EUNICE — Municipal elections in the City of Eunice will happen in November of odd-numbered years, beginning next year, if a second ordinance reading is approved in January.
Members of the city council on Tuesday unanimously approved the first reading to opt in to the state’s Regular Local Election pursuant to a new state law regarding local government elections. Councilors Jerry Corral and Marty Rodriguez were absent.
Two readings of a new ordinance are required before it can become final.
Under a new state law, local governmental entities such as the New Mexico Junior College, school boards and hospital districts get no opt-out choice. They each will be assessed $250 for every million dollars of general fund expenditures annually to meet the costs of a Regular Local Election that occurs in November of odd-numbered years.
Municipalities may to opt in or opt out of the Regular Local Election. In the past, most cities in the state, including Eunice, have had their elections in March, normally in even-numbered years. School boards and hospital districts have had elections in other months.
Eunice will pay the state about $1,000 a year to manage elections under the Local Elections Act. City Clerk Candy Brito said that’s “about a wash” compared to costs of previous e l e c t i o n s. The last city election cost Eunice about $2,265, so if money were the issue, the city saves $265 by opting in, she said.
Mayor Billy Hobbs explained, “The school board and the hospital district will all be on the same ballot. This is trying to get people to come out and vote in an election.”
Brito, previously responsible for handling municipal elections in Eunice, recommended the council choose to opt in since the state law moved most of local election responsibilities to the county clerk. She told the Hobbs News-Sun her recommendation had nothing to do with the costs involved.
“The county’s pretty much taken over. Whether you opt in or opt out, everything we do has to go through the county and the secretary of state,” she said. “To me, I think it’s better if we opt in because, although I still have some part of it, they’ve got pretty much most of it.”
After choosing to opt in, the councilors were saddled with the responsibility of deciding how to determine when terms of current officials would end, since the elections would be held in November instead of March, either three months earlier than or nine months after their scheduled terminations.
They voted unanimously for the shorter terms.
Municipal officers elected or appointed to a term ending in 2020 will serve until Dec. 31, 2019, and the new term of the position elected at the regular local election in November 2019 will begin Jan. 1, 2020.
Municipal officers elected or appointed to a term ending in 2022 will serve until Dec. 31, 2021 and the new term of the position elected at the regular local election in November 2021 will begin Jan. 1, 2022.
In Hobbs, Mayor Sam Cobb has said the home-ruled city will take no action, meaning city elections will continue to be held in March of even-numbered years.
State Sen. Daniel A. Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, sponsor of the bill that Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law on March 7 and became effective in July, said Hobbs is a special case due to the city’s voter identification rules and other provisions in the city’s charter. Unless those rules are changed, Hobbs would not be allowed to opt into the local elections in November.
Hobbs Clerk Jan Fletcher previously stated the cost of the municipal election was around $20,000 for the last biannual election in March, while Ivey-Soto estimated a charge of $19,750 per year if the city could opt in, about doubling the cost of an election every two years and doubling again in the event of a run-off election.
Based on general fund budgets, Ivey-Soto estimated costs for each municipality choosing to opt in. According to his estimates, Jal and Eunice would each pay $1,000 per year, Lovington would pay $2,250 per year and Tatum would be assessed $250 per year.