CEO says staff reductions, tax hike may be needed

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AZTEC — The San Juan County Communications Authority and Emergency Medical Services could run out of money within the next three to four years, according to County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter, who is also the chairman of the EMS committee.

The communications authority serves as the 9-1-1 call center for the entire county with the exception of Navajo Nation.

“There’s going to have to be some very difficult discussions taking place,” Carpenter told the County Commission on Tuesday during its bimonthly meeting.

He said those discussions could include reductions in staff or increased taxes.

The San Juan County Commission will meet at 2:30 p.m. May 1 to discuss the fiscal year 2019 budget for the communications authority and EMS.

Both the communications authority and EMS are funded through a 1/8th of 1 percent gross receipts tax increment. At one point, the two entities had a reserve fund of $12 million, but they have both been spending more money each year than the tax brings in for the past couple of years.

Audit reports show the entities beginning to spend more than the tax could generate starting in fiscal year 2015. There is still money in the reserves, but Carpenter said it will be depleted within the next four years. The county ended fiscal year 2017 with less than $10.5 million in reserves for the EMS and communications authority, according to the audit report.

Each year, the tax generates $4.3 million for the two entities, which is about $2 million less than what is being spent.

The county could implement an additional 1/16th of 1 percent gross receipts tax that would generate about $2 million of additional funding. The tax would have to be approved by San Juan County voters during an election.

Carpenter said the overspending has been conducted to meet physical needs and federal mandates. There are also some big expenses coming up. For example, EMS needs funding to replace four ambulances.

Carpenter said the county began closely monitoring the communications authority and EMS budgets in 2013. He said at the time the communication authority and EMS were budgeting expenditures greater than revenue, but were not spending more than the tax generated. That has since changed.

If the communications authority and EMS run out of money, the county and the city of Farmington will each pay 44 percent of the operating costs, and the remaining 12 percent will be split between Aztec and Bloomfield, Carpenter said.

He said the county likely will have to modify the joint powers agreement to include the town of Kirtland. When the agreement was drafted, Kirtland was not an incorporated municipality. Because of that, Kirtland has not been paying for the services it receives, and the county has picked up the bill for the town.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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