Voters approve sales tax for 911 center

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Fewer than 1,000 voters turned out to approve a new tax to fund the 911 dispatch center in a special election Feb. 14.

Out of 682 votes, 409 ballots were cast for the tax while 273 were cast against it.

Unlike the tax approved by voters last year that funds capital improvements at Holy Cross Hospital, which taxes property, the “countywide emergency communications gross receipts tax” (GRT) voted into existence this week will be added to all purchases made in Taos County.

The emergency communications tax will add about 18 cents to a $100 purchase, or a rate of .1875 percent, once it goes into effect later this year.

Taos County Manager Leandro Cordova forecasted that the tax could bring in $850,000 to $870,000 a year. Dominic Martinez, director of the 911 center, told The Taos News in December that in a good snow year with better-than-average tourism, the tax could rake in as much as $1 million.

County officials argued for the tax leading up the election by saying it would give the dispatch center some needed financial stability and the chance for long-term planning in the face of ongoing staffing concerns and technological upgrades.

In addition to reducing the overtime pay, Martinez previously told The Taos News he hopes to increase the salaries at the center so they are more competitive with other areas of the state. He said Taos County has an issue with training dispatchers who, instead of making a career of dispatch in Taos, soon move away to a better-paid dispatching job.

A starting dispatcher can make about $12 an hour.

According to Cordova, the county government now has to certify the increase with the state’s Taxation and Revenue Department (TRD) before April in order to begin collecting the tax on all purchases starting July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

“[The department] disburses GRT funds on a two month lag, meaning we should expect the first distribution in mid-September,” Cordova said.

The 911 dispatch center, housed at the Taos County Complex, is run through a joint powers agreement (JPA) between the town of Taos, Taos County and other municipalities. Currently, the county and the town contribute the vast majority of the budget for the dispatch center, which stands at about $720,000 a year. Each government pays $340,000 a year, with additional money coming in from Taos Ski Valley, Questa, Taos Pueblo and Angel Fire.

Negotiations on a new JPA that accounts for the new stream of revenue ought to begin soon after the TRD approves the tax “in order to have it finalized and adopted by June 30,” Cordova said.

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