Clovis voters approve tax increase

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Dr. O.T. Rozzell and Lila Rozzell of Clovis prepare Tuesday to vote in the special election while Judge John Hays of Precinct 24 at Living Stone Community Church shows them where to sign in.

Kevin Wilson

By a 1,265-1,045 count — 57 percent — Clovis voters said yes to a .25 percent gross receipts tax increase in a special election Tuesday.

Ordinance 1953-2011 would impose a .25 percent gross receipts tax increase (25 cents per $100 spent on taxable items), for 10 years, to be dedicated only to the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority for “development, planning, financing, construction, operation and payment of bonds for the Ute Reservoir Pipeline Project.”

Mayor Gayla Brumfield was happy with the vote, which ended a three-month process.

“I am so excited because this community stepped forward and said yes to water. The commission voted for it, and that wasn’t quite good enough. Then we had the vote, and the community spoke.”

Effective Jan. 1, Clovis’ gross receipts tax rate will increase from 7.56125 percent to 7.8125 percent.

The city commission passed the ordinance on a 7-1 vote, but was forced on the ballot later when the High Plains Patriots citizen group submitted enough petition signatures from Clovis residents to exceed 20 percent of the turnout in the city’s previous municipal election.

Kim Runyan, HPP president, said she and other members were disappointed about the vote, but happy it was left to voters.

“We’re thrilled that so many people actually came out and voted,” Runyan said. “That’s what a democracy is about; everybody gets to put their one vote in and let the marbles fall where they fall. It was a good election and it brought a lot of attention to city government, and that’s what our organization is about.”

Brumfield said throughout the process that an election was a costly measure for a needed expense, and voters would support it because they understood the need for water and knew the gross receipts tax was a more “economical and equitable” measure than franchise fees or property taxes.

Runyan felt voters were more inclined to approve the measure because of a looming threat of higher property taxes — to the tune of an extra $33.33 per $100,000 of taxable value per mill enacted. She said there will be more battles, as the commission will vote in Thursday’s meeting on an affordable housing plan.

The vote succeeded in nine of the city’s 11 election day precincts, with margins between two and 57 votes. It failed at Marshall Middle School (52-42) and Roy Walker Community Center (19-15), and lost 206-195 in early and absentee balloting.

The city has a $36 million share in the water project, a $500 million pipeline project that would pump water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to the ENMWUA’s eight entities — Clovis, Portales, Texico, Elida, Melrose, Grady and Roosevelt and Curry counties.

The cost share of the project, which was federally authorized in 2009, is 75 percent federal, 15 percent state and 10 percent authority members. Brumfield feared a rejection at the ballot box would leave doubt to state and federal lawmakers.

“This is absolutely a step forward to build the Ute pipeline,” Brumfield said, “and show our federal delegation and the state how committed we are to the project.”

The tax is expected to generate $1.5 million per year to pay for the financial obligation of $13 million. The rest would be paid through water sales.

Kevin Powers of RBC Capital said that a rate of $2.80 per 1,000 gallons would pay for operation, maintenance and debt service.

This is the third election for a .25 percent gross receipts tax increase in the last 10 years. A 2002 measure was rejected by 57 percent of voters, while a 2004 tax was carried by 67 percent of the vote.

The 2,310 voters represent 14.23 percent of Clovis’ 16,232 registered voters.