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BLOOMFIELD STRUGGLES WITH BUDGET

 

Dorothy Nobis

Bloomfield's Finance Director works hard to get the city's budget ready to submit to the state by July 31.

The Bloomfield City Council and the city's leadership team continue to struggle with a loss of Gross Receipts Tax revenue as they put together the city's budget for 2017-2018.

"Last year, we cut the 2017 budget by $1.6 million," said Bloomfield Finance Director Brad Ellsworth. "We did that through layoffs, employee pay cuts, cutting employee benefits, a hiring freeze and reviewing all expenditures carefully." The budget for Fiscal Year 2018 is basically the same budget as 2017, Ellsworth said. "We cut the FY 2017 budget drastically because of the decrease in Gross Receipts Tax (GRT), and now we are continuing at that level of expenditures in 2018. As long as the GRT doesn't go lower, we shouldn't have to cut anymore."

Some city departments are operating at low staffing levels, Ellsworth added. The 2018 budget does not include lifting the hiring freeze or restoring the pay cut the city's 88 full and part time employees took last year. Many of those employees took on additional responsibilities when the layoffs occurred and the freeze on hiring was implemented.

Bloomfield Mayor Scott Eckstein said he appreciates the support of the city staff and the residents of Bloomfield as the city copes with a substantial loss of revenue.

"The city's employees have stepped up and absorbed the work of co-workers who have left the city," Eckstein said. "They have supported the difficult decisions we've had to make and I can't thank them enough for all they do. Their efforts helped the city maintain the services we provide to our residents, which is always a priority."

"I'm cautiously optimistic that our financial condition will improve as we move forward," Eckstein said, adding the slight increase the city is seeing in Gross Receipts Tax revenue is encouraging. "I hope that increase is a sign the worst of this is behind us."

It is because of the loss of employees that the city has been able to maintain the 2017 budget and will continue through the next fiscal year, Ellsworth said. "Personnel costs are about 75 percent of our total General Fund budget. In order to maintain all of the services our citizens enjoy, we had to do with less personnel," he said.

Angela Romo has worked for the city for 14 years, working at the Fitness Center, the Cultural Center, the Senior Center, and assists with planning and zoning as well as being an administrative assistant at Bloomfield City Hall.

Romo embraced her additional responsibilities in the past year with enthusiasm and energy. "I didn't want to see city services at the Fitness Center and the Cultural Center cut," she explained. "I enjoy the people who use those facilities and I wanted to do what I could to make those services available to them."

For Romo, that meant adjusting her part time hours to accommodate the extended hours at the Fitness Center and the Cultural Center. "My hours fluctuate between 5:30 a.m. and midnight, depending on if I need to open the Fitness Center in the morning, or stay for an event at the Cultural Center at night," she said. "And my hours at City Hall are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., where I help with planning and zoning issues and assist the Human Resources director."

As a part time employee, Romo was also affected by the pay cuts. Like most of the city's employees, she understands the need for the cuts and supports those who had to make that decision. "I think the mayor and the members of the city council have done a great job (with the city's budget)," she said.

Bloomfield City Manager Eric Strahl said rebuilding the city's General Fund reserves is a priority, and the continued conservation of all of the city's resources is critical.

Ellsworth said he hopes no additional cuts will have to be made in 2018, but until the Gross Receipts Tax revenues bounce back, the City of Bloomfield will remain fiscally conservative this next year, he added.

Strahl said economies run in cycles and the city needs to rebuild its fund reserve in anticipation of the next economic downturn. "Since economic cycles are inevitable, I anticipate that the regional economy may very well improve to some degree over the next three years, after which we may experience another economic downturn," Strahl added.

The 2017-2018 budget must be approved by the Bloomfield City Council and submitted to the New Mexico Department of Finance by July 31.

 

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