County officials nix raise proposal

By Ryan Lengerich, CNJ staff writer

The Curry County Commission on Tuesday shunned a motion to increase salaries by 13 percent for newly elected officials, saying a restrictive budget would make pay hikes fiscally irresponsible.

County Sheriff Roger Hatcher introduced the motion, saying he believes elected officials deserve more money.

“We have some of the best elected officials in the state,” said Hatcher, who ironically would not be affected by a pay hike because he is not newly elected.

The issue never reached a vote because Hatcher withdrew the motion when he heard the commissioners’ lack of support.

According to state law, elected officials can only receive a raise at the beginning of their term. At stake was the salaries of commissioners Tim Ashley, Pete Hulder and Albin Smith; Treasurer Rhonda Bookout and Clerk Mario Trujillo — all elected in November.

Those elected officials can not be considered for another pay increase during their term.

“If you don’t do it today, it won’t get done for four years,” Bookout said.

Curry County elected officials are 13 percent below maximum salaries allowed by state statute. The plan discussed by commissioners would have raised salaries to maximum levels.

That increase would have raised the three commissioners’ salaries, including benefits, by almost $3,000 to $25,343. The clerk and treasurer’s salaries would increase by about $6,000 and $7,000 respectively.

In all, pay increases would have cost the county about $22,000 annually.

“With the fiscal condition our budget is in, we shouldn’t even consider it,” Commission Chairperson Kathryn Tate said.
The statute forces salary increases to be implemented Jan. 1, but counties do not enter the budgeting process until spring. This forces commissioners to foresee future budgets, which Ashley said is difficult.

“How can I take a realistic approach to what the next four years will be,” Ashley said.

Commissioner Pete Hulder said increasing salaries is not a priority on the heels of the county and state increasing the gross-receipts tax. Beginning Jan. 1, the state will enact a 1/2-percent increase compounded by a 3/16-percent hike by the county.

The Commission intends to adopt an ordinance Jan. 4 that would raise the gross-receipts tax by another 1/8 percent beginning July 1.

“I am scared to death that we are going to get ourselves into a pickle and come July we still don’t have enough money and we are going to go back to taxpayers about that,” Hulder said.

Elected officials salaries were raised by 4 percent in 2002. Newly elected officials will start at that level Jan. 1.

In other business:
• The Commission voted to solicit bids for a water truck for use at the Curry County Fairgrounds. Commissioners expect the price to be about $25,000 for the used truck.

County Manager Dick Smith will consider financing options that include $10,000 budgeted for the truck and a five-year payment plan with the New Mexico Finance Authority.