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San Juan voters decide on emergency tax

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FARMINGTON – Voters will today decide whether or not area residents will continue paying a gross receipts tax that funds emergency medical services and communications.

The Emergency Communications and Emergency Medical and Behavioral Services Tax vote is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the same convenience centers the county used for the presidential election.

The county has collected the tax since 2003, when voters overwhelmingly approved an ordinance that imposed it. The measure passed 2,341 votes to 670 during a special election in March of that year.

Despite its popularity the first time around, there is concern among local governments the tax will not be as well received during this election.

If approved it will allow the county to collect the tax indefinitely, said County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter.

Government officials said they are already preparing to take the steps needed to come up with ways to replace the tax.

“We’re not taking anything for granted. There’s a lot more concern this go-around than there was the first time,” Carpenter said. “Would things be chopped? Yes. To what degree … a large part of that is how our county commission would want to prioritize.”

The tax amounts to 0.18 percent of all gross receipts in San Juan County. The most the tax ever generated was $8.3 million in 2009. It is expected to bring in $7.1 million this year.

Revenue from the tax funds San Juan Regional Medical Center Emergency Medical Services and the county’s emergency dispatch center.

The tax amounts to nearly half of the hospital program’s annual budget.

The program had a $6.1 million budget in 2011 and $2.9 million came from the EMS tax, according to the program’s most recent annual report.

The rest of the tax money goes to the county’s communications center, which handles all 911 calls. The center has seen a significant increase in calls for service in the last 10 years, Carpenter said.

“I think it helps give voters the confidence that when they vote they know where (the tax money) is going to go to,” said Linda Thompson, the county’s chief financial officer.

Carpenter has said the commission may have to consider raising property taxes or cutting services if voters strike down this gross receipts tax.

“We would have our own countywide sequestration,” he said.

If voters end the tax, local governments would fall back on a past agreement in which Farmington and San Juan County each paid 44 percent of the ambulance and communications services and Aztec and Bloomfield each paid 6 percent of the services.

Carpenter said a gross receipts tax is a fair way to fund ambulance and 911 services because people who don’t pay property taxes in San Juan County use the services.

During early and absentee voting, 1,065 San Juan County voters cast a ballot, according to the clerk’s office.

When the EMS tax was up for election in 2003 for the first time, 1,010 voters cast early ballots.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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