Making Sense of Sierra County’s 2020 Property Taxes

by Tom Plant and Debora Nicoll | October 29, 2020
5 min read
Photograph by Andrew Potter copyright © 2020

Last month, at a special meeting on Sept. 8, the Sierra County Commission passed an ordinance affirming the tax rates set by the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration for 2020 for all governmental units imposing property taxes on Sierra County residents.

The 2020 rates apply to the tax bill you have likely received from the county, half of which is payable this November and half in April 2021.

2020 rates have gone up about a quarter of a mill for residential property owners, no matter where in the county they live. This rate increase is nearly all due to a rate increase for county operations. For non-residential property owners throughout the county, 2020 rates will decrease by a very small amount.

Table 1 shows the total millage to be levied for 2020, depending on the location of your property and whether the property is residential or nonresidential.

Table showing - 2020 Property Tax Rates by Location and Type

Table 2 shows the increase or decrease in millage to be levied for 2020 compared to 2019, again depending on the location of your property and its type.

Sierra County Assessor Michael D. Huston briefed the county commissioners about the reasons for the changes in the millage rates.

Hearing his explanation, we realized we were probably representative of the community at large in not fully understanding the bottom-line impact of the tax rate changes on our pocketbooks or public treasuries. We turned to Sun researcher Tom Plant for help in answering some basic questions about the allocation of Sierra County’s property taxes. 

Plant, in turn, produced a series of tables that lay out the answers to these questions, making it clear for anyone willing to spend a few minutes studying the tables.

To help readers find data pertinent to the location of their real estate, the information presented in each table below is broken down by the county’s four jurisdictions: Truth or Consequences, Williamsburg, Elephant Butte and the county outside those municipalities. Each is published as a downloadable PDF. Please note that Table 3 consists of two pages.

Table 3 breaks down your total tax rate into the millage imposed by each governmental entity. A comparison with 2019 is offered to show almost all of the mill rate change is due to an increase in county operational rates. 

We’re guessing that many Sierra Countians don’t have a good sense of all entities their property taxes support. In addition to county and municipal governments and the schools, your property taxes also are distributed among the State of New Mexico to retire debt and into the coffers of Sierra Vista Hospital, the Sierra Soil & Water Conservation District and the Sierra County Office of Flood Control. Everyone in Sierra County, whether owners of residential or non-residential property, pays the same millage to those last four entities and the schools. The millage charged by county government varies by property type, not by location. The millage charged by city governments varies both by municipality and property type

Table 4 sets forth the percentage of your total 2020 tax millage that goes to each governmental entity. This table provide a clearer perspective on the extent to which each entity is benefitted. By far, county government, followed by the schools, receive the greatest proportion of your property tax dollars. The county gets around 40 percent and the schools around 30 percent of your property taxes.

Sierra Countians will pay an estimated $8.4 million in 2020 property taxes. Table 5 provides estimates of total property tax revenues that each governmental entity will receive from this nearly pool, if all the taxes due are collected.

Sierra Countians will provide over $3.5 million to the county government, $2.6 million to the schools, $0.6 million to Sierra Vista Hospital and $0.4 million for state debt. More than half  of the property taxes come from residential properties and the rest from non-residential properties.

For some, Table 5 may contain a surprising discovery. The total property tax revenues paid by those living in a municipality that go to support that municipality’s operations are comparatively low.

Elephant Butte, which taxes its property owners at a higher rate than any other Sierra County municipality, as Table 3 showed, will receive a maximum of $250,304 in 2020 tax revenues. 

According to the latest available data on the New Mexico Municipal League website, Elephant Butte’s 2019-2020 General Fund budget was $910,098. As 2020 property taxes will be applied to 2020-21 budgets, one can only roughly calculate the percentage of Elephant Butte’s General Fund revenues that come from property taxes. It is around 25 percent. Likewise, Truth or Consequences will receive a maximum of $187,023 in 2020 property tax revenues. Its 2019-2020 General Fund budget was $2,653,234. Roughly speaking, less than 10 percent of T or C’s General Fund revenues come from property taxes.

Williamsburg will receive a maximum of $10,066 in 2020 tax revenues. Its 2019-2020 General Fund budget was $302,295 so that less than 5 percent of Williamsburg’s General Fund revenues come from property taxes.


Tom Plant is a Sun researcher.  Debora Nicoll covers the Sierra County Commission for the Sun.

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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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