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NM’s Eddy County ends year with millions more than budgeted

EDDY COUNTY — Eddy County commissioners were relieved to hear Friday that the county ended the 2015 fiscal year with millions more than it had budgeted for.

The original budget showed the county ending the fiscal year June 30 with a nearly $2 million deficit.

Instead, there was a $4.5 million surplus, meaning that some cuts made for the 2016 fiscal year can be negated.

Revenue came in at $47 million rather than the $42 million budgeted, and the county spent about $1.4 million less than it had budgeted for expenses, said county Finance Director Roberta Smith.

Though county officials had expected oil and gas revenues to keep the county from ending $2 million in the hole as budgeted, they had not expected to have such a large surplus.

“We were not anticipating it being there,” said County Manager Rick Rudometkin. “We anticipated it being about $2-3 million. But we are very proud that it is a little bit over, because of the way oil and gas and everything else was.”

The commissioners have made drastic cuts to next year’s county budget over the past few months, cutting a $10 million deficit down to zero in order to balance the budget.

Every county department was affected as items such as vehicles or computers that are not automatically rebudgeted were denied for every department.

The county has now moved funds from the general fund to other county funds to purchase equipment that was previously denied by the commission.

“I was glad to see money getting put back in for necessary items,” said Royce Pearson, who acted as commission chairman in the absence of Chairwoman Susan Crockett.

In related news, Eddy County dominates NM Energy.

The $28.6 million left in the general fund at the end of the year also drew some negative attention from the state.

“Because we had such a surplus, we were actually kind of targeted by the (state) auditor’s office because we had such a high balance of unrestricted funds in our general fund,” Smith said.

Rudometkin said that the auditor’s office will sometimes target entities that have too much money in unrestricted funds because they want the tax dollars spent to benefit the taxpayers.

As a result, a total of nearly $14 million was transferred out of the general fund, including $4 million to the road fund, $1.5 million for the fire service complex, $1 million to purchase vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office, $100,000 to the IT department and $5 million to the capital improvement fund.

The $5 million in the capital improvement fund can be used by the commission to grant requests from departments that were denied during the first budget go-round.

“They (departments) will come back to you (the commission) for the next three to six months, I imagine,” Rudometkin said, adding that should the commission choose to deny those departments’ requests, the money would stay in the capital improvements fund.

After that transfer, there is still $14.7 million left in the general fund, which is well above the $8.8 million that the state requires the county to keep in reserve.

Commissioner Stella Davis cautioned that the commission still needs to be careful with the money.

“We ended the year really well,” Davis said. “That doesn’t mean we have to spend all that money.”

Davis also mentioned that, although she was happy to see $4 million go to roads, that wouldn’t go very far in fixing county roads.

She said that “$4 million is going to be gobbled up pretty quickly,” emphasizing that she still thinks implementation of a two-eighths of one percent Hold Harmless Gross Receipts Tax is necessary.

Other changes made in the budget included cutting 15 percent from the commissioners’ and county manager’s travel budgets.

Many cuts made to the budget, including across-the-board 10 percent cuts to Public Service Agreements such as the service agreement with the city of Carlsbad, were left in place.

Smith said that the balanced budget and surplus cash bode well for next year’s audit.

“This time last year, we weren’t even balanced for the fiscal year,” Smith said. “So we’re already way ahead of schedule. I’m really confident that we’ll get a good audit this year.

This article was written by Katie England from Carlsbad Current-Argus, N.M. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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