Sandoval County facing sales tax increase for crucial jail repairs

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RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – Sandoval County is facing a possible sales tax increase to pay for repairs to the county jail that administrators say is dangerous and falling apart.

County officials say the jail must soon make around $5 million worth of repairs and improvements to the 30-year old facility.

They’re now considering two individual 1/16th of one-cent gross receipts tax (GRT) or “sales tax” increases to fund repairs. County commissioners are expected to vote on the proposals in March.

Inside the jail, broken cell doors, leaky plumbing, a lack of security fencing and surveillance equipment are just a few of the projects that county officials say they can no longer wait to address.

“There’s areas where pieces of metal are actually falling off,” said Chris Urbanic, Interim Director of the Sandoval County Detention Center.

Urbanic and county officials gave KRQE News 13 a look at one of the facility’s pods Wednesday, pointing to several problems they believe are a risk to inmate, worker and community safety.

“Certain areas are corroding and falling apart, said Urbanic, while showing one of the normally sealed off plumbing areas in a jail cell pod.

Urbanic showed KRQE News 13 a rusted, roughly two-foot piece of metal that had corroded away from the piping area.

“Let’s say the rust was able to get through, inmates would have access to something like this and this is a giant concern for me,” Urbanic said while holding the large metal piece.

Saying the problems extend through the facility, Urbanic also pointed out walls that were beginning to crumble away due to corrosion caused by leaky pipes; jail cell faucets with running water; concrete walls that are chipping away; and doors that won’t open or shut without manual pushing and pulling.

“I’m leaving (inmates) here with the doors open at the night time, and it’s a concern for me, it absolutely is,” said Urbanic.

Urbanic, who took over jail operations after several escapes from the facility, pointed out the facility’s problems to county staff in January.

“I can’t speak for previous administrations on what they did to take care of the facility, but I’m transparent when it comes to bringing this to the community and I want to make sure they understand that I do need help right now,” said Urbanic. “I do need help to get this taken care of and I am reaching our to the community to get that assistance.”

On Feb. 5, Urbanic presented the issues to county commissioners, who are now weighing the tax increase.

“I think this facility has suffered from benign neglect in the past recent years,” said Dave Heil, chairman of the Sandoval County Board of Commissioners.

The two tax increases commissioners are considering are both worth 1/16th of one cent. One of the proposals calls for an indefinite tax increase, while the other would sunset in 2029.

Together, both GRT increases would generate about $12 for every $10,000 spent inside Sandoval County.

Heil says county commissioners have considered other financial options too, including property tax hikes, state capital outlay and federal funding requests and taking from the county’s general fund budget. However, he says raising property taxes would take too long to generate funds; the capital outlay requests don’t cover all the costs; they still have to meet with the feds over any potential funding.

Heil told KRQE News 13 while he “doesn’t like raising taxes,” he believes this may be the county’s only option.

“The safety of the people who work here is very important, so when the facility isn’t as secure as it should be, they’re at risk,” said Heil.

Urbanic doesn’t believe the county can put off repairs any longer.

“I do think that in the past, that’s been the solution, is putting band-aids on things to get things fixed, but unfortunately we’re at the point now where it’s no longer an option,” said Urbanic.

Commissioners could take action on the tax proposals during their meeting on March 15. If they pass, the tax would take effect in July 2018 at the earliest.

If that happened, the jail could begin renovations by summer.

Sandoval County is one of only five counties in New Mexico that don’t charge a specific GRT to cover jail costs.

The other four counties that don’t charge GRT for jails include oil-rich Lea and Eddy counties; Catron County, which doesn’t have a jail; and Lincoln County, which has an agreement with its private jail contractors that the county will not raise GRT to pay for jail costs.

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