Contradicting population counts could cost county

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Contradicting population counts could cost Curry County as much as $250,000.

County Manager Lance Pyle said a count conducted by the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research put the county’s population at 48,005, while a U.S. Census estimate puts the population at 43,755.

As a result, the county has 5-too-many residents to meet the 48,000 cut-off for a $140,000 grant from the state’s Small Counties Assistance Fund.

The difference may seem small, but…

“It’s very critical,” Pyle said. “It’s $140,000 that we had approved in the budget… we’ve got to cut somewhere in the budget. If we don’t go in and cut, we will have to dip into reserves to cover it.”

The money from the fund has traditionally gone to detention center costs and law enforcement, he said.

In the inverse, the state’s Tax and Revenues Department recently notified the county it is reducing an annual equalization distribution that would have put almost $110,000 in county coffers. The reason cited by the state: Using figures in U.S. Census estimates, the county’s population has decreased this year, Pyle said.

Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, has introduced a bill to help the county make up some of the difference.

SB 224 — which seeks to replace $140,000 of the money through state appropriations — asking the legislature to deem Curry County’s situation an emergency.

Introduced Jan. 28, the bill has already passed two committees and made its way to the Senate Finance Committee for a hearing Friday.

Pyle said the county is optimistic the bill will pass. However, the issue with the money from Tax and Revenue has not been resolved, he said.

The loss of the two incomes has contributed to a $600,000 operating deficit the county reported last week, Pyle said.

“It is frustrating that we had two state agencies determining our population based on different criteria and both costing us money,” Pyle said, estimating the county’s true population is probably around 45,000.

“We’re looking at a $250,000 loss,” he said.

“That means a substantial shortfall to our budget that we’re going to make up either by cutting the budget or dipping in reserves,” he said.