Most departments in the town of Taos were asked to cut their budgets by 2.6 percent for the coming fiscal year, and the town will seek to raise revenues through new library card fees, administrative fees and parking rates.
The town is expecting tax and fee revenues to grow no more than 1 percent during the next fiscal year and has budgeted for general fund revenues of $10.4 million, keeping them essentially flat with this year.
In addition to belt-tightening efforts by department heads, the town is aiming to increase its ending general fund balance to $1,161,200.
The town is also proposing to make a few procedural changes under Manager Oscar Rodríguez, who started working for the town of Taos about a year ago. They include: no longer using capital tax revenues to fund operations; adding certain contingency funds to the ending balance rather than including them in departments’ budgets; treating some programs like emergency dispatch and marketing as recurring rather than one-time costs so they can be paid for with current revenues; and charging 5-percent administrative fees to enterprise funds like water, sewer and solid waste, and 3-percent fees on multijurisdictional agreements such as the JPA for emergency dispatch, which combined are expected to generate nearly $308,000.
“Major changes” Rodríguez brought to the attention of the council during budget hearings May 1-2, include a proposed charge for library cards for non-town residents 18 years and older. The fee is expected to generate $120,000 for library operations. Rodríguez said the Friends of the Taos Library has requested that anyone who donates $25 or more to that organization have the fee waived.
Rodríguez said people who use the library computers, wireless Internet or just read books at the site would not be charged, and the fee would only apply to cardholders. However, Councilor Fred Peralta suggested charging non-residents to use any library services.
Rodríguez said further charges could be imposed in the future, but the effort and money it would take to monitor all use of the library would be prohibitive. He said the library currently has about 3,000 cardholders who are town residents and more than 20,000 who are county residents.
“That picture is way skewed,” he said.
Councilor Andrew Gonzales said Taos County should start “stepping up to the plate” and contributing to the operation of the library.
Parking meter fee increases were also discussed. Rodríguez said meters would charge $1 per hour, up from the current 50 cents, and parking tickets would rise from $10 to $20. Non-working meters would also be replaced and a ticketer hired.
The parking meter fee increase is expected to generate $212,000 over the nearly $88,000 budgeted for this year. He said funds generated through parking meters would be reinvested in the Historic District.
The town is not only budgeting to move emergency dispatch operations into the Kit Carson Regional Command Center on Gusdorf Road but to increase its personnel and operational budgets.
“Only Emergency Dispatch (Communications Fund) is proposed to receive an increase in its operating budget, 29 percent, or $83,896, primarily to cover increased personnel costs,” a report from Rodríguez to the council states. “Including the county contribution, the total budget for this multijurisdictional operation is proposed to total $743,792, not including the $345,000 capital budget for the relocation of this center.”
The move into the Command Center has been a point of controversy for more than a year, and town leaders have said the other partners in the joint-powers agreement (JPA) under which the center is run have yet to sign on to a revised JPA.
The move is expected to be completed by this summer, and Mayor Darren Córdova said other JPA members, including Taos County, Questa and Taos Ski Valley, are being told that if they sign on sooner rather than later the town will shoulder the moving costs. He said if they wait, the town could ask to be reimbursed for moving costs.
“We’re hovering around that deadline,” he said. “We need to move forward.”
Councilor Rudy Abeyta encouraged the other entities to go along with the town.
“Join us and quit whining,” he said during last week’s budget hearings.
A proposed $650 lump sum payment to employees would cover about half of the anticipated increase in out-of-pocket expenses for benefits they are expected to see in the coming year. While that step does not address employee morale in the way Rodríguez had proposed, with a three-year plan that would culminate in a pay-for-performance system, it is expected to “allow employee morale to remain stable a while longer,” according to Rodríguez’ report.
The town could not afford to begin implementing Rodríguez’ three-year plan during the coming fiscal year; Córdova said the lump sum payment “contributes” to improving morale but does not address the root issues.
“I think there is a bigger picture to morale,” he said. “All employees want to feel appreciated.”
The council will review the budget again May 28, and it is due to the state Department of Finance and Administration June 1.