The city council on Tuesday approved a $1.9 million expansion project at the Farmington Museum.
The city council on Tuesday approved a $1.9 million expansion project at the Farmington Museum. (Courtesy photo)
FARMINGTON — Farmington city council approved a nearly $1.9 million project to build a new wing for the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

During a work session Tuesday morning, the bid was awarded to Mike Rich Contractors, Inc. of Albuquerque. Construction is expected to begin in April and last about eight months.

The new wing is the first of two planned additions to the Farmington Museum that will provide more space and flexibility for traveling and new exhibits, according to a presentation to city council in November. The central feature of the first wing will be an energy exhibit highlighting the history of the oil, gas and energy industry in the San Juan Basin, as well as alternative energy sources.

The decision to approve the project came amidst discussions on how to contain the city's $4.4 million budget deficit, as well as news of pending cuts in funding from the state.

Councilwoman Mary Fischer asked whether the city should postpone the decision because of the budget deficit, saying that the city's fiscal situation is too uncertain to warrant approving the expansion, Fischer said.

It appears, however, that the nearly $1.9 million in funds are already committed to the museum.

"It's really an apples and oranges scenario," said city manager Rob Mayes. "The money was approved a year ago. This money can't be used to help us with our deficit this year."

Nevertheless, Fischer said no decision should have been made Tuesday morning.

"(Tabling discussion) would make me a little more comfortable considering the state's hold harmless cut," she said.

The so-called "hold harmless" payments are part of an ongoing debate on New Mexico's tax laws. Food and medicine are exempt from taxation statewide. As a result, the state makes payments in lieu of taxes to cities and counties and "holds them harmless" from the revenue they would otherwise lose.

A tax bill that would cut those payments awaits Gov. Susana Martinez' signature.

In two years, the so-called "hold harmless" payments will be phased out over a 15-year period if the governor signs the bill. City and county governments would be allowed to raise some local tax rates to make up for the lost revenue, or they would have to make spending cuts.

Although the phaseout will not begin for another two years, the impending losses in revenue are worrisome, said Mayor Tommy Roberts.

"That is going to have some very significant impacts over time," Roberts said.

Greg Yee may be reached at gyee@daily-times.com; 505-564-4606. Follow him on Twitter @GYeeDT.