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State office space expands as workforce shrinks

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — State government office space has expanded by 6 percent in the past four years while the number of state workers had dropped by 14 percent, according to a legislative audit critical of the management of buildings owned and leased by the state.

It's costing New Mexico taxpayers $47 million a year for the state to lease office space, and a Legislative Finance Committee audit report Wednesday recommends more consolidation in the use of government buildings.

The audit lauded the Property Control Division in the General Services Department for saving $1.2 million on leases in the past year but said more should be done to trim costs by consolidating workers in government-owned buildings and ending leases.

Auditors visited 18 state buildings and found 251 vacant offices and work stations.

"Agencies hold surplus space with the expectation to fill vacancies, but incur lease and operating costs for the empty space," the report said.

To improve the planning and management of buildings, auditors said the Legislature should consider having the department oversee all state-owned buildings. A number of agencies manage their own buildings, including the Department of Game and Fish, the Land Office, the State Fair, colleges, universities, and the judicial and legislative branches of government. The Property Control Division already oversees all state leases except for the Land Office, auditors said.

The Department of Transportation and the Department of Cultural Affairs objected to the auditor's proposal, telling lawmakers they can best manage their unique properties.

The state's network of museums and monuments is administered by the Cultural Affairs Department, and agency officials said the department's mission is to preserve and care for its collections and historic properties.

Cultural Affairs Secretary Veronica Gonzales said in a written statement that private financial support and donations for museums might suffer if the Property Control Division managed the buildings. The department rents out museums for business and social events, including weddings, and the money supports the museums.

The transportation agency said in a written response to the audit that it's best able to design, acquire and manage technical buildings such as sign shops and maintenance centers. The department owns 16 general office buildings, six district office complexes, 33 construction offices and 84 highway maintenance patrol yards.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat and committee chairman, said lawmakers and agencies must look for the most cost effective use of government buildings. He recalled past problems such as a $6 million archaeology center under the Department of Cultural Affairs that remained vacant for months because of water connection delays.

"We have forgotten that the taxpayer is footing the bill for all of this," Smith said.


Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmasseyAP .

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