Revenue frenzy?

by Kathleen Sloan | September 9, 2021
7 min read
Source: Photograph by Alexander Schimmeck courtesy of

At an Aug. 9 workshop held to provide Truth or Consequences city commissioners with the information they need to address budgetary issues, City Manager Bruce Swingle reported that the city needs to find between $2 and $2.5 million in revenue in order to balance the 2021-2022 budget without raiding utility funds.

The budget currently calls for a total of $2,608,987 to be transferred from utility funds into the General Fund. The sources of these monies break down as follows: $1,553,987 to be transferred out of the electric department, $340,000 out of the water department, $625,000 out of the solid waste department and $90,000 out of the wastewater department.

Swingle did not explain how he arrived at the figure of $2.5 million in additional revenues needed to avoid further hamstringing the operations of the utility departments over the coming fiscal year, and he did not respond by press time to the Sun’s email asking for that information.

At the workshop, however, he attempted to frame the budget-balancing effort as positively as possible. Turning to the Sun’s chief reporter Kathleen Sloan, the only member of the public in attendance, Swingle said: “I don’t want this to appear as a ‘revenue frenzy.’”

As it currently stands the 2021-2022 budget proposes $35 million in expenditures, although less than $33 million in revenue is expected. The difference comports with Swingle’s need-to-find revenue figure.

Among the budgeted expenditures is $13.2 million for capital projects, most addressing the infrastructure needs of the city’s water system, whose failings have been documented in detail by the Sun (see links to our coverage in the “Related” section below.)

One of the most crucial capital projects is not included in the budget—the purchase and installation of a new electrical transformer (see Related story). Swingle told the city commissioners at the budget workshop that both transformers need to be replaced, one this fiscal year.

Since the electric department appears to generate enough revenue, before transfers, to purchase equipment and maintain the electrical system, it is nearly impossible to obtain grants for such acquisitions, Easley told commissioners at an earlier budget session held on May 5. Yet the department does not have the wherewithal to buy a transformer because more than $7.2 million has been transferred out of the electric department fund between fiscal year 2016-2017 and fiscal year 2020-2021, according to handouts provided city commissioners by the city Finance Director Carol Kirkpatrick.

Swingle warned the commissioners at the Aug. 9 workshop that “$1.9 million [the latest estimate of the transformer’s cost] will not be there [in the electric department fund] at the end of the year.”

“We can get a loan for one transformer this year,” Swingle said. “It [the electric department fund] doesn’t have a lot of debt. Cash just won’t be there at the end of the year.”

At yesterday’s regular commission meeting, the city commission duly approved a $1 million loan toward the purchase of the transformer, to be taken out from New Mexico Finance Authority. The commissioners did not ask any questions about the terms of loan agreement, a copy of which was not included in the meeting packet. Nor did they inquire about the source for the remaining $900,000 of the transformer’s estimated cost.

The commissioners had previously displayed their lack of interest in the nitty-gritty of the city’s finances at the Aug. 9 budget session. It was supposed to last all day, with the morning devoted to discussing possible revenue sources and the afternoon taken up with suggestions for how to cut expenses. Commissioner Frances Luna cut the meeting short, instructing Swingle and the department heads to present written proposals for revenue increases and expense cuts to the board at a later date. Her fellow commissioners agreed.

Before the workshop was prematurely terminated, the heads of the following city departments presented their ideas for generating revenue.



Electric Department Director Bo Easley recommended that the commission consider increasing electricity fees, which “haven’t been raised in years.” He claimed the installation of smart meters has boosted electric department revenues by $500,000. Utility Office Director Sonja Williams concurred, not mentioning that the increase may be due in part to the office’s rigorous new collections policy for overdue accounts.

Water and wastewater

Jesse Cole, the city’s water and wastewater director, suggested the installation of smart meters at customers’ properties, claiming that more accurate readings of water use would increase his departments’ revenues by 10 percent. Cole also suggested the city charge commercial customers a higher rate for water and wastewater services than it does residential customers. Currently residents and businesses are charged the same the fees.


Community Services Director O.J. Hechler suggested higher fees for the use of the municipal swimming pool and golf course and the rental of city facilities and parks.

