HOBBS, NM (KWES) - Taxpayers questioned city spending after public records revealed three Hobbs officials spent nearly $8,000 traveling to Italy.
"I'm a little disappointed I wasn't invited," one Hobbs man joked.
Mayor Sam Cobb insisted the four-day, four-figure trip last month was "fiscally responsible" and said he approved the travel expenses so city employees could examine pools designed by Myrtha, a company headquartered in Italy.
City Manager J.J. Murphy, Parks and Recreation Director Doug McDaniel and General Services Director Ronny Choate were tasked with studying the products and determining whether or not to recommend them for the planned Health, Wellness and Learning Center in Hobbs, Cobb explained.
"They followed their itinerary, they got on the plane and they came back," he said. "So it was certainly not a 'fun and games' activity for the city staff."
The three men spent their time in Italy shadowing Myrtha teams, examining pool operations and exploring the products' safety functions, according to Cobb.
He said the nearly $8,000 travel expense was a "drop in the bucket" compared to the $61 million allocated for construction of the health center.
About $12 million will be spent on the facility's multi-pool aquatic center, the mayor added.
The Health, Wellness and Learning Center is a joint collaboration between various public and private entities including the city of Hobbs, Lea County, Hobbs Municipal Schools, New Mexico Junior College, University of the Southwest and Albuquerque-based Dekker/Perich/Sabatini.
Groundbreaking is scheduled for July. Construction is expected to last approximately 18 months, according to the mayor.
"At the end of the day, the city of Hobbs is ultimately responsible for the operation of the facilities, so we just really wanted our staff to have more of a hands-on [experience] with the manufacturing process and the installation process," said Cobb. "That's money well spent in my mind."