By Dave Gragg
Tucumcari voters head to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to tax themselves an additional one-quarter percent. The proceeds of that tax will go toward building a water delivery system from Ute Lake in Logan to Tucumcari.
City Clerk Rachel Hicklin said 55 people had already voted by Friday afternoon — a figure higher than most elections.
“Normally, when you have a high enough interest for that many people to early vote, you’ll have a big turnout on Election Day,” she said.
City officials estimate the tax, an additional 25 cents per $100 spent, will generate about $216,000 a year. They also estimate nearly 40 percent of the money will come from tourists traveling through town.
If passed, the tax will go into effect Jan. 1, 2004.
The Tucumcari City Commission authorized the election at its March 22 meeting by a vote of 4 to 1.
Commissioner Antonio Apodaca was the only dissenting vote, saying he thought the election’s timing was bad because of the soft economy and rising fuel prices.
The ordinance specifies money raised by the tax will go into a separate fund solely for the “acquisition, construction and maintenance of a Ute Lake water treatment and delivery system.”
City Manager Richard Primrose said the first likely pull on the fund would be to pay Tucumcari’s share of an administrator and staff for the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority.
That authority will meet Wednesday and discuss a budget proposal of $197,000, Primrose said.
The authority’s money would come from the 12 entities that make up the authority, each of which would pay based on the amount of water they have reserved from Ute Lake.
Tucumcari, for instance, has reserved 6,000 acre-feet — one quarter of the total reservation of 24,000 acre-feet — so would be expected to chip in nearly $50,000.
“We’re going to budget $50,000 from the general fund which we don’t have just in case the tax doesn’t pass,” Primrose said.
The city has a couple of options if the tax doesn’t pass this time around.
The first would be to raise water rates. Primrose said pipeline planners have estimated Tucumcari’s cost per thousand gallons of water would be $1.34 — but that’s assuming Tucumcari uses all of the water it has reserved.
Tucumcari uses less than 2,000 acre-feet of water a year, leaving 4,000 acre-feet of water it has reserved unused and unpaid for.
So, if the city were to rely on raising water rates, the rates would have to double, triple or even quadruple, officials say.
A second option would be to sell or lease the extra 4,000 acre-feet of water to one of the other entities in the water authority, Portales being the city most mentioned.
“We will have to increase (rates) then, maybe not as severely as if we had to pay for all 6,000 acre-feet,” Primrose said.
Portales City Manager Gerald Depo said Friday that Portales had approached Tucumcari about buying Tucumcari’s water rights.
With a lease, Tucumcari would be able to take the 4,000 acre-feet of water back. Tucumcari officials say the water is a needed incentive for economic development.
Depo said Portales was not interested leasing the water rights, only buying them.
A third option the city has if the tax doesn’t pass Tuesday is to bring it before the voters a third, and possibly a fourth, time.
City officials first put the tax increase on the ballot in September of 2001. It was defeated by a 256-129 margin.
That tax would have been a generic infrastructure tax that could have gone toward the pipeline project, instead of being designated solely for a water delivery system.
Every time the voters reject the tax increase, the city must wait a full year before bringing it up again, but the state statute authorizing the request expires July 1, 2005.
So, if the voters reject the tax in May of 2003, the city could theoretically bring it back for a vote in May of 2004 or after and again, if necessary, one year later as long as it was before July 1, 2005.
City Commission District 1 Del Norte Center, 415 N. Fourth
City Commission District 2 Tucumcari Recreation Center, 901 E. Laughlin
City Commission District 3 & 5 Tucumcari High School Auditorium, 1100 S. Seventh
City Commission District 4 Immanuel Baptist Church, 706 E. Hines.
Polls open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.