Pointing out that city made no money on the Sierra County Farmers’ Market, which is held every Saturday during the summer and early fall at Ralph Edwards Park, Hechler suggested that the city and not The Bountiful Alliance, which runs the market, sell 10-foot by 10-foot spaces to vendors.


Commissioner Luna asked Carol Kirkpatrick for the library’s budgetary figures. Kirkpatrick said the library receives $218,000 in general funds, as well as state grants totaling $46,000.

Luna then asked Library Director Pat O’Hanlon how much revenue the library makes. O’Hanlon replied: “None.” Overdue book fees are not charged because it results in a greater loss from encouraging patrons not to return overdue books. O’Hanlon also explained that charging fees to attend library events or to check out materials would result in the state’s withdrawing its funding support. “You may as well close the library if that happens,” O’Hanlon said.


Greater support of municipal services from other local governments

Swingle and the city commissioners agreed that T or C’s animal shelter and animal control services are not sufficiently supported by their other governmental users—Sierra County, the Village of Williamsburg and Elephant Butte—especially when one considers how much it would cost them to set up their own services.

Similarly, Commissioner Luna pointed out, other local governments are not contributing sufficient funds in support of the Sierra County Dispatch Authority and the T or C swimming pool and library. Other commissioners concurred.

Williamsburg “has always been a burden,” Luna said, after discussion revealed that the village had been forgiven its Sierra County Regional Dispatch Authority dues and may pay too little for its police protection contract with T or C. The village should also pay more for its contracts with T or C for city water and sewer services, the city commissioners concurred. 

Gross receipts taxes

Swingle said the city’s GRT rate is 1.6875, “which is among the highest in the state.” He acknowledged that he did not know the rate’s proscribed cap or whether a GRT increase would require approval by voters.

“I asked [City Attorney] Jay Rubin for that information my first meeting,” said Luna, who was appointed to a vacant seat on the commission nearly a year ago.

Until these questions are answered, the commission cannot determine whether an increase in the city’s GRT will be among the needed revenue generators.

Property taxes

Swingle said city property taxes are 1.542 mills, which annually brings $170,000 into the General Fund. “No other place in New Mexico is that low,” Swingle observed. The City of Elephant Butte, for example, levies 4.225 mills, he said.

Even doubling property taxes wouldn’t “scratch the surface” of the city’s need for new revenues, Luna said.

Police Chief Victor Rodriguez said that other cities charge owners of vacant lots and buildings a fee, which would also serve to encourage occupation, rental and development.

Swingle said the city “is probably the biggest property owner,” with 116 properties to its name. Some of these properties could be sold and returned to the tax rolls, Swingle pointed out, which would increase property tax revenues.


Commissioner Luna complained about the fact that Municipal Court Judge Beatrice Sanders was not in attendance. It seemed to make no difference to Luna that the judge is not a city department head or employee. “I feel she needs to hear the city’s struggle,” Luna insisted. “We give general funds to the court.”

Luna asked Carol Kirkpatrick for the court’s budgetary figures. Kirkpatrick replied that about $258,000 will come out of the General Fund this fiscal year to support the court and $4,000 in revenue is projected.

Later Luna suggested the city close the municipal court and let the magistrate court handle city cases, just as the City of Elephant Butte did about a year ago. Swingle pointed out the court’s budget is not subject to city commission approval and Sanders’s judgeship is an elected position. Dissolving the court, he said, could not be contemplated until her term is up.

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
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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.


Truth or Consequences’s water lines are breaking at an escalating pace
by Kathleen Sloan | March 9, 2021

Over the past 14 months, the average time between breaks has been about 22 days. In the last five weeks, the average time between breaks...

T or C still mum about problems with city’s water wells, despite only two of eight working properly
by Kathleen Sloan | May 25, 2021

A legal ad in the Sierra County Sentinel’s May 21 edition was the first public notice and acknowledgment that two more wells in the city’s...

T or C electrical transformer fixed, still needs to be replaced
by Kathleen Sloan | June 17, 2021

The repair cost nearly $33,000, and the estimated price for replacing the aging transformer altogether could run as high as $1.5 million. The electric department's...

1 thought on “Revenue frenzy?”

  1. Are the commissioners still getting a salary increase? At this point it appears like a reward for a lack of interest in actually doing their jobs.

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