Increases in public safety spending, worker salaries included in county interim budget

Proposed budget of more than $150 million includes $19 million in ARPA funds

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The workshop was designed to prepare commissioners to adopt an interim budget during their regular meeting on May 24.
  • The commission will submit a final budget to the state for its approval at the end of July.
  • County Manager Mike Stark noted the county is seeing an overall improvement in economic activity, especially Internet sales.

FARMINGTON — Members of the San Juan County Commission spent more than two hours sifting through the details of the county's Fiscal Year 2023 budget on May 11, a document that is highlighted by increased spending on public safety and merit raises for county employees.

County Manager Mike Stark and his staff presented commissioners with an interim budget of slightly more than $150 million, a total that represents a significant increase over the FY 2022 budget of approximately $120 million. But Stark hastened to point out that $19 million of that $20 million increase is attributed to revenue from the federal American Rescue Plan Act and does not reflect a massive increase in taxes and operations by the county.

The workshop was designed to prepare commissioners to adopt an interim budget during their regular meeting on May 24. With the help of some department heads, Stark presented the document to commissioners and then invited their feedback.

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Mike Stark

The commission will submit a final budget to the state for its approval at the end of July.

Stark began the meeting by telling commissioners his staff was able to submit a balanced budget while maintaining a very strong cash reserve position of 46% for the county. He said that figure is 21% more than the cash reserves of 25% required by the state.

He also noted the county is seeing an overall improvement in economic activity, especially in Internet economic activity. Overall gross receipts tax revenue is budgeted at 17.5% more than what was reflected in the FY 2022 budget, with most of that increase — 16% — coming from increased Internet sales.

The budget also reflects a tax increase of 1/16th of 1 cent dedicated to emergency medical services that will go into effect July 1. Revenue from that increase will start to be distributed in September, and county officials project it will generate $1.6 million over the final nine months of collection for the fiscal year.

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County officials also budgeted a 12% increase in oil and gas revenue in the FY 2023 budget, as well as an anticipated $3 million payment from the federal government from the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program — an increase from nearly $2.5 million last year.

Some of those additional revenues will be spent on the creation of 13 new positions in county government, as well as the unfreezing of several existing positions.

"This is an unusual budget where we're proposing some new positions," Stark said, noting that for most of the last 10 years, the county has eliminated jobs or left them unfilled when employees left.

He said conditions finally are ripe for reversing that trend.

"We can only do more with less for so long before we start running into service issues," Stark said.

Another source of additional revenue for the county has been grant money, he said. The county has been much more aggressive about pursuing those grants in recent years, he said, and its efforts have paid off with more awards.

"We're arms wide open looking for any opportunities to bring those dollars to San Juan County," he said.

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But administering those grants and making sure the money is spent within the confines of the grant requirements takes more manpower, he said, and that requires a greater investment in staffing, he said.

"The hard part's actually managing the money," Stark said.

The interim budget includes 3% merit-based, across-the-board increases in employee salaries, which would mirror the pay hikes county employees received last year. Stark said the county's efforts to provide raises for its employees for most of the last 10 years were sporadic and/or minimal.

"Fortunately, the last two years, we're being consistent," he said.

Stark said the raises are necessary to retain the county's workforce.

"It's a very competitive and dynamic labor market," he said, explaining that the county is trying to stay as competitive as possible with private employers.

A new source of funding for the county this year will be revenue generated from the sale of cannabis products. The county will track gross receipts tax revenue generated from those sales, and the first payment should be received in June.

But Stark cautioned commissioners to keep their expectations in check regarding the size of that payment, noting that as of early May, there was only one cannabis retailer located in an unincorporated area of the county, although more applicants are working their way through the process of seeking approval.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.