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AZTEC — After a slow start for its gross tax receipts this fiscal year, Aztec officials hope the second annual holiday lights competition, known as Aztec Sparkles, will help drive more traffic to local businesses.

In the first couple of months of the fiscal year, the city dropped to a five-year low for gross tax receipts, Mayor Sally Burbridge said during a City Commission meeting Tuesday evening.

Last year, the city saw its highest gross receipts in five years during the Sparkles event, she said.

The Aztec Sparkles competition pits business owners against each other. Judges decide which businesses have the best holiday decor.

The City Commission made two changes to the competition this year — adding a second honorable mention award and requiring that businesses keep their lights on for all but three days during the competition time period, which will take place Dec. 4 through Dec. 31.

The prizes for the winners are utility credits, starting with $3,000 in utility credits for first place.

Delain George, the utility department director, said this credit — which is only good for the electric utility — paid last year's winner's bills through July of this year.

The competition cost the electric utility $10,500 last year in utility credits, George said.

The city had hoped the businesses would increase usage during the competition and that the utility credits would help offset the cost. However, George said the city didn't see a noticeable increase in usage last year.

That caused Commissioner Katee McClure, who proposed the contest last year, to wonder if perhaps that money could be put to better use, such as flood mitigation.

"Is it too frivolous when so many people are suffering from the flood?" she asked.

Burbridge said $10,500 is "just a drop in the bucket" when the city looks at the full price of what is needed following the Aug. 26 floods.

"When we have some things that affect the community negatively, canceling all the positives is not the way to go," Burbridge said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.

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