Funds targeted for several different areas

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FARMINGTON — The Farmington City Council voted unanimously to raise the gross receipts tax by 5/8 of 1 percent during its meeting this morning.

The tax increase was approved in two parts.

The first part was for 1/2 of 1 percent to benefit public safety and public works, including street maintenance and economic diversification. A 1/8 of 1 percent increase will go to the police and fire departments. Another 1/8 of 1 percent will go to the public works department, and 1/4 of 1 percent will be set aside for economic development and community transformation.

The second part was for a 1/8 of 1 percent increase to offset the money the city is losing as the state phases out so-called "hold harmless" payments. Hold harmless payments are provided to local governments in lieu of tax revenue previously received from taxes on food and medicine.

People who were unable to attend the meeting can watch it online at fmtn.org.

Sharer says vote was a hard decision

Councilor Sean Sharer said the vote was hard for him. All four city councilors and the mayor describe themselves as fiscal conservatives, and several of them have served in leadership positions in the San Juan County Republican Party.

“This whole process has been real difficult for me,” he said. “Raising taxes is against everything I believe in.”

Nevertheless, Sharer was the councilor who made the motion to adopt the hold harmless gross receipts tax increment, and he voted in favor of both.

“This could make Farmington a place my daughter can come back and live after college,” Sharer said.

Part of the tax is intended to transform Farmington

Last week, Mayor Nate Duckett released a letter to the community detailing plans for the 1/4 of 1 percent hike that will be used for economic development and community transformation. The letter can be read at fmtn.org. Some of the projects he highlighted include:

Warren Unsicker, the CEO of Four Corners Economic Development, praised city officials and said the tax increase could transform Farmington.

"These are things that can transform a community and set it on a new trajectory," Unsicker said.

Duckett said there is a lot of community support for the city’s efforts.

"I think in any situation, a normal elected official would think, 'We're sinking a dagger into ourselves in even trying to bring an initiative like this up to the public,'" Duckett said. "But the outpouring of support from individuals who have staked their claim in Farmington, who've made their lives here in Farmington, who've raised their children in Farmington, who want their grandkids to come back her to Farmington, speaks volumes to me as an elected official."

He said there is synergy throughout the county and city.

"Farmington needs to be a leader here regionally," Duckett said. "We're not the only community that's going to be impacted by the loss of jobs, whether it's from the power plant, the coal mine, the continued reduction of jobs in oil and gas fields. We're not the only ones who will be left high and dry to some degree and losing jobs, so we have to lead this new push here."

Community members urge council to pass tax increase

That sentiment was echoed by community members who spoke in favor of the tax increase at the council meeting today.

“I’ve seen first hand what the decline in our energy industry has done to a business,” said Dale Davis, the owner of 505 Cycles and the general manager of the Lone Star Truck Group in Farmington.

He said he has seen growth in tourism and outdoor recreation locally.

“I don’t think we’ve even begun to scratch the surface,” Davis said.

Darryl Dunlap, treasurer of the Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau and recreation resources director for New Mexico Off Highway Vehicle Alliance, said the convention and visitors bureau board voted to support the tax increase.

"We see that it has some very good economic benefits," Dunlap said.

He specifically highlighted outdoor recreation initiatives as an area that could benefit from the increased tax.

“This area up here we’ve identified is one of the best, most prime outdoor recreation areas in the entire state,” he said. "We have opportunities that are so diverse, and we also have something else that a lot of areas don't have. We have the support of much of the city, the county and other groups in this area to help diversify outdoor recreation and build upon it. But we can't do it without money. We can't do it without some guidance from the city and the county."

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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