New Mexico Law Would Strip Millions from Fire Departments

A new law signed by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez will essentially strip $1.68 million from one local county’s fire department funding, says Craig Daugherty, San Juan County Fire Chief.

House Bill 4 is at the center of the controversy, which changes how fire fund money is distributed in the state. It also suppresses over $78 million in fire and law enforcement funding across the state, forcing a reversion to the state general fund.

Under the law, funds received by the fire department from the state’s fire protection grant will, on June 30, revert to the state general fund.

Martinez says the bill was signed because the cuts are nonrecurring, one-time transfers.

Fire departments will not be able to apply for the grant in 2018 because the program is being suspended temporarily.

House Bill 4 passed the Senate in a unanimous, 40 to 0 vote, and made it through the house on a 40 to 26 vote.

The state’s fire protection fund is funded by a tax on insurance.

Daugherty said, “This money is money that you pay taxes on for fire services.”

The intent of the bill, according to Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, is to distribute the funds in the same year the funding is received. Lundstrom, sponsor of the bill, says fire departments and law enforcement have been receiving their funding a year earlier than they should be.

HB 4, Lundstrom says, will change the funding’s distribution to a monthly basis rather than an annual basis. But Daugherty said the funding may vary from one month to the next, which could make it difficult for fire departments to budget.

Daugherty’s department has yet to receive a schedule for when the distributions will occur. He also says there is a possibility the funding will be distributed quarterly instead of monthly.