Bloomfield council to take up tax hike again

Brett Berntsen
Bloomfield firefighter Tony Herrera checks on a fire engine on March 4 at the station in Bloomfield.

FARMINGTON – At their City Council meeting Monday, Bloomfield officials once again will take up the issue of a possible tax hike to maintain personnel levels at the Bloomfield Fire Department.

The council will discuss and possibly vote on holding a special election on Aug. 16, putting the question to the public as to whether to raise gross receipts taxes by 1/4 of 1 percent. The extra money would go toward staffing the Bloomfield Fire Department, which stands to lose seven paid firefighters when a federal grant expires in May.

In 2014, the department received $1 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, allowing the department to expend its paid force from three to 10.

Mayor Scott Eckstein said the issue of raising taxes comes at a difficult time, due to a struggling economy and state laws that limit the amount of times a city can raise GRT rates. If residents vote for the increase, current law would prohibit Bloomfield from implementing any hikes in the future — an option many municipalities prefer to keep in their back pocket in case of emergencies.

Farmington’s City Council meeting on Tuesday will take a less-controversial tone, focusing on recreation and sustainable energy.

City Attorney Jennifer Breakell will present an amended ordinance that allows swimming in designated areas of Farmington Lake. The city's long-term plan includes creating beach areas, lap lanes and docks at the popular recreation site, according to Cory Styron, director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs. The proposal still needs to pass through a period of public comment before it can come in front of the council for a vote.

Councilor Nathan Duckett will kick off the discussion concerning off-highway vehicles in Farmington. The Legislature recently passed a measure allowing OHVs on paved roads but left it up to local authorities to create specific rules regarding speed limits and safety equipment. Duckett said it’s too early to hash out details, but he called the legislation a win for the community and stressed the importance of correct implementation.

San Juan Regional Medical Center Chief Operating Officer John Buffington, left, and Vice President of Professional and Support Service Doug Frary visit the site of a proposed solar energy farm in Farmington in September.

The council also will vote on a zoning change allowing San Juan Regional Medical Center to install solar panels on 12.32 acres of land along South Drake Avenue and South Lake Street. The panels will provide 1.5 megawatts of electricity to supplement the center’s energy use. The proposal is contingent on fencing and landscaping agreements with neighboring businesses.

Brett Berntsen covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606