Property owners in Sandoval County’s largest communities – Rio Rancho, Corrales, Bernalillo and Placitas – can primarily thank, or blame, voters for the increases they have seen in their tax bill over the last decade.
That’s the word from County Treasury Controller Larry Polanis, who reports on tax collections to the county commission.
“Remarkably, citizens and voters have a great deal of say in what their taxes are, they really do,” Polanis said in a recent interview.
He said the chief factors driving up property tax bills were voter-approved amenities such as two new hospitals, a new Central New Mexico Community College campus in Rio Rancho and debt for a new flood control authority responsible for areas of eastern Sandoval County.
Meanwhile, the basic tax rate to cover things like county, municipal and school operational costs and debt increased very little over the last 10 years – around 5 percent or less – in Rio Rancho, Placitas and Bernalillo.
Corrales saw a 9 percent increase in its basic rate because its council approved two municipal rate increases to cover village operating expenses.
Voter-approved taxes however, added hundreds of dollars to tax bills.
In 2008, voters countywide said yes to a 4.25-mill tax to support Presbyterian’s Rust Medical Center and the UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center hospitals. That hiked the annual tax bill for a home with an assessed value of $200,000 by about $283.
Also in 2008, voters in Bernalillo and Placitas approved bond debt for the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority, which was created by the legislature the previous year. Taxes for the flood authority’s operating and debt expenses initially added around $230 a year to the bill for a home assessed at $200,000.
Those taxes for the hospitals and the flood authority hit property owners in 2009.
Owners of high-end homes in Placitas typically saw the biggest impact since the amount of tax owed is calculated based on the tax rates and the home’s value, Polanis said.
“I literally had people in here whose tax bills doubled, just from that, and they’re going, ‘Wow, what happened?'” he said.
Placitas residents lobbied successfully to have the legislature cut them out of the ESCAFCA district and since 2011 they have only been paying the debt portion of the ESCAFCA rate, which equates to $61 annually for a $200,000 home.
In Corrales, residents experienced sticker shock after the village imposed tax increases in 2010 and 2012 totaling 1.5 mills to help shore up municipal finances.
“That was the depths of the recession and we were trying to keep the fire and police departments going,” said former Mayor Phil Gasteyer, who is now a city councilor.
He said Corrales relies more heavily on property taxes than other communities because it has such a small commercial base to generate gross receipts taxes.
In Rio Rancho, voters agreed in 2007 to extend the CNM tax district to include the area of the city north of Northern Boulevard. Folks there had not been paying the CNM tax. It added around $237 to the annual bill for a home valued at $200,000, beginning in 2008.
That said, tax rates in the four Sandoval County communities are still well below the rate in Albuquerque, which has the highest in the state.
The basic rate in Albuquerque is 41.715 mills, compared with 35.93 for Rio Rancho, 31.255 for Corrales, 27.544 for Bernalillo and 24.419 in Placitas. A mill is a tenth of a cent.
At those rates, a property owner with a $200,000 home would pay $2,698 a year in Albuquerque, $2,323 in Rio Rancho, $2,021 in Corrales, $1,781 in Bernalillo and $1,579 in Placitas.
Bills also include taxes for various agencies such as the local flood control authority. For Rio Rancho and Corrales homeowners the Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control rate adds $138 to the annual bill for a $200,000 home.
Some parts of Corrales also pay a 3.97 mill tax to the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. Homeowners in the southern portion of Corrales, which was annexed from Bernalillo County in 2005, have been paying about half a mill in tax toward Bernalillo County debt.