Local governments to pass budgets, talk finance

Brett Berntsen
Jessica Kaufman, with San Juan County District 6 Emergency Medical Services support, at top, and firefighter Clarissa John  help clean their department's truck on Monday at San Juan County's Lee Acres Fire Department District 6 in Farmington. San Juan County officials are considering adding fire stations to improve service and lower residents' insurance premiums.

FARMINGTON – Finding ways to continue to provide services in tough financial times will dominate the discussion of local government bodies meeting on Tuesday .

The San Juan County Commission, as well as the cities of Aztec and Bloomfield, will each vote on whether to approve lean proposed budgets for the next fiscal year. Additionally, the Farmington City Council will discuss which capital improvement projects to pursue, given the likelihood of a lack of funding from the cash-strapped state.

The downturn in the oil and gas industry has led to a drop in tax revenue coming into local coffers statewide. The county has braced for an $8-million drop in money from gross receipts taxes, which are based on the revenues of local businesses. Aztec’s budget anticipates an 11-percent reduction in revenue for the city’s general fund. Bloomfield, meanwhile, is exploring ways to mitigate a projected $826,000 shortfall for fiscal year 2017. Officials from that city are faced with finalizing a budget that includes austerity measures that include mandatory employee furloughs, and cuts to cell phone plans and standby pay.

In addition to its budget talks, the county will also consider purchasing land for several new fire stations.

Kevin Jones, a division chief with the San Juan County Fire Department, said that stations are currently too spread out to serve certain subdivisions that have sprouted up in recent years. The department has proposed using existing bond money to build an additional station in the Lee Acres district, as well as replacing the aging facility in Waterflow.

San Juan County Fire Department District 6 Fire Chief Chad Vecellio on Monday parks a fire truck in the station's garage in Farmington.

Jones said the additions would improve response times and lower insurance rates for residents. Premiums are primarily based on scores from the Insurance Services Office, or ISO, which take into account the proximity of a building to a fire station. Jones said that homes or businesses more than 5 miles away from a station can be expensive or impossible to insure.

In April, the county voted to combine the Navajo Dam and Blanco fire districts to improve ISO ratings. Jones said this is a similar effort to help improve insurance rates for county residents.

“It’s necessary to continue to provide good service and maintain those ratings,” he said.

While the proposal is in its preliminary stages, Jones said possible locations for new stations include areas along County Road 5500 and N.M Highway 173, east of Aztec.

Keeping with the discussion of future projects, the Farmington City Council on Tuesday  will prioritize which capital improvement undertakings to pursue.

"We’re required by state law to submit a list of projects," Mayor Tommy Roberts said. "We have to look at what’s likely, and what’s not likely to be funded."

Roberts said the project at the top of that list is the construction of a storm-water detention pond near Country Club Elementary School. Roberts said the area is often flooded during heavy rain fall. The city was awarded $700,000 in capital improvement funding in 2015 for the detention pond, but requires an additional $1.7 million to begin construction.

Roberts said the project commands more attention than other proposals, such as an $18.5-million bridge connecting Pinion Hills Boulevard with neighborhoods in Crouch Mesa.

"There’s not going to be a lot of money available from the state in this next legislative cycle," Roberts said. "We have to look at the process realistically."

Brett Berntsen covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606. 

Lt. Jay Dollar, with San Juan County Fire Department District 6, inspects a fire truck on Monday at the Lee Acres fire department in Farmington.