LOCAL

Mesilla approves $1.8 million budget hours before deadline as town addresses audit findings

Algernon D'Ammassa
Las Cruces Sun-News
Mesilla, N.M.'s town hall is pictured on Monday, April 25, 2022.

MESILLA – "This is not the way I like to do a budget," Mesilla town clerk and treasurer Rani Bush said Tuesday, referring to a midnight deadline for the town to submit its budget to the state.

The town's board of trustees and Mayor Nora Barraza held a special meeting that afternoon to approve a $1.8 million budget, with a few corrections to make before the data was presented to the state Department of Finance and Administration.

Bush, a former city clerk and treasurer for Elephant Butte who succeeded Cynthia Stoehner-Hernandez in Mesilla earlier this spring, submitted the town's first budget since presenting a corrective action plan in February to address findings from Mesilla's recent annual financial audits.

Auditors alerted the town to $3,794 in court cash collections that lacked supporting documents as well as discrepancies between cash receipts and bank deposits, indicating a risk of loss or theft. 

At the time the plan was executed in February, an ongoing investigation was underway at town hall while staff implemented updated internal controls pertaining to cash receipts and matching them to bank deposits. 

From left, Mesilla, N.M. trustees Adrianna Merrick and Stephanie Johnson-Burick are pictured with Mayor Nora Barraza during a public meeting at town hall on Monday, April 25, 2022.

The corrective plan acknowledged the town submitted last year's audit to the New Mexico State Auditor past the Dec. 15 deadline because town staff provided some required documentation late — a matter auditors said was the responsibility of the town clerk and treasurer, who at the time was Stoehner-Hernandez. 

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Auditors also discovered employee files with missing job descriptions, evaluations and other documents. Some employees' records included incorrect pay rates.

The town reported it had updated and corrected the personnel files in December and that it also corrected balance statements of its capital assets.

Bush told trustees the finance office took extra care to make sure the personnel budget of $1,183,268, which includes salary increases, was accurate in light of the audit findings and recent turnover among town staff. 

Children play in Mesilla's historic plaza on Thursday, May 19, 2022.

In addition to personnel services, the budget includes an operational budget of $664,979, Bush told the Las Cruces Sun-News.

That leaves the town with some breathing room, Barraza noted, since projected revenues are currently estimated at $2.06 million.

On Wednesday morning, Barraza confirmed that the budget was submitted to Santa Fe around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. 

The trustees also approved a renewed agreement with the Las Cruces Public Schools to assign school resource officers from the Mesilla Marshals Office to Zia Middle School and Rio Grande Preparatory Institute at a slightly increased cost of $106,469 to the school district for the 2022-23 school year, which Barraza said would cover salary increases for the officers. 

The trustees also approved the hire of a new utility clerk/receptionist after conferring in closed session for just six minutes. 

Algernon D'Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, adammassa@lcsun-news.com or @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.