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Mill levy for Rio Rancho hospitals to go on Nov. 8 ballot

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The Sandoval County Commission has unanimously voted to place a property tax question on the Nov. 8 general election ballot proposing to extend a 4.25 mill levy for eight more years to support two hospitals in Rio Rancho, despite strong protests from several taxpayers.

“When this mill levy went in, it was understood that it would be a maximum of eight years. The taxpayers met their obligation. The hospitals need to meet theirs,” said Melvin Carlisle of Rio Rancho, one of four speakers who lashed out against the measure. “I don’t care about all the excuses or whitewashing. … This tax is hitting people hard. … It’s not helping us.”

The levy, initially passed by county voters in 2008, expires this year. It generates about $13.7 million annually, which is split almost evenly between Presbyterian Rust Medical Center and the UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center. It costs the owner of a home valued at $100,000 about $141 a year.

Commissioner Don Chapman, who spoke at length at the meeting last week, enthusiastically praised the existence and success of the hospitals, and stated his belief that the mill levy is beneficial and profitable to taxpayers. “I’ve just got to say ‘Hallelujah’ one more time,” he said.

Commissioners Nora Scherzinger and Glenn Walters indicated their support of hospital funding has not changed since the commission’s July 20 work session on the levy.

Commissioner James Dominguez said that, although the commission has the means to support the tax and does support it “tremendously,” the decision should be up to voters.

Commission Chairman Darryl Madalena responded to Dominguez by saying that commissioners are entitled to their own beliefs as taxpayers and expressed enthusiastic support for the hospitals.

Speakers protested both the levy and the phrasing of the ballot question.

Carlisle, who identified himself as part of a community of retirees, said the hospitals could support themselves “without public subsidy” and said that the tax was hurting low-income citizens.

“We made our commitment. If they (the hospitals) don’t meet theirs, that’s their problem, not mine,” said Carlisle, who resisted being dismissed from the podium due to time limits and demanded the mill levy be removed from the ballot.

Stephen Barro, a retired public finance economist from Placitas, sent a detailed analysis to the board opposing the tax and summarizing his stance.

Although he agreed with the positive contributions of the hospitals, Barro said he doesn’t believe the hospitals deserve a continuation of taxpayer funding.

“The startup phase is over,” said Barro. “The hospital tax imposes a heavy burden on county businesses and homeowners to subsidize two of New Mexico’s largest and richest institutions – the Presbyterian and UNM health systems.”

Barro argued that the mill levy tax constitutes only a small fraction of each institution’s annual budget, while taxpayers personally struggle to provide a burdensome amount from their own livelihoods.

Despite the protests, the commission voted to leave the proposed ballot question as a single question and unanimously passed a motion to send the following ballot question to the November general election ballot:

“For the purpose of supporting hospitals in Sandoval County, shall Sandoval County, New Mexico, impose a tax levy of four and twenty-five hundredths (4.25) mills each year for eight (8) years, on each dollar of net taxable value of property in Sandoval County, to pay to contracting hospitals in accordance with health care facilities contracts?”

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