Belen changes system for lodgers tax use

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The Belen City Council unanimously approved a new system for dispensing tax money it collects from area hotels and motels to promote tourism.

Commonly referred to as the lodgers tax, state law requires that all monies collected from it go toward promoting and sustaining tourism and tourist-related events.

The city has $47,000 in lodgers tax funds that officials plan to disperse to several area organizations to promote activities they hope will attract visitors to the area.

Under the city's new system, the organization receiving funds must use the money to advertise and market local events and must present receipts to the lodgers tax committee within 60 days of the event. Those failing to do so will not be considered for future disbursements.

The proposed changes come after city officials inappropriately used $25,000 of the fund to cover expenses accrued at this summer's Celebrate Belen's Country Music Americana Festival.

Celebrate Belen, a private organization made up of city employees and private citizens, requested $7,000 to help pay for expenses until festival sponsors reimbursed the money. The request was denied. But, according to city council meeting minutes from September, City Manager Mary Lucy Baca and Finance Director Roseanne Peralta approved, without proper authorization, the $7,000 initially requested along with an additional $18,000 to pay for the event.

During the same meeting, Baca assured the council that all monies borrowed to help cover the festival's expenses had been replaced.

The proposed budget allocates $10,000 in lodgers tax money for the Harvey House Museum for maintenance and repairs, $15,000 for Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce Tourism Center and $14,000 for city-sponsored events.

Under the new system, the remaining $8,000 will go to organizations requesting money based on a gold, silver or bronze ranking.

To receive a gold designation, the organization requesting the money must be a nonprofit organization hosting a community event of 5,000 or more people.

Those receiving a silver sponsorship must be a nonprofit organization hosting an event with less than 5,000 people.

Bronze sponsorships go to help for-profit businesses, as long as the money is used for promotion.

In other business, the council:

• Unanimously approved a 20-year lease agreement with local property owner and part-time resident Gordon Smith. Smith plans to build an airplane hangar on the 3,200 square-foot-parcel of land at the city of Belen's Alexander Municipal Airport.

According to the agreement, Smith must start building the hangar within one year after signing the lease and pay 3 percent gross revenue from any and all reported income, in addition to the roughly 8 cents per square foot per year lease ($256 annual lease fee).

Airport Manager Robert Uecker assured city councilors that the rate Smith will pay to lease the property is the published rate and that the lease agreement is in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration standards.

• Unanimously approved a plan to get rid of the stockpile of files related to Belen's Retired Volunteer Senior Program (RSVP) as long as Bertha Flores, the program's director, follows state and federal protocols concerning disposal of files.

• Discussed changing the city's procurement policy to increase the amount a purchase must be before it's put out for bid.

Under the current policy, city officials must issue a request for proposal for any purchase exceeding $20,000. City officials discussed raising the cap to $30,000.