AZTEC — San Juan County Commissioners could vote on a tax increase later this month.

"I'm asking you guys today that you please raise my taxes," Russ Allen told the commissioners during their meeting on Tuesday.

Many of the nearly 100 people at the commission meeting clapped after Allen spoke. Three taxes were on the commission's agenda, and commissioners unanimously approved voting on two of them later this month. A vote is scheduled at noon on Sept. 22.

The taxes are an effort to reduce an anticipated $6 million deficit in a program that helps uninsured county residents pay medical bills and reimburses providers for care delivered to the uninsured.

San Juan County Commission Chairman Jack Fortner speaks with County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter on Tuesday during a commission meeting at the San Juan
San Juan County Commission Chairman Jack Fortner speaks with County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter on Tuesday during a commission meeting at the San Juan County Administration Building in Aztec. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

If the commission passes both of the taxes, people shopping in the county and its three cities would pay less than 4 cents more on every $20 purchase. The two taxes are estimated to generate about $6.5 million in their first year.

One is a one-eighth of 1 percent gross receipts tax, and the other is a one-sixteenth of 1 percent gross receipts tax.

Both are designed to expire after several years. The first tax would end Dec. 31, 2017, and the second would end Dec. 31, 2016, according to county documents.

Commission Chairman Jack Fortner has suggested the commission adopt the two taxes with the sunset clauses.

The commission opted not to vote on a one-twelfth of 1 percent tax increase, which was another option suggested to deal with the deficit.

The one-sixteenth of 1 percent tax could be overturned even if the commission approves it. Within 60 days of adopting the tax, if the county clerk receives a petition signed by 5 percent of the county's registered voters — 3,607 people — that would force an election on the issue, according to state statute.

The state gave the county the authority to impose the one-eighth of 1 percent tax increase through another bill.

A Senate bill that passed in the last legislative session is part of the reason the county is facing a deficit in its health care assistance program.

Senate Bill 268 requires counties to pay one-twelfth of 1 percent of their gross receipts taxes to a statewide fund known as the Safety Net Care Pool.

San Juan County's health care program and the safety net pool help health care providers pay for uninsured health care, among other services.

The county's payment to the fund is about $3 million. That and another approximately $3 million worth of obligations account for the more than $6 million deficit.

Only one of the nearly 100 people who attended a commission meeting in late August opposed the tax increases. At the meeting Tuesday evening, only a few opposed the tax increase.

Bloomfield resident Glen Spencer on Tuesday said he does not support a tax raise, adding, "I don't think more money is the answer."

Spencer said if the county spent less money on outside studies, it would have more money to manage the government. He referenced the $358,000 the county paid consulting firms to help write a county-wide zoning code. Instead of adopting the code, the commission indefinitely tabled it.

Allen, however, implored the commissioners to consider a tax raise, rather than to cut services or lay off staff.

"Commissioners, I realize this isn't a popular thing to do, to raise taxes," Allen said. "And that's exactly why we elected you."

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.