County Commissioners OK 1st step in GRT increase, approve interim budget

Voters could be asked to decide fate of tax hike in November

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Mike Stark

FARMINGTON — Members of the San Juan County Commission took the first step toward enabling a slight increase in the gross receipts tax during their May 25 meeting, voting unanimously to approve the publication of a notice of intent that will allow them to further pursue the issue in July.

The commission will take up the potential 1/16th of 1 percent hike in the GRT on July 6. They will vote on whether to forward the issue to county voters, who would then decide the fate of the proposal during the Nov. 2 general election.

According to county officials, the increase would generate an estimated $1.6 million annually, and the revenue would be dedicated to emergency communications, and emergency medical and behavioral health services.

If commissioners and then voters approve the measure, it would go into effect on July 1, 2022. The county would not begin receiving revenue from the increase until September 2022.

County Manager Mike Stark said the need for the increase is clear, explaining that while the county's GRT receipts historically have exceeded expenditures and allowed the county to build its cash reserves, that is no longer the case. He said the consensus view of county officials is that this is the right time to bring the issue to voters.

He also pointed out that because San Juan County serves as a shopping hub for the entire region, attracting spenders from neighboring states, an increase in the GRT would be a way to adopt a tax increase that spreads the financial burden as widely as possible.

David Ripley, who is the director of the San Juan County Communications Authority, spoke in support of the measure.

"We're close to the breaking point," he said, explaining how the authority has been cutting costs for a while but is still feeling the crunch. "There just isn't anything more we can do."

Ripley said the biggest issue the authority faces is the fact that many employees have not seen a cost of living pay increase in several years.

"We've got to have some additional funding," he said.

Commissioners passed the items with no further discussion.

Interim budget approved, submitted to state

The commission also voted unanimously to approve an interim budget of more than $130 million. That document now will go to state officials for their approval.

County chief financial officer Kim Martin introduced the measure, explaining that some figures in the budget had changed slightly since commissioners discussed it during a four-hour workshop on May 11. She said there was a net decrease in expenditures of more than $275,000 and a net decrease in revenues of nearly $80,000.

But she emphasized the interim budget the county is submitting to the state is balanced and that it includes a healthy cash reserve.

She said the commission will take up the issue again in late July when it will need to approve and submit a final budget to the state for its approval.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.