County commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday night that will change the county's lease agreement with the San Juan County Museum Association, which operates Salmon Ruins. The state of New Mexico will have to approve the new contract.
The change was made at the request of the state's finance department, said Deputy County Attorney Doug Echols. The new agreement was required before the county would be reimbursed for $238,000 it paid the San Juan County Museum Association in the 2012 fiscal year for renovation of a county building at the ruins.
He said that even though the agreement could be terminated at the end of each year, there are no plans to make drastic changes to the museum.
"We love them. They do a great job," he said of the museum association.
San Juan County and the museum association signed a 99-year lease agreement in 1970. The association paid $1 per year to lease the building and the surrounding land, which preserves and displays Chaco-era dwellings and artifacts.
The new lease says the museum must provide $93,000 per year in in-kind services to be able to operate Salmon Ruins, which means it must invest that much more than it makes in revenue from the site.
The amount was determined because of the appraised "fair rental value" of the property, said County Operations Officer Mike Stark. And the county must have the property appraised every five years.
The lease agreed to Tuesday night says the museum association's in-kind contribution to the community far exceeds the fair rental value of the property.
In the 2012 fiscal year Salmon Ruins had $284,000 in library and research center expenses and collected $14,000 in admission fees. The museum association sold $42,500 in the gift shop and its cost for those goods was $24,000, according to county documents.
That leaves a budget deficit of more than a quarter million dollars. If the deficit is smaller than $93,000 in any year, the association would have to pay the county the difference to continue to operate the site and still receive public assistance, according to the lease agreement.
The museum association covers the budget shortfalls with money raised through archaeological surveys and other funding sources.
"San Juan County is unusual in that it sees something it wants to do and doesn't let: Well, is that something a county really ought to do?' stop them," Echols said. "They made the decision that the county ought to preserve these ruins for the education benefit of the public."
Echols said the county is pleased with the way the museum association operates the ruins and thinks it brings a strong benefit to the area.
"I bet there's not a school kid in San Juan County that at some point doesn't go to Salmon Ruins," he said.
The county only pays for Salmon Ruins' insurance each year. The exact cost of that insurance was not available after Tuesday night's commission meeting.
Taxpayers voted to fund the construction of the facility in 1970.
"We have done what we can do with this and we operate it at a national level," said Larry Baker, the executive director of the museum association. "I believe (Salmon Ruins) is desirable."
Ryan Boetel may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel