The town of Taos Council is cracking down on short-term rentals during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a Tuesday (July 28) meeting, the council passed an amendment to the current emergency order, which holds short-term rental owners responsible if their guests do not follow the mandates of the order, such as a mandatory quarantine, or are operating without a license.
The new language in the order allows the town to revoke a short-term rental owner’s license to operate if they or their guests violate any section of the town’s emergency health order.
“We need something stronger than just handing out citations and I think that means we have to repeal the business registration,” said town manager Rick Bellis.
As per Mayor Dan Barrone’s ongoing executive order, and backed by the state’s similar order, all out-of-state visitors must self-quarantine for 14 days upon entering New Mexico. Anyone who willingly disobeys this is guilty of a petty misdemeanor and could be fined up to $500 and spend 90 days in jail.
The punishment changes for short-term rental owners.
If the occupants of that rental violate the quarantine, the owner is to be held responsible for the violation and can be guilty of a misdemeanor charge. In addition, this revision states the owner will be given a notice to have a hearing before the code enforcement official and could lose their ability to run a business in Taos.
Short-term rental owners are legally obligated to inform their guests of the laws, ordinances and emergency proclamations in the town of Taos.
“I have investigated some of them,” Bellis said. “Most owners are cooperative. It’s going to be, unfortunately, mostly the out-of-town illegal (nonregistered short-term rentals) that we’re going to have to focus on now.”
During the meeting, Barrone questioned whether the changes cover the rentals that are not registered in the town. As per the town’s laws, all short-term rentals are to register as a business with the town of Taos and apply for an operating permit.
Permits can also be revoked due to other violations of town codes.
The item was passed with unanimous support from the council.
Emergency order extended
In addition to adding teeth to the town’s short-term rental laws, the council voted to continue the current declaration of emergency for the time being. The emergency surrounding the coronavirus pandemic caused Barrone to enact the declaration in March.
Barrone’s order mandates face coverings within the town limits and requires individuals to remain six feet apart from one another. The town’s order closely follows the state’s; however, a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew is included in the town’s order.
The council also passed the continuance of the order with unanimous support.
Budget woes continue
Town finance director Marietta Fambro gave a public hearing about the town’s 2020-21 budget which the council passed during the meeting.
General fund revenues are significantly down from previous years. Because of this, budget expenditures in the general fund are down nearly $2 million from the previous year due to the revenues lost during the pandemic.
This loss caused the town to take steps to ensure the budget was balanced by freezing new hires for empty positions. In addition, the town closed the library, Youth and Family Center and the Taos Visitor Center to save on expenditures.
“People said we were ridiculous for saying there would be no events this summer or this year,” Bellis said during the meeting. “I think we’ve made the right decision.”
The town canceled all summer events scheduled for Kit Carson Park and also canceled a number of public events throughout the seasons.
The town also took a first look at the infrastructure capital improvement plan which focuses on public works in the town over the next few years.
“We need to carefully prioritize our most critical infrastructure needs,” said town grants and revenue director Lynda Perry.
Prior projects have included town vehicle replacement, Ranchitos Road improvements and acequia revitalization improvements.
Town officials will be revisiting the plan to add to and update the progress on projects as it occurs.