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Updated: Monday, 31 Jan 2011, 10:53 PM MST
Published : Monday, 31 Jan 2011, 10:53 PM MST
RUIDOSO DOWNS, N.M. (KRQE) - New Mexico already owns and operates more museums than any other state in the country.
Now--according to a proposed deal worked out during the waning days of the Richardson administration--a ninth museum may be added to the eight already administered by the state.
The Hubbard Museum of the American West, nestled in the Sacramento Mountains in the city of Ruidoso Downs, has become a financial drain on the city, said H. John Underwood, the city's attorney.
"We are finishing about $200,000 behind per year in our operation of the museum," he said.
That's the reason the city and the state negotiated an agreement that calls on the state to contribute about $200,000 of the annual expenses in exchange for owning the museum's assets. The city would continue to pay for most of the rest of the approximately $1 million in expenses.
"This way the state doesn't have to acquire a bunch of employees and do all that stuff," Underwood said. "Those are all our expenses and our people."
The deal was signed by then-Department of Cultural Affairs Secretary Stuart Ashman on Dec. 21; Ruidoso Downs' mayor signed it Dec. 30, according to the contract. The agreement is subject to approval from the Legislature and the Martinez administration, neither of which appears inclined to support it.
"Somewhere you've got to use some common sense and say, 'Gosh, I'd like to have that, but we can't afford it,' " said Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming.
Keith Gardner, Martinez's chief of staff, was equally succinct.
"We're in a fiscal crisis," he said. "It's like saying, 'Well, I have a 40-percent-off coupon on a new TV, but I can't afford to pay our mortgage."
None of the eight museums currently owned by the state--four in Santa Fe, two in Albuquerque and one each in Alamogordo and Las Cruces--turns a profit. The Department of Cultural Affairs has suffered a 14 percent budget cut over the last two years, and may have to cut another 5.3 percent this year.
By comparison, the state of California owns and operates five museums while New York owns just two. Still, there's no talk of cutting the number of New Mexico museums under current ownership.
Ashman, who negotiated the proposed deal, told News 13 the Hubbard Museum contains objects not featured in any other state museum. That includes about 10,000 items worth millions of dollars from stagecoaches to jewelry to saddles that originally belonged to Ann Stradling, a wealthy woman who grew up on the East Coast.
Underwood said he knows the deal is a tough sell during a weak economy.
"I'm hopeful that the new secretary and the new administration and the Legislature can figure out a way to make things work," he said.
However, that doesn't seem likely.
"This is an 11th-hour deal," Gardner said. "It was signed at the last minute by the previous administration."
Smith, too, expressed doubts. "Hopefully this governor will say, 'Let's take care of the basic necessities,'" he said.