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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.

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


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