Public safety projects dominate San Juan County's capital outlay funding wish list

Money to build new multiuse building at McGee Park is top request

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • Members of the San Juan County Commission approved the list during their Nov. 15 meeting in Aztec.
  • The requests have been forwarded to local state lawmakers, who will join their counterparts for the opening of the legislative session later this month in Santa Fe.
  • County Manager Mike Stark says he is optimistic about the county's chances of getting its capital outlay requests met this year.

FARMINGTON — A list of items and projects that San Juan County officials hope to see funded with capital outlay money this year is in the hands of local state lawmakers, who will present those requests during the legislative session that begins Tuesday, Jan. 17, in Santa Fe.

Members of the San Juan County Commission approved the list during their Nov. 15 meeting in Aztec, and the requests were forwarded to local lawmakers for their consideration. Most of the five entries on the list relate to public safety.

Topping the list is a request for more than $1.6 million for improvements at McGee Park, site of the annual San Juan County Fair. County Manager Mike Stark said the county hopes to demolish two aging structures at the park — commonly known as the poultry barn and the rabbit barn — and replace them with a new, larger, multiuse building.

“Those buildings are below grade and prone to flooding,” Stark said, explaining the need to demolish and replace them.

Stark described McGee Park as a world-class fairgrounds.

Flood water from a monsoon rain covers the floor at the poultry barn at McGee Park on July 29, 2022.

“I don’t make that statement lightly,” he said, noting that the San Juan County Fair is the largest county fair in New Mexico and is the second-largest fair held in the state each year, behind only the New Mexico State Fair in Albuquerque.

The rabbit and poultry barns do not live up to the standards of the rest of McGee Park, he said, adding that the former only has a dirt floor. The poultry barn was built in 1977 and is 4,480 square feet in size. The rabbit barn was constructed in 1982 and is 3,120 square feet.

The replacement building county officials have in mind would be 10,625 square feet and would be suitable for a variety of purposes, Stark said, explaining that the new facility would allow the county to wind up with a larger facility with much more functionality.

San Juan County officials would like to demolish and replace the rabbit barn at McGee Park, which features only a dirt floor.

An opinion of probable cost document created by county officials in July 2022 shows the total cost of demolishing the rabbit and poultry barns, and building the replacement structure would come to a little more than $1.5 million. Stark said the rest of the money in the request would go to cover upgrades to the public address and lighting systems in the outdoor riding arena.

That request is the highest-priority item on the county’s capital outlay list, but Stark said it could be removed if the county receives good news from a grant proposal it submitted several months ago. County officials submitted a proposal for the same project to the New Mexico Regional Recreation Center and Quality of Life grant program in July, but they have yet to hear from the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration, which is administering the $45 million program.

Item No. 2 on the county’s list is request for a new engine for the San Juan County Fire Department.

“That’s something we’re always in need of,” Stark said. “We’re always in need of a replacement apparatus.”

County commissioners considered making a request for the new engine last year but held off until this year in favor of more pressing concerns, Stark said. But he fears the county no longer can afford to put off the purchase of a new engine.

He said supply-chain issues have resulted in long wait times for delivery of such vehicles.

“The manufacturer says they’re backordered for 29 to 39 months before delivery,” he said. “We’re on a replacement schedule for those vehicles every 25 years, and we’re already two years behind schedule.”

If the county ordered a new apparatus today, it would still be two and a half to three and a half years before it received the engine, he said. Additionally, the cost of such vehicles is climbing each year.

“Time’s of the essence, so we hope we’re successful,” Stark said.

The third item on the list is a request for $1.25 million for improvements at Safety City, the public safety training facility owned and operated by the City of Farmington but used by all of San Juan County’s public safety agencies. Stark said the county’s request duplicates an identical request for such funding that was forwarded to local legislators by the Farmington City Council.

Since San Juan County personnel use the facility, he said, it only made sense for the county to throw its weight behind Farmington’s request.

The money would be used to resurface the mile-long high-speed driving track that emergency personnel use to learn safe, high-speed driving techniques, and to replace the pneumatic air system that runs the timed targets at the facility’s shooting range. Stark said the driving track is 25 years old and has developed large cracks in places that present potential hazards.

The fourth item on the list is $2 million to replace the county’s Emergency Medical Services Station 6, which is located in a leased building on 16th Street in Farmington. Stark said an analysis of the volume of emergency calls to the dispatch center has revealed that the station would be better located between 20th Street and 30th Street in Farmington.

He also said a more modern structure is needed, and county officials would like to build a new station more akin to the EMS station in Aztec, which features three bays and sleeping quarters for emergency personnel. The current station on 16th Street, he said, essentially is just an undersize garage.

“It’s not really suitable for today’s call volume structure,” Stark said.

The final item on the list is $750,000 for Americans with Disabilities Act-related improvements at various county buildings. Stark said the county hired a consulting firm to identity such needed improvements at the 120 buildings it owns and operates, and the list includes changes to building access points, restrooms, kitchens, sidewalks and other infrastructure.

With state coffers reportedly overflowing with oil and gas industry-related revenue this session, along with a considerable amount of federal money being funneled down to states, Stark likes the county’s chances of seeing many items on that list being funded.

“We’re very optimistic,” he said. “Our legislators always do a good job of looking after our priorities. And our record shows that when we do receive those dollars, we get the projects done.”

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 ormeasterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.