Bloomfield will hold election on tax increase

Council also approves resolution that opposes four proposed updates to federal rules governing methane emissions

Joshua Kellogg
From left, Bloomfield Fire Department Chief George Duncan and Assistant Fire Chief John Mohler speak to the Bloomfield City Council during a meeting on Feb. 22 at Bloomfield City Hall.

BLOOMFIELD — Bloomfield will hold a special election in August that will allow voters to determine whether the city should raise taxes to maintain the current level of staffing at the city's fire department.

Bloomfield councilors approved a resolution 3-1 on Monday to set the special election for Aug. 16. The resolution also designates Bloomfield City Hall as the polling place for residents to cast ballots on the issue of whether the city's gross receipts tax should be increased by one-fourth of 1 percent.

Councilor Elwin Roark was the only member of the council to vote against the three agenda items related to the election.

“I think we are taxed enough as it is,” Roark said after the meeting. “I’m mostly opposing a tax increase in general.”

Ian Rutter, an engineer with the Bloomfield Fire Department, checks the water pressure on a fire engine at the start of the shift on March 4 at the Bloomfield Fire Department.

The Bloomfield Fire Department has been operating with 10 paid firefighters since 2014, when a $1 million federal grant allowed the city to increase the number of paid firefighters from three to 10.

The proposed tax increase before voters is projected to generate an additional $570,000 annually, officials have said. It will cost about $450,000 to keep the additional seven firefighters on staff.

Currently, Bloomfield's gross receipt tax rate is 7.9375 percent, according to city Finance Director Brad Ellsworth. If voters approve the additional one-fourth of 1 percent increase, it would be the last gross receipts tax increase the city could pass for general city expenses.

If approved, the new gross receipts tax would take effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

During the meeting, Councilor Matt Pennington said the city should advertise the election and educate residents on how the tax will impact them.

Ian Rutter, an engineer with the Bloomfield Fire Department, goes through a checklist inside the cab of a fire engine on March 4 at the Bloomfield Fire Department.

Also on Monday, councilors voted on a resolution voicing the city's opposition to four changes the Bureau of Land Management has proposed that would affect the oil and gas industry.

The resolution states proposed BLM Onshore Oil and Gas Orders 3, 4, 5 and 9 would devastate San Juan County's economy by potentially closing 7,500 wells in the region and leading to more than 9,000 layoffs in the San Juan Basin.

The proposed updates would change federal regulations governing methane leaks, including flaring and venting to reduce methane emissions. They would also increase royalties paid by oil and gas companies.

Mayor Scott Eckstein said the resolution the city passed was similar to the one San Juan County commissioners approved last week.

“It’s not what we need right now. The rules aren’t well thought out,” Eckstein said.

Roark said the proposed updates could raise production costs for companies struggling due to the low price of oil.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.