AZTEC — County commissioners are considering charging landfill user fees and increasing county employees' health insurance contributions to make up for a budget deficit.
San Juan County officials are crafting a budget proposal for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which starts in July. San Juan County Commissioners are expected to approve the budget later this month.
The county has a preliminary budget that contains a significant decrease in spending from last year but still leaves a $410,000 deficit.
County officials want to get rid of that deficit before the budget is voted on later this month.
County commissioners, county executives and other officials met Monday morning to discuss final cost-cutting steps.
"We need direction in how you want us to offset the $410,000 deficit," County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said.
County staff told commissioners Monday there are several ways to cut that much money from the budget.
The commission could consider anything from landfill fees to selling the golf course to an across-the-board wage cut for county employees.
The commissioners didn't vote or take action on any budget decisions, but they did appear willing to create landfill fees and to modify county employees' insurance premiums to save money. Commissioner Keith Johns suggested both those cost-saving measures. And those proposals met no opposition during Monday's meeting.
"We're providing a gold-plated plan and we have to be prepared to adjust that," County Commissioner Jack Fortner said about the employee's insurance plan.
A change to make employees pay for 22 percent of their premium would save the county $146,000, according to county documents.
Public Works Administrator Dave Keck said charging residents of Aztec, Bloomfield and unincorporated areas $5 to dispose of a pick-up full of trash and $10 to throw away a trailer full of trash would collect nearly $350,000 a year. Farmington residents already pay to use the landfill in their utility bill.
Johns also suggested the commission consider changing the county's workweek from five, eight-hour days to four 10-hour days. It is estimated that switch would save the county about $41,000.
Fortner and Commissioner Margaret McDaniel said they may not support that measure because it could negatively effect people who want to do county business on Fridays.
"It makes sense," Commissioner Scott Eckstein said of the workweek change. "The only question is: Is it affecting citizens? Who are our most important customers."
The county's total expense budget next year will be significantly less than it was this year. In the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the county budgeted for $141 million in expenses. In the upcoming year's preliminary budget, the county has planned for $121 million in expenses, which is a 14-percent decrease, according to county documents.
County Operations Officer Mike Stark said about half that decrease stems from fewer capital projects and debt service payments the county will have next year. The remaining decrease comes from cutting wages and benefits and county operations.
The county's wages and benefits expenses are expected to drop from $50.4 million this year to $49.4 million next year, which is a 2.2-percent decrease. Operating costs are expected to drop from $58.8 million this year to $55.7 million next year, which is a 5.3-percent decrease.
A recent countywide decrease in sales and taxable values in the oil and gas industry created the need to cut county government spending.
Since 2009, gross receipts in the county are down 20 percent, from $42.6 million to an estimated $33.9 million in the upcoming fiscal year.
In the same time, property tax revenue dropped 8.3 percent.
The drop in oil and gas production and oil and gas equipment values caused the decrease, according to county documents.
Oil and gas production and equipment in New Mexico are taxed similar to the way property is but their taxable value is based on production, said County Financial Officer Linda Thompson.
Ryan Boetel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4644. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel.