SUNLAND PARK, N.M. (AP) — Lawmakers in a troubled New Mexico border city have doubled the property tax and are looking into layoffs and closing a senior citizens center and library.
Sunland Park faces a nearly $2 million budget deficit that some City Council members have attributed to past financial mismanagement that led the state to take over the city's financial operations. A Wednesday vote increases the property taxes from 3.78 per $1,000 valuation to 7.65.
"These decisions are not easy for any of us," Mayor Pro Tem Isabel Santos said. "We hope the people understand it was problems from past administrations."
A proposed budget that would have cut the community's only library but carried a surplus of $500 also was up for a vote Wednesday, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported. City councilors postponed it to search for solutions to the financial crunch.
The fiscal year 2013 budget must be approved by Aug. 1. The tax hike doesn't rule out the possibility of cutting services and jobs.
Residents, librarians and children have pressed the council to spare the library, which is staffed by a librarian and two part-time assistants and draws 59,000 visitors a year.
Councilor Sergio Carrillo said the city would try.
"For education, it is very important," said Carrillo, who is a teacher in Las Cruces. "A lot of people who use it don't have other options."
The coordinator of the senior citizens center, Blanca Payan, made a case for keeping the center open. She said she was touched when some of the seniors offered to sell their own belongings to fund the center and asked the councilors for time to find money.
Councilors and some city staff said they have yet to meet with department leaders to determine where cuts might be made.
The state auditor's office began looking into the city's finances earlier this year.
The audit - along with a series of state, local and federal investigations - was launched earlier this year after a mayoral candidate accused his opponent, former Mayor Pro Tem and eventual Mayor-elect Daniel Salinas, of trying to force him out of the race with a secretly recorded video of him getting a lap dance.
Since then, Salinas and several other officials have been charged in a series of voting fraud and public corruption cases. The town's previous mayor was accused of signing contracts drunk.
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New Mexico is located in the southwestern region of the U.S. Inhabited by Native American populations for many centuries, New Mexico has also been part of Imperial Spain, part of Mexico, and a U.S. territory.