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Editorial: State inquiry is welcome

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By The Staff

State Auditor Hector Balderas said his office will look into the reasons for the unexpected tax increase in the Las Vegas City Schools district. We are glad his agency will do so.

It’s been more than two weeks since this controversy surfaced, but the school district has yet to come up with a solid explanation as to what happened and why.

But one thing is clear to property taxpayers: They’ll see an increase of 30 percent in their tax bills come November. A property owner who paid $1,500 last year will fork over nearly $2,000 this time around. It’s no wonder people are outraged.

The district says a wrongly recorded surplus in its debt service account triggered a small tax cut last year. So now it has to make up for the shortfall. But if the district didn’t have enough money in its debt service account to make its bond payments last year, where did it get the money? That question remains unanswered.

Did the money come from the general fund? If so, that would have required the school board’s approval. But, apparently, the board never was asked to OK such a transfer.

And here’s something else that doesn’t make sense: While East taxpayers got a small tax cut last year, they’ll be getting a tax increase more than four times what the cut was last year. Why?

A top state education official, Steve Burrell, said East taxpayers would have seen much of the tax hike anyway, even if there had been no artificial surplus recorded. But, again, why? That’s the way bond payment schedules must have been set up, he said.

So who makes the bond payment schedules? That would be Al Clemmons, a private financial adviser to a number of New Mexico school districts.

The way the schedules are set up, the taxpayers have been put on a roller coaster. We would prefer there be some predictability, so residents can plan ahead with their finances.

Another question: Why was there a wrongly recorded surplus in the first place? Perhaps it’s because the district has been chronically late with its audits. As a result, the district’s information on cash balances may have been out of whack — not a good situation for any budget.

Now the district needs an independent look over what went wrong. That’s where the state auditor’s office gets into the picture.

Meanwhile, the school board will meet at 4 p.m. Monday at the administration office to get any answers it can. We hope its members succeed in that mission.