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BLOOMFIELD — Residents here voted to approve a tax increase during a special election today, according to unofficial results.

According to figures provided by Bloomfield City Clerk Erikka Martinez, 317 of the 566 votes were in favor of the 1/4 of 1 percent gross receipts tax increase, and 249 votes were cast against the increase.

Mayor Scott Eckstein said the voter turnout for today’s  election was relatively good based on previous elections. He added the City Council will have a difficult time figuring out how to spend the money as the city deals with about $1.3 million in budget cuts for the current fiscal year to handle a drop in tax revenue.

“The voters have spoken they want to see this (tax) increase,” Eckstein said. “Now, the council will be listening to employees and the public to decide how to best allocate those funds.”

The city has been working to cut about $1.3 million from its budget for the current fiscal year after facing a shortfall of $826,000 due to a decline in gross receipts tax revenue. The cuts included a 3.46 percent pay cut for city employees.

The council voted in April to put the proposed sales tax increase before voters. The increase originally was framed as a way to help the Bloomfield Fire Department continue paying for seven of its 10 paid firefighters as a $1 million federal grant was set to expire. But city officials later said if the measure was approved, they would decide then how the money would be spent.

Resident JoAnn Ramsey said it was important to her to vote for the tax increase and show her support for the Bloomfield Fire Department. Members of Ramsey’s family recently had to call 911 after she experienced a medical emergency, and she was happy how quickly firefighters and emergency medical service personnel responded to the scene.

“A lot of older people don’t realize how important it is,” Ramsey said.

A resident of Bloomfield for more than 20 years, James Hayton said the city needs to be funded somehow, and there is a need for a little extra money right now.

“I’ve never seen the point in trying to choke the city in terms of their income,” Hayton said.

Hayton said it was not a good idea for the city to run into a budget deficit, but he understands how the decline in the oil and gas industries have impacted the area.

Resident Lee Crane said she voted against the tax increase because she was led to believe by city officials the budget was in better shape.

“What I was told and what is happening now is two different things,” Crane said.

Outside the polling location at City Hall, Michele Price said she voted against the increase because the city has one of the highest gross receipts tax rates in the area.

“I don’t think we need to be taxed anymore,” Price said.

Bloomfield’s current GRT rate is the second highest in San Juan County at 7.9375 percent, behind Aztec’s rate of 8 percent. Farmington has the third-highest gross receipts tax rate in the county at 7.625 percent, according the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department’s website.

The tax increase is scheduled to be implemented on Jan. 1, and the city should see some of the additional revenue in March, Eckstein said.

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

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