FARMINGTON — Faced with declining tax revenues and other financial challenges, San Juan County hired a firm to help officials create a priority list of programs that will be used to help find places to cut as the county crafts a budget for the 2015 fiscal year.

San Juan County Commission Chairman Jack Fortner said the county will be forced to make cuts in the next fiscal year because of a number different policies that could reduce county tax revenue.

"We know we are going to have to make some cuts and we didn't want to make a simple, across-the-board cut," Fortner said. "We really need some help in making some tough decisions because we know there are going to be some tough decisions to make."

Among the financial challenges are the sale of Navajo Mine to the Navajo Nation, the gradual repeal of the state's "Hold-Harmless" payments that make up for tax revenue lost from exemptions on food and medicine purchases, and uncertainty over federal "Payment in Lieu of Taxes" money meant to compensate the county for federal land that is not subject to local property taxes.

San Juan County contracted with the non-profit Center for Priority Based Budgeting this summer to evaluate county programs, said Operations Officer Mike Stark.

"It's a better way to approach the budget process and we want to embrace that," Stark said. "Are we giving (taxpayers) a good bang for (their) buck?"

San Juan County is the first government in New Mexico to hire the organization. Stark said the county paid the center a one-time consulting fee of $39,000, plus travel costs.

The non-profit center, based in Denver, was created in 2010 to help local governments, school districts and other non-profit companies "achieve fiscal health and wellness through priority based budgeting," according to the company's website. Cincinnati, Ohio and San Jose, Calif., are among the center's clients.

The organization said it will help clients make sound, long-term funding decisions.

Stark said the county has compiled a list of its services and the Center will provide the county with a program that prioritizes county services, assigning each service a number from one, the highest priority, to four, the lowest priority.

Stark said the county will be able to update the priority list in the future as part of the agreement between the county and the center.

Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.