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An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988

Property taxes, bonds, and ballot questions

—Stephen M. Barro

During the first week of November, Sandoval County homeowners will receive their 2014 property tax bills, and County voters will be asked to approve several bond issues. Residential tax rates will be slightly lower than last year’s—1.8 percent lower in Placitas and 1.3 percent lower in Bernalillo. These reductions follow larger declines in 2013. But whether the lower rates will be sustained in 2015, and thereafter, depends in part on how voters decide the bond questions on Election Day. Voter approval of the County’s proposal to issue twenty million dollars in new bonds would more than offset this year’s rate drop. More locally, if the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (ESCAFCA) is able to convince its voters to authorize $2.2 million dollars in new bonds, residents of Algodones and the affected parts of Bernalillo will see their future ESCAFCA taxes more than double.

The total 2014 tax rate on most Placitas homes will be 24.880 mills, down from 25.339 mills in 2013. The following table shows the makeup of the 2014 rate and the year-to-year percentage change in each of its components:

Bernalillo homeowners will pay all the taxes listed above plus a municipal tax of 3.203 mills and an ESCAFCA operational tax of .660 mills, bringing their total 2014 rate up to 28.743 mills.

This year’s rate reduction will yield only a tiny tax saving: about $45 dollars less on a Placitas home valued at three hundred thousand dollars in both 2013 and 2014. If a home’s assessed value has risen by more than about two percent, the homeowner will pay more than last year, notwithstanding the lower rate.

As to the upcoming bond election, Sandoval County is asking voters to authorize four separate bond issues totaling twenty million dollars. These bonds would provide funds for a new public safety center, communications equipment, an expanded judicial complex, and county libraries. The County has not stated explicitly how much the residential tax rate would rise if all four were approved, but according to the County Public Information Office, the annual tax on a home would rise by $20.17 dollars for each one hundred thousand dollars of the home’s assessed value. That figure, if correct, seems to imply a rate increase of about .65 mills—more than enough to undo the 2014 reduction noted above.

ESCAFCA wants voters’ permission to borrow another $2.2 million dollars to add to the unused $2.8 million dollars (more or less) that it still has in the bank from previous borrowings. (ESCAFCA failed to use the three million dollars it borrowed in 2011 from the New Mexico Finance Authority within the stipulated three-year period, so it is now requesting an extension.) A “yes” vote would cause ESCAFCA’s debt service tax rate to jump from .869 mills in 2014 to over 2.40 mills in 2016—and then to remain at that elevated level (according to ESCAFCA’s bond advisors) for no less than 13 more years. Placitas would not be affected, as it is no longer part of ESCAFCA. Bernalillo voters may want to consider whether, given ESCAFCA’s record, they can expect flood control benefits commensurate with these added costs. Algodones residents already have been told repeatedly that flood relief for them is unlikely for the foreseeable future.

Finally, looking ahead, a more consequential property tax issue for voters to decide—not this year but in 2016—is whether to extend the 4.25 mill County tax that subsidizes the UNM and Presbyterian hospitals in Rio Rancho. That tax, which voters in 2008 authorized the County to impose “for not less than four years and not more than eight,” is now being levied for a sixth year. By 2016, it will have generated around $110 million dollars in subsidy payments. At that point, the owner of a home valued at two hundred thousand dollars will have paid a cumulative $2,200 dollars in hospital taxes. It was unclear from the outset whether the intent was to provide start-up funding or permanent County support for the hospitals. It remains unclear what hospital services, if any, are contingent on continuation of the tax or, more generally, what benefits County taxpayers have gotten or can expect to get for their money. These are matters that the Sandoval County Commission will surely want to examine before placing any renewal question on the 2016 ballot and that voters will want to consider before they go to the polls.

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