John Ross Ferrara / Thursday, March 31, 2022 @ 5:30 p.m. / Local Government

Curry County Budget Committee Agrees to Use More Than $1.8 Million in ARP Funds to Help Balance Budget for 2023 Fiscal Year; County Looks to Impose Consumption Tax Targeting Tourists to Prevent Future Deficits

                                                  Today's meeting. | Curry County

The Curry County Budget Committee made progress in balancing the proposed budget for the 2023 fiscal year today after starting discussions $5.8 million in the hole.

The County’s budget deficit was initially worse than expected after $2.1 million in anticipated rollover funds from the previous fiscal year never materialized.

“We just don’t have the revenue coming in to support the needs that we have,” Curry County Finance Director Brad Rueckert said at Tuesday’s budget meeting. “The hope is we can make up for that.”

                                               Tuesday's meeting. | Curry County

After discussions with several key departments on Tuesday, the Budget Committee was greeted with good news that the County as a whole is $1.7 million under budget for staffing this fiscal year. This money can be rolled over to the 2023 fiscal year to help alleviate the deficit.

The Curry County Roads Department also expects to retain $2.4 million that was initially budgeted for capital expenses this fiscal year. 

The Roads Department’s roughly $20 million in reserves has long been a source of balancing the budget thanks to savvy spending by the department over the years. These reserves are mainly used to fund emergency road projects, which are later reimbursed by Federal and State agencies. However, as County Roadmaster Richard Christensen has explained to Commissioners in the past, the State and Federal government will not provide funding for these emergency projects, unless the County initially pays for them first. This means that the County would lose its ability to receive free emergency road funding if its Road Department reserves are depleted.

Commissioners have made serious efforts to avoid dipping back into the Road reserves this year. However, based on current discussion, it seems that the Commissioners will likely need to use $3 million in Road Department reserves.

At today’s budget meeting, the committee agreed to use $1,801,653 in American Rescue Plan funding to help balance the deficit, alleviating further depletion of the Road Department reserves.

The committee then began discussing various ways to increase revenue and prevent future deficits. The main solution committee members discussed was getting a new “commodity” tax designed to collect additional money from tourists. 

Curry County Treasurer David Barnes addressed the committee today regarding his plan for the new tax, which would involve a 1 to 3 percent sales tax on things like alcohol, tobacco, hotel rooms, restaurant bills and other goods that can’t be purchased with an EBT card.

“I think the biggest part of getting a tax passed is that the people aren’t going to vote for something that’s going to cost them money,” Barns said. “So my proposal is to apply what the state does, and have a kicker that gives 35 percent of the tax collected back to the people.”

While Curry residents would initially have to pay the sales tax on specific purchases, with the added kicker, Barnes said that residents could receive more money back than they initially spent.

“Tourist spending in the county is around $200 to $250 million each year,” Barns said. A 2 percent consumption tax on [tourist-related expenses] would be $2 million in taxes that would go into the general fund.”

The Budget Committee agreed that getting a new tax passed on the November ballot won’t be easy. However, they expressed that it could be possible if they can properly educate local citizens on how the tax would work.

“We don't want to raise your property taxes,” Paasch said. “But for basically 50 cents a day, your law enforcement is going to be fully funded and you’re going to be safe. And you’re going to get that money back. Probably more than your 50 cents a day.”


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