Luna Community College is pushing a property tax increase that officials say will pay for improvements to buildings. The hike must be approved by voters.
If it passes, it would mean a nearly $53 annual increase in the property tax bill for an owner of a $100,000 house.
The election on the tax increase is March 3.
Luna officials are focusing on the planned improvements the tax money could make possible — stretching throughout Luna’s service area. The projects would benefit Las Vegas, Watrous, Mora, Wagon Mound, Anton Chico, Springer, Santa Rosa and the Valley, amounting to $12 million in improvements, officials say.
If voters in Vaughn, Raton and Pecos agree to join Luna’s taxing district, another $3.5 million would go for projects in those communities.
Luna officials say that the tax increase is an investment in the community’s future. However, opponents have questions about the proposal.
Luna already has a tax for operations — $78 a year for a $100,000 house — but it has never had one for capital improvements. The new tax would make it possible for Luna to float a total of $15.5 million in bonds.
Ron Gonzales, Luna’s physical plant director, said nearly every community college in New Mexico has a tax for capital improvements. He said the Legislature wants to see the college help itself before seeking more money from the state government.
“When we go to legislative hearings, the first thing we hear is ‘what is Luna doing to support itself?’” he said.
Guadalupita resident Jacob Regensberg plans to run advertisements in the Optic against the bond issue. He said now is a bad time to increase taxes.
“The economy is on a downward trend, and we haven’t hit bottom yet,” he said.
If Vaughn, Raton and Pecos don’t join the district, Regensberg wondered what Luna’s Board of Trustees would do with the remaining $3.5 million from the bond. He said he didn’t want to give the board that type of discretion.
Lawrence Quintana, Luna’s human resources director, said the college would float only $12 million in bonds if the other communities don’t join Luna’s service area, not the remaining $3.5 million.
“This is all tied to economic development,” Quintana said. “The Board of Trustees realizes that you have to tie in education with the economy.”
The question before voters states that the bonds may mature anywhere from five to 20 years.
Quintana said that it’s not definite how long the college will be paying off the bonds. But he said no matter what the case, Luna will stick to its schedule of proposed tax rates — for instance, a resident with a $100,000 home will pay nearly $53 a year.
San Miguel County Treasurer Alfonso Ortiz questioned why the bond question doesn’t give a definite maturity date.
“They need to decide what it’s going to be,” he said.
Watrous resident Rick Rodgers said he will vote against the tax increase.
He criticized the decision of Luna to use $250,000 of the bond’s proceeds on a metal building in Watrous. He said there is not enough people in that community, about 20 miles north of Las Vegas on Interstate 25, to support such an investment.
Rodgers said Mora County records show that the county has spent $441,000 on that building already. He questioned why another $250,000 was needed.
“It’s a disaster. The community is not behind this,” Rodgers said. “We don’t need that damn thing (building).”
Gonzales said the $250,000 will be used for equipment in the building. He said it’s all a part of Luna’s mission to bring service to small communities.
“Our students won’t have to leave their areas to get a vocational education or an education period,” Gonzales said. “We’re losing too much of our population to bigger towns in the state.”