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AZTEC — Of the nearly 100 people who spoke at Tuesday's San Juan County Commission meeting, only one man said he opposes increasing taxes to reduce a more than $6 million deficit the county is expected to face.

The rest — some whose voices broke with emotion — said they want taxes raised, rather than cutting services.

"I would rather be broke from paying taxes than be without my mom," said 17-year-old Tayanna Gonzales, whose mother graduated in April from the DWI Alternative Sentencing Division, one of the programs county officials have suggested cutting to cope with the deficit.

The teenager said that without the program, her mother would have died.

Stacey Romero speaks in support of a tax increase to deal with the county’s expected deficit during a commission meeting on Tuesday at the San Juan
Stacey Romero speaks in support of a tax increase to deal with the county's expected deficit during a commission meeting on Tuesday at the San Juan County Administration Building in Aztec. (Jon Austria /The Daily Times)

In fiscal year 2016, the county could face a $6.04 million deficit in a state-mandated program that helps uninsured county residents pay medical bills and reimburses providers for care delivered to the uninsured.

Counties are required to pay one-twelfth of 1 percent of their gross receipts taxes since the last legislative session to a state fund known as the Safety Net Care Pool. The fund helps the state's hospitals pay for uninsured health care.

San Juan County's payment to the fund is about $3 million, in addition to another roughly $3 million in additional obligations.

To eliminate the deficit, commissioners are considering cutting services, reducing county staff, raising taxes or a combination of those options.

While Ron Lyman said in the meeting that he doesn't like the idea of a tax increase, he was the only one to do so. He added that the arguments in favor of a tax increase were good.

"I know in my home if we need a new automobile and can't afford a Cadillac, we buy a Chevrolet," he said.

But when Commission Chairman Jack Fortner asked those in the audience opposed to a tax increase to stand, no one stood.

At center, Elizabeth Moore listens during a San Juan County Commission meeting on Tuesday at the San Juan County Administration Building in Aztec.
At center, Elizabeth Moore listens during a San Juan County Commission meeting on Tuesday at the San Juan County Administration Building in Aztec. (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

The Alternative Sentencing Division is one agency county officials have discussed cutting, and almost all those who spoke on Tuesday touched on the importance of keeping it, as well as similar programs, operating.

"Without this program, I would not be here. I would probably be 6 feet under," Elizabeth Moore told the commission.

Moore, a 40-year-old mother of two, said she moved to Farmington to escape domestic violence. To cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, she drank for four years, she said later in an interview.

After she was pulled over for drunken driving in Farmington, Moore said she was ordered to complete a 28-day jail-based treatment program at the Alternative Sentencing Division.

Treatment and counseling, she said, fixed her behavior, and it mended her bonds with her 19- and 16-year-old children. She had been withdrawn, she was communicating poorly and her children had felt alone, she said.

Moore, who graduated college with a bachelor's degree in dental care, said the arrest was the first time she got into trouble with the law. Beyond the homeless and the poor, there are doctors, nurses, lawyers and other professionals who are remanded to the Alternative Sentencing Division, Moore said.

"They haven't just helped the uneducated and the poor," she told the commission.

On Oct. 3, Moore said, she will mark two years of sobriety.

At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Scott Eckstein said passing a tax wouldn't fix the county's deficit. Rather, he said, a combination of "a lot of things" would.

Commissioner Margaret McDaniel said one out of every five people who sent her a private message about the issue asked her not to raise taxes. But those people did not attend the meeting, she said. McDaniel said she will "strongly consider" the comments she heard on Tuesday.

The commission is expected to vote next month on how to address the deficit.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and dschwartz@daily-times.com. Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.