MANAGER: WORKING SPACE AN IMPORTANT ISSUE

MANAGER: WORKING SPACE AN IMPORTANT ISSUE

Doña Ana County is facing a space crisis. Because the state mandates that counties provide space for state offices, such as the District Attorney’s Office, the District Courts, the Juvenile and Adult Probation Offices, the Drug Court, the Veteran’s Service Commission and the Department of Health (among others), these agencies’ collective growth is forcing the county to squeeze new employees into antiquated and inadequate space.
Of the three main buildings used by Doña Ana County for its own workforce, the Manager’s Complex was built in 1887, the Courthouse was built in 1937 and the County Annex was built in 1970. None was ever built as an office complex. The Manager’s Complex was built to be a hotel (the Amador), the Annex was built to be a bank (Doña Ana Savings) and the Courthouse was built to house a judge, a jail and their respective staffs.
The nicest and most extensively renovated buildings owned by the county are populated chiefly by state agencies. The District Courts and District Attorney’s Offices occupy the Judicial Complex at the corner of Alameda and Picacho. The State Department of Health occupies the County Health building on Solano Avenue. Both of these structures were purchased by the county, gutted and completely remodeled to make way for modern office complexes. The county paid for these extensive renovations largely without state support.
The county currently is leasing space in the Village Plaza Shopping Center across from the Judicial Complex to house the Drug Court. We also are looking for additional lease space in which to either house other state agencies or to move county employees to make room for our own growth. It’s an expensive and logistically complicated dance of managing dollars and meeting the needs of state agencies and county employees.
Already, the Third Judicial District Judges and the District Attorney have identified critical space shortages within the building they collectively occupy. The county will be forced to build an expansion in the near future to accommodate the growth of both the courts and the DA’s office. We are hopeful that the state Legislature will recognize the importance of this expansion and appropriate money for it, but there are no guarantees of such funding. If no appropriation is made, it will be up to the county to find the money for the new office space.
The last time the county issued a general obligation bond was in 1994. Gross-receipts taxes also have not been raised in the county since 1994. The Board of County Commissioners is understandably reluctant to approach the voters in the present economic climate for new taxing authority, and the county has done, by most accounts, an effective job of holding the line financially while accommodating growth in creative ways. That situation cannot, however, last forever.
Unless the state steps in with sufficient funding to build an expansion to the Judicial Complex within the next six months, the county will have to move toward issuing new bonds or implementing new taxation to pay for capital expenses related to new and expanded buildings. We have no choice in the matter.
If and when the need arises to go to the voters for approval, the county will be required to seek approval for two incremental 1/8th percent gross-receipts-tax increases. The first one-eighth must be enacted in order for the county to be statutorily eligible to enact a second one-eighth devoted to infrastructure and building projects.
While Las Cruces voters are facing a bond election, voters in the county should understand that the time is likely coming when county government will have no choice but to seek voters’ approval for an increase in gross receipts taxes or general obligation bonds. We are hopeful that the business and professional communities will rally in support of the county’s obligations in this regard.