LL approves budget; new businesses

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Los Lunas Village Councilors are maintaining a conservative approach to this year's budget, which was approved last month.

It's projected that it will cost $43 million to run the village during the 2014-15 fiscal year, and gross receipts taxes have remained flat, but they anticipate GRT to start increasing, said Los Lunas Village Administrator Gregory Martin.

"We are already seeing activity underway, such as the IHop (restaurant) going in next to Applebee's, an O'Reilly Auto Parts store under construction next to Murphy's Gas Station, and there are other businesses in planning and development stages," Martin said.

"We anticipate that within the next few months âˆ' certainly within the fiscal year âˆ' announcements will be made for other stores and restaurants that will begin building in Los Lunas, which, in general, will have a positive impact on the overall economy here. We're excited about that, and we're doing everything we can to encourage that to continue to happen," he said.

PetSmart is coming to Los Lunas as well as Buffalo Wild Wings, Church's Chicken and a shopping center is under construction in front of Home Depot, said Ralph Mims, economic development manager. He has now turned his focus to industrial manufacturing to bring living-wage jobs to the village.

Mims is also working closely with Merillat officials to re-open the cabinet manufacturing plant.

But until the village's revenues grow, officials will continue to tighten the budget purse strings and continue to look for ways to save money, Martin said.

For example, starting in July, village employees will be required to share the cost of medical insurance premiums for their dependents, saving the village about $117,000 annually.

But employees will continue to receive 100 percent personal coverage and they will see a cost-of-living increase of 1.5 percent in their salaries.

"The village is still committed to a generous benefit package," Martin said. "We believe that it helps us attract and retain valuable and good employees."

Other belt-tightening measures include holding off on most departmental projects, except for some ongoing streets and sports field projects and purchasing the rest of the cassettes for the Membrane Bio Reactor filtration at the WWTP. The cassettes cost $1.9 million, but will be funded mostly by the state.

The $1.4 million interchange beautification project is expected to be underway in the fall and it is funded mainly through the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

The village has also received $125,000 from the Legislature to lay fiber optic wire from the city of Belen to Los Lunas to Bosque Farms for the Regional Vital Communications project. It will improve public safety communication.

The total cost of all the village projects is $14 million, but the lion's share of the funding is legislative appropriations and grants from the state, said Martin.

The total estimated income for 2014-15 is projected to be $41,273,312, which is about $200,000 less than what was budgeted, but the administrator said they don't have to spend every dollar. Martin also said increased property values could bring the village an additional $150,000.

"The overall total property tax is projected to increase about $150,000 based on valuation, not because taxes have increased," said Martin.

Some staff positions, which have remained vacant for almost a year due to a hiring freeze, will be filled this year, but no new positions will be added.

A part-time utility billing clerk has been upgraded to full-time to help handle the workload associated with the increasing customers over the past few years.

"It's directly related to our intent and desire to improve customer service in the billing office," Martin said. "So, a few more hours worked is more staff to help serve customers."

In an effort to further reduce expenses, the village has the opportunity to refinance its $3.5 million general obligation bond debt at lower interest rates due to favorable rates currently available.

John Archuleta, with George K. Baum and Co., said the outlook was good; the interest rates were holding and might actually get even better by the time they close on the transaction.

"It's a little over 4 percent interest right now, but it's expected to go down (further) by July 1," Archuleta said.

It will save the village $40,000 or more annually over a five year period.

"Villagers will continue to receive the same high level of service they are used to receiving," Martin said. "We've got budgeted improvements for the parks, in the streets, in the solid waste department through expanded recycling, and given that, we've made some significant progress toward our deficit reduction,

"I'm pleased to say that we are still able to provide services at a high level, thanks to the efforts of the council and staff doing their jobs serving the public."


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.