Panic shopping in March boosted GRT, but county officials expect budget shortfall in FY21

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
The San Juan County Commission room has been set up to limit the spread of the coronavirus, however members of the public are being asked to watch the meeting rather than attend in person.

AZTEC — As the coronavirus pandemic hit New Mexico, San Juan County shoppers rushed to stores to buy products like toilet paper and cleaning supplies.

This surge in shopping meant San Juan County’s May gross receipts tax distribution —which reflects business activity in March — came in above budget. County Manager Mike Stark said the GRT distribution was $60,000 more than budgeted.

"We saw a slight uptick and it was primarily due to all the purchases made in preparation of the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders issued by the governor," said County Deputy Chief Financial Officer Kim Martin during a meeting on May 19.

She said the June distribution will be a more accurate reflection of how much the virus has affected the economy and the GRT revenue. That will also be reflected in the July distribution.

According to New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department data, San Juan County received nearly $2.9 million in GRT. That is an increase from $2.6 million for the same month in 2019. And it is also an increase from about $2.5 million the previous month.

The County Commission approved an interim budget for fiscal year 2021 when it met on May 19. The budget projects $103 million in revenue. A final budget will be approved in late July.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation is using electronic message boards to advise the public to shop alone to reduce the spread of COVID-19. A message board is situated on New Mexico Highway 371 south of Farmington.

Martin said it has been a challenging budget cycle but the finance department was able to draft a balanced budget that also meets the state's required 3/12th reserve for the general fund and 1/12 reserve for the road fund. 

One way it accomplished that feat was by freezing 18 vacant positions and eliminating one position. Not hiring to fill those vacant positions and eliminating the one position led to $945,409 in savings, Martin said.

"That was a big help in trying to get this balanced budget," she said.

The frozen positions include eight detention center officer positions. Stark said the reduction in the population at the county jail allowed the county to freeze those positions.

The interim budget projects an approximately 16% reduction in GRT revenue in the upcoming fiscal year that starts at the beginning of July. And Martin said the county is budgeting for a 40% drop in revenue related to oil and gas extraction.

Stark said one of the things that made San Juan County able to balance its budget was coming into the budget cycle with a 37% cash reserves, which is 12% more than the state requires.

In addition, Stark said the county has used proceeds from refinanced bonds to address some of the deferred maintenance at county facilities.

"Today we're entering this pandemic, this potential budget crisis that we're preparing for, in really good shape knowing that the majority of our large maintenance needs in the county have been satisfied," he said.

Stark said San Juan County is probably in a better position at this time than many entities. He said the county won't see as dramatic of impact to its budget as municipalities will see if the GRT declines. That is because GRT makes up approximately 40% of the county's budget and is a larger share of the municipal budgets.

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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