County commission discusses ordinance 95
AZTEC — County officials say a controversial business registration ordinance — Ordinance 95 — has saved lives and shut down a dangerous operation.
The commission narrowly passed the ordinance on a 3-2 vote in January. During a commission meeting today, Larry Hathaway, the county community development administrator, said 223 businesses have submitted applications and 27 of those required fire inspections.
Some county residents have said the ordinance is government overreach and expressed concerns that the county could shut down businesses.
Since it was passed, the ordinance was used to shut down a refinery.
Earlier this year, San Juan County Fire Department responded to a call at a business off of U.S. Highway 550 south of Bloomfield. The firefighters, assisted by New Mexico State Police, found a refinery that used coal fines — a muck made of coal, waste and water — to create diesel fuel. Some of the buckets on the property were leaking from holes in their sides while others would overflow during rainstorms.
"This place out there is virtually a disaster," County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said during the meeting.
After the meeting, Hathaway said he does not know if the refinery has a business name and that its owners are working with New Mexico Environment Department to clean up the land and come into compliance with regulations.
Fire Chief Craig Daugherty said the business has been issued multiple code violations and was told to stop operations.
"He was literally spilling, when we showed up on scene, thousands upon thousands of we don't know what," Daugherty said.
He said the leaked substance was some type of petroleum product and there are residences "a stone's throw away" from the refinery.
"We're lucky that he didn't blow up part of the neighborhood," Daugherty said.
While the refinery is the worst instance the county has dealt with using Ordinance 95, Daugherty said there are other instances where an inspection has possibly saved lives.
In one instance, the owner of an auto body shop in the county told inspectors he was having headaches after work. The inspection revealed a improperly vented heater.
"If he had worked any longer in there, he could have died of (carbon monoxide) poisoning," Daugherty said.
The county is not unique in having a business registration ordinance. After incorporating, the town of Kirtland established a business registration ordinance, Hathaway said. He also serves on the town's board of trustees. He said the town's registration ordinance revealed businesses that weren't paying gross receipts taxes.
Carpenter said the same thing could be happening in the county and Ordinance 95 can help address those problems. Some of the businesses that have registered under the ordinance did not previously have state issued tax identification numbers. Carpenter said one person who has been operating a business for 13 years in the county did not have a tax identification number. That could lead to a loss of gross receipts taxes for the county.
"This county relies on (gross receipts taxes) more than most counties," Carpenter said. Those taxes pay for services and infrastructure used by most county residents.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.