Theater transfer, tax hike, priorities list on commission agenda for July 6

Commissioners also will hear presentation on planned studio backlot

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • Commissioners will consider the approval of the filing of a quitclaim deed on the Totah Theater during the meeting.
  • That effectively will end the county's ownership of the theater.
  • Plans call for the City of Farmington to take over ownership and management of the theater.

FARMINGTON — The San Juan County Commission will meet July 6 to take up several items of note, including the transfer of ownership of the Totah Theater to the City of Farmington, consideration of a measure that would ask voters to approve a small increase in the gross receipts tax and preliminary approval of a list of planning initiatives for the next few years.

The county recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of a project to renovate the Totah Theater in downtown Farmington, which will be the centerpiece of Totah Studios, a joint enterprise between the county and the City of Farmington to promote local film and TV production.

The county acquired the theater in March 2020 for $300,000 with capital outlay funding from the state Legislature.

The San Juan County Commission will consider filing a quitclaim deed on its ownership of the Totah Theater in downtown Farmington during its Feb. 6 meeting in Aztec.

The plan all along has been for the county to transfer ownership of the building to the city when the renovation was done, placing it under the management of Farmington Civic Center supervisor Randy West.

The building is now suitable for use for film screenings, live theater and music events, and office space for film production companies.

San Juan County spokesman and film liaison Devin Neeley said commissioners will consider approving the filing of a quitclaim deed, which effectively will end the county's ownership of the theater. He said the Farmington City Council would need to formally accept ownership of the structure before it becomes the property of that entity.

Neeley also will deliver a presentation during the July 6 meeting on the location of a planned Totah Studios backlot.

He said during the June 24 ceremony at the Totah that three sites throughout San Juan County are under consideration — a plot near Jackson Lake north of Farmington, the San Juan County industrial complex and Lions Park in Kirtland — all three of which already are owned by the county.

More:Ceremony marks end of Totah Theater renovation, celebrates return of live shows soon

A design for a permanent set to be built on the backlot has been completed, Neeley has said, explaining that it would be made to look like a Native American, Mexican, Spanish or Middle Eastern village for films that feature such settings.

Tax hike, planning goals also on agenda

Commissioners will take up several other agenda items, as well.

A public hearing will be held on the issue of a proposed 1/16th of 1% increase in the gross receipts tax for emergency communications and emergency medical and behavioral health services before commissioners vote on the proposal. If the commission approves the measure, the issue would be placed on the Nov. 2 general election ballot, and county voters would be asked to consider it.

The increase would generate an estimated $1.6 million annually, county officials have said. It would go into effect on July 1, 2022, but the county would not begin receiving revenue from the increase until September 2022.

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Devin Neeley

Residents also will have the chance to weigh in on the county's preliminary strategic planning initiatives for fiscal year 2022 through fiscal year 2026. Neeley said the list includes 20 items, led by a goal of providing stronger support for law enforcement. Other items at the top of the list include increasing local farming opportunities, expanding recreational opportunities and developing a rail system between Gallup and Farmington.

The list also calls for the establishment of vocational high schools, improving cooperation and communication with the Navajo Nation, the expansion of affordable housing programs and the development of the county's film industry.

County officials have developed a summary that elaborates on some of those ideas, including the proposed creation of a San Juan County "brand" that can be used to market the county to tourists, visitors and new residents.

The summary also covers the development of new economic sectors in the county, expansion and strengthening of support for locally owned businesses, establishing San Juan County as an energy hub, diversifying the local economy, and empowering county employees to improve morale, professional development and retention.

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The summary also calls for researching the causes and solutions of homelessness, as well as providing safe, clean and affordable housing for everyone in San Juan County, citizens and visitors alike.

Neeley said after public input on the list has been received, the county staff will organize the priorities by year based on resources and the amount of staffing needed to accomplish them. He said county officials hope to have the final list ready for commission approval by August.

The commission will meet at 4 p.m. July 6 in the commission chambers in the County Administration Building, 100 S. Oliver Drive in Aztec.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.