HOBBS, N.M. — Lea County Tax Assessor Sharla Kennedy says she wants everyone to pay their fair share of taxes — even oil and gas companies. A preliminary report for Lea County shows two-thirds of the drilling companies in the last 10 years have not reported new taxable assets.
Kennedy brought to the county commission a reminder that a four-year audit being performed in Eddy County has already found more than $2 million in unpaid property taxes just in the first year.
The audit in Eddy County cost about $600,000 and is expected to find about $5 million in unpaid property taxes. However, Eddy County’s assessor was forced to sue the county’s commission in order to conduct the audit. It remains unclear if the county commission will follow through on collecting those taxes once the audit is complete because of fears of being considered anti-oil and gas.
Kennedy pointed out a physical audit of pipelines and other equipment in Lea County could benefit more government entities than just Lea County, the Hobbs News-Sun reported (http://bit.ly/2if8HHP ).
“All of the taxing entities will benefit from this oil and gas audit,” Kennedy said. “I believe everyone should pay their fair share. No one would like it if they were paying taxes on their house and their neighbor was not paying on theirs.”
County Commission Chairman Ron Black agreed with the need for an audit.
“The fairness argument is important,” he said. “If you’re in the oil business and you’re paying your taxes every year and you’ve got a competitor that’s not (paying taxes), it’s automatically an unfair advantage. So, there’s fairness factor.”
But Black said fairness is only part of his thinking.
“The big factor for me is the fact that this money is not just for Lea County,” he said. “We get about one-third of this money. The other two thirds goes to the hospital district, to the school districts and to the junior college. There are 10 different taxing entities that share this money. I don’t think we have the right to give away other people’s money — and that’s basically what we’re doing. We’re giving way money that should be going to the Eunice schools, to the Nor-Lea Hospital, to the Tatum schools, to the New Mexico Junior College if we don’t collect the taxes that are due.”