County approves tax hike

By Ryan Lengerich: CNJ staff writer

The Curry County Commission raised the gross-receipts tax Tuesday, but a former commissioner vowed to petition the increase.

The Commission unanimously approved an ordinance that will raise gross-receipts taxes by .125 percent — or $1.25 more for a $1,000 purchase. The increase will take effect July 1.

The board did not need an election to enact the tax increase. But under state law, the public has 60 days to file a petition and force the issue to a ballot. The petition must be signed by at least 5 percent of the registered voters in the most recent General Election.

Curry County election officials reported 21,582 registered voters in November, meaning 1,079 signatures would be needed to force an election.

Paul D. Barnes, a county commissioner from 1991-2000, said he plans to organize a petition. Barnes lost the November election to commissioner Tim Ashley.

Barnes said the Commission has not done sufficient research concerning whether the county needs the money.

“It seems like you are making a hasty decision,” Barnes said. “Curry County is getting a little loose with its money.”

The decision came four days after state and county tax increases took effect. The state increased the gross-receipts tax by .5 percent to cover the state food tax elimination. The county-imposed hikes totaled three-sixteenth of one percent. That money will go toward the general fund and county detention center, which has been plagued by overcrowding and increased expenses this year.

The commission also recently awarded raises to sheriff’s deputies.

“It is one of those things that has to happen, based on the amount of services we provide,” Commissioner Albin Smith said of the tax hike.

The board first voted to table the issue when Commissioner Pete Hulder said he received information from the state indicating the board had time to postpone the vote and discuss the issue.

Hulder proposed giving County Manager Dick Smith time to prepare a budget report and make a recommendation concerning whether the tax hike was necessary.

Following a 20-minute break, County Attorney Steve Doerr said the ordinance had to be enacted Tuesday for the increase to take effect in July.

In other business:
• Ed Perales was named board chairman, replacing Kathrynn Tate who moved to vice chairwoman.

• A glitch in the county computer system has forced employees to file work manually since Monday.

Jim Sitterly, owner of Curry County Abstract, said the system being down has put claims at risk.

He urged the commission to find a workable backup system to continue operation during computer failures.