of a cent increase to fund general operations and a program to treat people with drug addictions.
In the big spending move, the commission also approved $4.1 million to buy the Alvarado Square building Downtown that the county will use as its headquarters. But buried in a second resolution was the cost of renovating the 282,000-square-foot building: $33 million.
County Manager Julie Morgas Baca said the purchase of Alvarado Square will allow the county to consolidate its services and employees in one building and move them out of six buildings scattered throughout the Downtown area and the South Valley. Those six buildings will be sold, she said.
“It is a good deal for taxpayers,” Baca said.
Vic Bruno, the county’s real estate consultant, said the $37 million combined purchase and renovation price of Alvarado came out to $128 a square foot, or about half of what it would cost if the county bought land and built a new building.
Johnson said it appeared the county was raising taxes to buy a building. But Deputy County Manager for Finance Shirley Ragin said the county would sell GRT revenue bonds to finance.
Johnson said it wasn’t right for the county “to dig into people’s pockets,” especially when New Mexico has the highest unemployment rate in the country. He added that the GRT is a regressive tax that disproportionately affects poor people.
Hart Stebbins said the easy decision would have been to reject the tax increase, but that “it cost money to provide good services.”
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