By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
City of Portales officials say repair and replacement of city streets has fallen behind for lack of funding over the years. A particularly bad winter has compounded the problem and has residents clamoring for relief, they say.
Portales City Councilors directed city staff to further study two options for financing street improvements. Those options include enacting an additional 0.25- to 0.50-percent gross receipts tax or setting up a system that would allow improvement districts.
Improvement districts would allow residents or owners in a particular neighborhood to petition for improvements. Property owners would pay for the cost directly through assessments.
The gross receipts sales tax would spread the tax burden to anyone purchasing goods and services within the city.
The discussion followed recent good news for city streets, as Portales got word last week they would receive a $455,837 Community Block Development Grant for street improvements in one neighborhood and the New Mexico Department of Transportation had been allocated $355,000 for repair work on U.S. 70 through the city.
“We’ve got a lot to do with a small budget,” Public Works Director Tom Howell said. “We’re not getting ahead of the game, we’re actually falling further and further behind.”
Howell said the city has 110 miles of paved streets. He said his budget for materials last year was just $45,000 not including a $60,000 grant for a specific project. He says a study conducted a few years ago showed all of the city’s paved streets were past their expected life span.
“The city has never funded the street department like we should have,” City Manager Debi Lee said. “We’ve been depending on CDBG and other grants.”
She said while the city has been fortunate in securing those grants, Portales isn’t keeping up.
“I think it’s time we consider something like this (GRT),” Councilor Mike Miller said. “If we put it out for them (residents) to consider … we’re all in this together.”
Miller said the business community needs to understand that if the city decides to pursue the gross receipts tax alternative, it would give Portales the highest rate in the state. Currently the city is third highest at 7.625 percent.
“When you look at our budget there’s just not enough money there to keep up with the streets we’ve got,” Councilor Gary Watkins said.
Either option discussed would require voter approval.