Looking to the future

Sep 21st, 2015

By Troy Tudor

I am sure you have heard by now that the Doña Ana County’s FY2015-2016 Final Budget was passed and submitted to the state in the final hour before the deadline. The new budget calls for $134,668,683 million in revenues and $149,950,987 million in expenditures, which is a $15,282,304 deficit.

This is after the recently implemented, largest ever, gross receipts tax increase which will generate an estimated $12.3 million dollars this year. The shortfall will be made up with a drawdown of restricted/ designated funds, and $3,210,670 will come out of the county’s reserves to make it a “balanced” budget.

According to Benjamin Rawson County Commission District 3, FY07 to FY15 saw a 58 percent increase in spending. Commissioner Wayne D. Hancock District 4 stated at a recent commission meeting that the increase was because the population of the county had doubled since 2007, but statistics do not support that premise. Information from the United States Census Bureau shows the county population in 2007 to be 198,205 and in 2014 to be 213,676, only a 7.8 percent increase in population.

What was the result of this additional investment out of the taxpayer’s pocket? You would think with all of that additional spending we would find ourselves in really good shape. A quick glance at the headlines this year gives us a look into the condition of the county in light of this ever-increasing spending.

• County employees and our Sheriff deputies are underpaid.

• IT department was exploited.

• The Sheriff ’s Department’s fleet of vehicles, computer programs and radio equipment are outdated,dilapidated and obsolete.

• A Risk Management position remains unfilled while we have millions of dollars being paid out in lawsuits.

• A hiring freeze is in place.

• In the new comprehensive plan there are designs to expand the county government by adding even more departments.

• We are taking money out of reserves to fund day-to-day operations, immediately following the largest tax increase ever.

• We have one of the highest Gross Receipts Taxes in the state.

So this is where we are; now let’s begin looking into the future to where we want to be. An annual spending deficit is not sustainable. We want our local governments to be run efficiently and effectively with the highest return to the citizens on their tax dollars as possible. We want a positive environment for local government employees so that it reflects in the work they do on our behalf. We want public safety to be a priority. All of these things impact a community’s ability to thrive and grow. All of them influence investments in the community and the creation of jobs. All of them impact the future of this community.

As an organization, the Chamber is working for the success and promotion of our community; it is a part of our mission. Going forward, we will be introducing a number of initiatives and best practices to our elected officials and local governments for consideration and will endeavor to work with them to achieve the best outcomes possible. The first initiative we are suggesting is a process called “managed competition,” used by local governments to identify the most cost-effective method for quality service delivery. It calls for comparing the costs and benefits of contracting with private businesses or another government entity against the cost and benefits of providing those services in-house. This type of program, along with an employee incentive or gainsharing opportunities to reward employees that effectively save taxpayer money while still delivering quality services, has been used successfully in San Diego, Indianapolis, Charlotte and Chicago. There are numerous studies showing millions in savings to taxpayers, something that could be taken advantage of locally.

This is just one of many ideas that the Chamber is generating to help our community. Stay tuned!