By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
Gross Receipt Tax, county road maintenance and rural hospital funding were a few of the concerns Quay County commissioners discussed Monday with the New Mexico Association of Counties’ president and executive director.
Sharon Stover, NMAC president and Steve Kopelman, NMAC executive director, met with commissioners during their regular meeting at the county courthouse.
Kopelman said at some point there will need to be a reform to the GRT system. He said currently in the state there is a high rate and low base and the way sales tax and GRT is supposed to work is a broad base and low rate.
Kopelman said legislators have been legislators looking at the possibility of removing all the exemptions deductions and credits. He said the 8.3 percent GRT in Tucumcari, if done away with, reduces all city and county exemptions to about 2.5 percent.
Kopelman said a few years ago the Municipal League brought forward a bill to reinstate the local food tax, but it failed to make it to a committee hearing.
“It is disheartening when GRT legislation like this is passed that puts more burden on local entities,” said Franklin McCasland, commission chair.
McCasland said businesses “can’t take any more GRT’s and with us being a border county like Curry and Roosevelt, there are local funds going into another state.”
Another concern is that the state “takes 5.25 percent of the collected local taxes from our GRT,” said Michael Cherry, District 2 commissioner.
“With House Bill 233, that did not pass would have reduction in the state food and medical hold harmless GRT distribution increments,” said Richard Primrose, county manager.
Primrose said the food and medical hold harmless provision makes up about 8 percent of Quay’s collected GRT. He said there would be a huge impact from losing that revenue.
Primrose said when citizens pass a new GRT, they want the county to have that money, not the state. He said residents have showed an amazing support with the GRT, especially with a couple of GRTs they voted to pass to fund Dan C. Trigg Memorial Hospital.
Kopelman asked commissioners if the state’s Safety Net Care Pool payments helped with the operation of the local hospital.
Cherry said the reduction in assistance is as much as 50 percent, compared to the previous funding structure.
Primrose said Quay County has a unique situation with the GRTs that has created a type of cushion for the reduced funding. He said the county formerly used the GRTs for leverage on a 3-to-1 match with the Sole Community Provider funds that was in place prior to the Safety Net Care Pool system.
Kopelman said one of the Safety Net Care Pool system intentions was to help the rural hospital and many of the rural hospitals receive more money for the unfunded portion of Medicaid.
There are services that our residents need such as obstetrics and gynecology that are not being provided, said Sue Dowell, District 1 commissioner.
Dowell said if there was a different funding system in place these services may be available to residents. She said this region already has a high infant mortality rate on top of a lack of health services.
McCasland said it is a struggle to find doctors to serve in a rural hospital. He said recruiting physicians has always been a struggle for hospitals and clinics.
Cherry said another issue facing counties, such as Quay County, is the endangered species regulations that affect the development of wind turbine farms and possible placement of transmission lines for renewable energy.
Primrose said Quay County, along with several counties in northeastern New Mexico have dealt recently with endangered species regulations covering the lesser prairie chicken and Mexican gray wolf. He said
NMAC has played an active role in combating these issues and the impact they may have on the counties.
Dowell said rural counties don’t get as much attention as the larger counties. “A case in point is when you drive to Albuquerque their interstate overpasses are painted nice with designs but when you travel east to Santa Rosa you don’t see the same,” she said.
“If the funding for that came from the state, didn’t it get to the border?” Dowell asked.
“All we want is our fair share from the state,” Dowell said.
Kopelman said the annual conference on economic development is going to be tailored to the rural counties, which is an area the NMAC needs to have a larger presence.
“An issue facing our county with the federal MAP 21 funding (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act,) is that it does not cover bridge repair,” said Larry Moore, county road superintendent.
Moore said it was not until he had gone through the Map 21 training that he learned that bridge repair is not covered. He said there are two bridges on Historic Route 66 in Quay County that need repair.
Stover said she was unaware that the Map 21 funding did not cover bridges. She said the NMAC will look into this issue further.
“We appreciate you all taking the time to come to Quay County and visit with the commission,” McCasland said.
“This is an exciting time with it being the first time that the president of the NMAC has visited Quay County in 24 years,” said Janie Hoffman, deputy county assessor.
McCasland said having Stover listen to the concerns of commissioners is a great step forward.