When it comes to taxes, it's hard to find someone with a good thing to say. Taxes are the root of all evil, according to some, sapping household budgets and killing businesses.

But, if taxes are evil, they are in some cases a necessary evil, paying for things that make life more livable for a majority of the population.

Without fire and police protection most people Ð at least those who aren't purely reactionary Ð would agree that life would be increasingly tragic and chaotic. Taxes pay for those services. It is part of what makes this a "civilized society."

Another vital tax-funded service is San Juan County's emergency medical services.

Those life-saving programs are paid for with a gross receipts tax passed by voters in 2003. This year, it is expected to generate $7.1 million, which is used to pay for San Juan Regional Medical Center Emergency Services and the county's emergency dispatch center.

Voters will head to the San Juan County Clerk's Office on March 12 to decide whether to make the Emergency Communications and Emergency Medical and Behavioral Health Services Tax permanent. The tax, which is not being increased, amounts to 0.18 percent of all gross receipts taxes in San Juan County.

So, what happens if voters dig in their heels and say, "no'?

Kim Carpenter, San Juan County chief executive officer, said the county will continue to provide emergency medical services and it is unlikely there would be drastic cuts to public-safety departments.


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"We would do everything to look at what the county can do to cut services that would not have a drastic effect on the citizens," Carpenter said earlier this week.

But there is not a lot of "fat."

The county faces revenue losses on numerous fronts, Carpenter said. Revenue from SunRay Park & Casino has dropped due to competition with Northern Edge Navajo Casino. And the county is taking a big hit as the local energy industry languishes.

That doesn't even take into account the slow recovery from the 2008 recession.

Carpenter is loath to start listing services that could be cut because that also means people in those departments would lose their jobs. Nonetheless, he mentions elimination of waste transfer stations and some of the highway work.

"We have cut the budget for four years," Carpenter said.

And if the tax fails, funding for emergency services would revert to a previous agreement where Farmington and the county paid the largest shares, while Bloomfield and Aztec paid smaller shares.

That means additional burdens on stressed city budgets.

Another point Carpenter makes is that the gross receipts tax is paid by "everybody who spends money in San Juan County, including visitors."

If there are no other options, Carpenter said, the burden likely would be shifted to local property owners. The county can raise property taxes administratively, he said, which means a public vote is not required.

We think this relatively small but important tax should be permanent. The money is used for services that save lives. It's the civilized thing to do.