If there is a silver lining to the pandemic cloud which has hung over the city this year, it is that people have shopped locally. That translates into gross receipts to the city, keeping the city financially on track.
“We actually did quite well,” Mayor Ravi Bhasker said this week. In fact, with Socorroans shopping locally, gross receipts actually are up almost 10 percent, he said. Gross receipts, or sales tax, along with property taxes are what fund the majority of the city’s departments.
That was not true for tourism, funded by lodgers’ tax assessed on overnight stays. With motels shut down for much of the year, “the tourism department has been decimated as the money coming from lodgers taxes and convention tax has been cut down to 30 percent of the usual amount,” Bhasker said. “We have closed those services.”
In most cases, employees from tourism, parks and the swimming pool were moved to other positions, he said. A monthly payment on projects at the Rodeo and the planned convention center have been deferred, he said.
“We had to furlough the tourism director who had done a remarkable job in bringing events to the city,” Bhasker said. “That has been a big loss to us.”
Meanwhile, he said, employees who were exposed to COVID-19 while working in the city have been compensated by giving back the time that they were off when they use their sick leave or vacation. Those most at risk for contracting the virus, he noted, are the first responders, transporting patients with COVID-19 to hospitals in Socorro and Albuquerque. He thanked them for their commitment to the people of Socorro.
“We have also distributed about $160,000 to all businesses that have applied for help and losses due to COVID-19,” he said. “The city has also partnered with Tech to try to get students back on campus for the next semester. We know at the city (that) New Mexico Tech is the heart of our economy. We have to make sure that students are safe and healthy when they come to our city and are in class at Tech.”
Throughout the year, Bhasker said, the police department has been working at full capacity. The department has enforced the public safety guidelines set out by the governor since March.
“The police department has responded with the state police to protect the citizens from those not obeying the public health mandates,” Bhasker said. He added that the department has a new certified police officer who serves as a code enforcement officer. Also this year, a new, state-of-the-art $800,000 communication system was installed, he said.
The department is continuing to cite violators into court, the mayor said, but municipal court has been closed to the public and is operating by phone hearings.
“This has caused a delay in moving cases along in a timely fashion,” Bhasker said.
Streets repairs are ongoing. California Street was repaved and is now lit by LED lights. Bullock is in bad shape, the mayor said, with the city adding new water, gas, and sewer lines.
“It will get a brand new look in the spring,” he said, with a $4 million project being designed now. The mayor urged people to respond to the city’s broadband survey.
“The IT department has contracted with a company to do a feasibility study to try to get a grant for Internet broadband for the city of Socorro,” he said. Documentation is needed to acquire the grant funding.
“The library, unfortunately, has been closed more often than open due to public health safety guidelines,” Bhasker said. “We continue to add books to our library and will open as soon as it is safe.
“The recreation department has suffered the most as it has been completely closed since March,” Bhasker said.
The children and adults that have participated in the many programs we have had in the past are those suffering the most. “We promise to bring it back as soon as possible,” he said.
Even as facilities are closed to the public, “Finley gym is being remodeled with new bathrooms and a new heating and cooling system,” Bhasker said.
The youth center has been used to help high school students who don’t have internet service and for tutoring by the high school coaches, teachers, and New Mexico tech students, he said. The state has used the parking lot to conduct COVID-19 testing.
The city also supports the Senior Center and PSI/Safe Harbor. A new modular office building for the animal shelter, and a new software system to make utility billing more informational are other improvements in the city.
“The city employees continue to perform services under the most severe circumstances,” the mayor said. “The city has many challenges in the future as we fight this pandemic but rapid testing, following public health guidelines, and vaccinations will get us out of this disaster. We are financially healthy. The city looks forward to 2021.”