Tax special election approved for May 3

Kevin Wilson

In a short special meeting Thursday, the Clovis City Commission approved a May 3 special election for a gross receipts tax increase, and the $30,000 budget transfer to pay for it.

Both measures, and an unrelated measure allowing city intervention in a water rights case, were approved by 6-0 votes. Mayor Gayla Brumfield was in Washington, D.C., and Commissioners Bobby Sandoval and Dan Stoddard were absent.

On Feb. 3, the commission approved Ordinance No. 1953-2011, which would, for a 10-year-period, push the city’s gross receipts tax up by .25 percent. The city’s current GRT rate is 7.5625 percent, and would have gone to 7.8125 percent on July 1 had it taken effect.

The ordinance, however, was ineffective as of Tuesday, when signatures beyond the required 456 were certified from a petition of about 1,000 Clovis residents, spearheaded by the High Plains Patriots citizen group.

The $30,000 for the election, City Manager Joe Thomas said, was roughly equal to the cost of printing ballots, training and paying poll workers and other actions for the 2010 municipal elections.

“That’s our best guess,” Thomas said.

Commissioner Randy Crowder, the only commissioner to vote against the ordinance, asked if the election could be delayed to March of next year.

According to state statute, new tax rates can only be implemented on Jan. 1 or July 1, and must be filed three months in advance. If voters uphold the tax, the petition process has already postponed the effective rate for six months.

Crowder said if the city could push the tax’s effective date to July 1, 2012, it could be added to the 2012 municipal election at no extra cost. Four commission seats — held by Crowder, Sandoval, Chris Bryant and Fred Van Soelen — and the mayoral position will be on that ballot.

City Attorney David Richards said the section of the city charter (8-2) dealing with special elections doesn’t allow delays for financial concerns, or any other reason.

“It’s a mandated requirement of the charter and state statutes that the election go forward,” Richards said. “There’s no real way the city commission can alter that process.”

Crowder also suggested a separate ordinance to repeal Ordinance No. 1953-2011. The city charter requires a vote within 60 days, but an ordinance to repeal could be introduced and approved before then.

“I don’t know if this commission would have the appetite to do so,” Crowder said. “I just wanted to see if we could.”

Richards said that move could be done.

Mayor Pro Tem Len Vohs felt the best option was the special election, and said its financial requirements were noted several times during debate of the ordinance.

“It has been verbalized and said many times,” Vohs said. “I think the people on the petition understood that very well.”

Under state law, if the tax is rejected by voters, the commission would have to wait until a year following the election to propose any tax increase.

The tax, if approved by voters, would provide about $1.5 million annually to help pay for a $13 million portion of the city’s financial obligation for the $500 million Ute Water Project. The city’s total obligation is $36 million, but the remainder would be made up by water sales.

In the other action item, Richards was given permission to participate on the city’s behalf in a rate case with New Mexico American Water. The company, which provides water for the city, is seeking recovery costs for its Lower Dockum exploratory well. The recovery had been agreed upon previously, Richards said, but there may be discussion on how long the recovery process will take.