Aztec grapples with funding for business incubator
Purchase of the HUB sparked public comment at city work session
- City Commission will likely make a decision during its meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12.
- Options include using money in the economic development fund and taking out a loan from the joint utility fund.
- Several residents criticized the city's decision to purchase the building.
The city had not budgeted for the purchase and must now decide how to fund the $250,000 combined purchase and operating costs, which includes upgrades to bring it up to code. The building will likely be closed for several months while these renovations are completed.
The City Commission will vote on funding during its meeting at 6 p.m. Dec. 12 at City Hall, 201 W. Chaco St. It will likely choose between using a loan from the joint utility fund in combination with money from the general fund or using $100,000 from the economic development fund in combination with a smaller loan from the joint utility fund.
Commissioners not unanimous
Aztec entered into a lease agreement with the Aztec Presbyterian Church in December 2015 with the option of purchasing the building. The HUB houses the Aztec Chamber of Commerce and serves as a location for businesses, like 550 Brewing, to get a start in Aztec. It offers resources for existing and new businesses.
"We're trying to build a diverse economic base in our city to try to grow our (gross receipt tax revenue)," said Commissioner Sherri Sipe during a work session Monday.
She said the city has put off diversifying the economy for too long.
"I think that fiscally this is one of the worst mistakes we've ever made," said Commissioner Katee McClure.
McClure disliked the idea of borrowing money from the city's joint utility fund after raising utility rates. Meanwhile, the $100,000 in the economic development fund has been in the fund for a decade and the city has not found a way to use it without violating the state anti-donation clause.
While the city has not been able to use the money, Community Development Director Steven Saavedra is optimistic that the upcoming Metropolitan Redevelopment Area plan will provide ways for the city to use the money to help revitalize the downtown.
"My recommendation is simple: Don't touch it," Saavedra said when asked by a resident.
While the city currently has $153,000 of gross receipts tax revenue that is above budget, City Finance Officer Kathy Lamb cautioned against using it because the city needs to increase its cash reserves.
"If we had cash reserves, we wouldn't be having this discussion," Lamb said.
Commissioner Sheri Rogers supported the idea of taking the loan from the joint utility fund. She said it will give future commissioners the most flexibility because the future commission could choose to pay off the loan using either the general fund or the economic development fund.
"If we spend it now, it's kind of taking it out of their hands," she said.
Public weighs in
The commission also faced backlash from several residents at Monday's meeting.
"I truly cannot believe that we're in the position that we're in," said former city commissioner Jack Scott.
Scott called the decision to purchase the HUB malfeasance.
"The city had two years to get this thing going," he said. "It did not happen."
Aztec resident Beth McClure, the sister of Commissioner Katee McClure, also criticized the commission.
"If I could play back what a lot of you guys have said, you have overused the word 'might' and you have overused the word' hope,'" Beth McClure said.
Aztec resident Victor Snover voiced support for the commission.
"I realize that this is a very difficult decision," he said.
Snover noted that three Aztec residents spoke during the commission meeting when the city commission made the decision. All three residents asked the city commission to purchase the HUB.
"The squeaky wheel gets the grease," Snover said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at email@example.com.