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Commissioners complete agenda and hear county reports

Editor's Note: This is the final (long) report on the Grant County commissioners work and regular sessions this week.

Grant County commissioners addressed items discussed at the work session on Tuesday, (http://www.grantcountybeat.com/index.php/news/news-articles/10219-commissioners) and heard county reports at their work session Tuesday, April 23, and at the regular session, Thursday, April 25.

At the regular session Thursday, commissioners:

• Accepted the Viva Santa Rita subdivision petition to create a road improvement district, the funding for which will be an assessment on their tax bills;
• Approved a consent agenda item for fiscal year 2014 County Fire Protection Fund Distribution applications for the following volunteer fire departments: Cliff-Gila, Fort Bayard, Lower Mimbres, Pinos Altos, Santa Rita, Sapillo Creek, Tyrone, Upper Mimbres, Whiskey Creek and Grant County Fire Management;
• Approved Policy No. 56 of the Grant County Sheriff's Department's Standard Operating Procedures to clarify that the public, if allowed legally to be at the scene, has a constitutional right to video record, photograph or audio record official activities by department personnel, as long as the member of the public does not interfere with official business;
• Approved a commercial lease amendment with Mountain Ridge Hardware LLC;
• Approved a resolution in support of the Cottage San Road improvement project to place warning lights and signage at an at-risk curve;
• Approved a resolution declaring the intent to consider adopting an ordinance authorizing the issuance and sale of up to $2.5 million in bonds by the Southwest Solid Waste Authority to pay off series 2013 bonds and to fund improvements; and
• Approved a resolution authorizing Grant County to enter into an agreement with the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging for four years. County Manager Jon Paul Saari said Senior Services is already operating under this agreement, but the agency did not have a resolution in its files.

 As the Grant County Indigent and Health Care Claims Board, commissioners approved 1053 claims for $796,044.75.  Saari explained that the out-of-county claims are being paid, but although the rest of the in-county claims were approved, funding to pay the claims is being held by the state, because the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are withholding payments to New Mexico, going back at least 10 years. CMS alleges the state was mis-applying the formula and has received more in the past years than it was entitled to, so it has frozen Medicare and Medicaid payments to the Human Services Department. "Gila Regional Medical Center has at least $8 million in receivables for which it is not being paid."

The rest of the articles will address county reports at the work and regular sessions this week from elected officials and department heads.

Senior Services Director Terry Trujillo said he was getting ready to send in contracts for the next year. "By May, we will have exceeded our deliverables, so I'm asking for more money."

Commission Chairman Brett Kasten said the Santa Clara Senior Center had requested Internet Wi-Fi. Trujillo said the agency is with Qwest, so there should be no problem.

Road Superintendent Earl Moore said his department was doing "business as usual." Although he planned to chipseal next week, he said he would put it off until after the Tour of the Gila.

Public Works Director Justin Reese said the department was putting a trap machine in Hurley, so it can host competition-grade events at the shooting range. "We're also doing spring maintenance on air-conditioners and swamp coolers." He noted that the Business and Conference Center is getting frequent use. Saari said a Santa's sleigh had been found at the center, and the county is looking for the owner.

County Planner Anthony Gutierrez said he's been working on water and subdivisions, and would check on the brownfields grant status.

"We put out a request for proposal for professional services in engineering, archaeology and surveying, so, we don't have to wait on folks when we need services," Gutierrez said. "I will contact Loma Verde Subdivision. They have done the fieldwork, but we are waiting on the plat and a parcel of land for a fire station."

The Arizona Water Settlements Act has been in the "spotlight," according to Guiterrez. "At the Input Group meeting, we heard Interstate Stream Commission updates on what (U.S. Bureau of) Reclamation is doing on studying sites for diversions and storage. Deming put in a proposal for storage on Mangas, but there is an issue with the loach minnow. An engineering report is studying effluent reuse in Bayard and in our project. We're had tons of discussions between a Luna County commissioner and the Deming city manager. I think they are more than willing to work with Grant County. We're trying to push through the importance of a regional project."

Gutierrez said he attended a flood plain conference and the flood plain inspector in Doña Ana County said because of litigation from Texas, the county could lose two-thirds of its agriculture. Kasten chimed in and said the Hatch Valley could lose 100 percent of its agriculture because of pumping brackish water.

Gutierrez said the issue "will get large, because everything below Percha Dam is in the same agreement with Texas." "Texas will beat New Mexico on every lawsuit," Kasten opined.

Also on the Loach Minnow Recovery Team, Gutierrez said everything at issue with the minnow could impact agriculture in the Virden and Gila valleys. "Any development could be affected. Right now, it's all about the fishes. I'm been pushing for levees or such to protect the property owners. I was informed to put it in writing. There is no engineer on the Tech Team of the recovery program, so there is nothing about bridges or anything to protect property owners."

As for subdivisions, he said he is working on a fix for Wind Canyon subdivision roads, by doing research on sub-base products. "Earl (Moore) and I went out before I made a recommendation to make sure the product wouldn't cause excess wear on road equipment. We discussed 2 percent slopes and crowning the roads. There is one place where the road is outside where it was platted. In discussion with (County Attorney) Abby (Robinson), I think the next move has to come from the developer."

Commissioner Gabriel Ramos commended Gutierrez for the work he does for the county. "A few people are requesting speed humps or bumps. Why did we not allow them?"

"We don't have school zones on county roads," Gutierrez said. "If we put in a barrier, we have to maintain a speed limit. I think it sets the county up to liability, because most county roads are 35 to 45 miles per hour."

Ramos asked about roads in the Ridge Road area. Gutierrez said only two are county-maintained and the others private. Saari said some of the roads are steep and a hump would slow people down, so they couldn't get up the road in inclement weather.

Detention Center Administrator Mike Carrillo listed his priority issues, including working on policy and procedures; an upcoming assessment of the facility by the director of the Board of Corrections; and the designation of Sgt. Aguirre as training leader. "I want him to be accredited as a field trainer for new employees. I want all officers to apply for state training opportunities." Training sessions were happening as he spoke. He said he would like Deputy Administrator Joe Andazola and himself to attend a gang conference to find out the new trends in gangs.

Carrillo's fourth priority was the budget for the department, which he has submitted. "I think some items are necessities. I had a meeting with the DWI coordinator, and as soon as she receives funding we will have cameras so we can start recording. We are also exploring the use of GPS on any work release projects. I'm also asking for badges for all employees. I have applied for a grant for bulletproof vests for personnel. They will pay half the cost. The last thing is our average daily population is 84, with the highest 57 men and 20 women."

Kasten said the county continues to get requests for inmates to help on road projects and cleanup. Carrillo said he was able to acquire 8 to 10 state inmates to go to old Fort Bayard to move things to new Fort Bayard and is working on the issue for road cleanups.

Sheriff Raul Villanueva said in March the department had 978 calls for service, with 63 collisions. "The major issue is burglaries. We've made some arrests to bring it down. We ask people to report suspicious activities or people. Three proms were held last weekend—Silver, Cliff and Cobre— and nothing major happened."

"This Saturday, April 27, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., will be a drug takeback. We encourage people to turn in old medications, no questions asked," Villanueva said.

He acknowledged and thanked the state legislators for providing funding to build an evidence vault at the County Administration Center. "It will be a benefit to us.

Treasurer Steve Armendariz said on April 4, a tax sale was held. "There were 67 items on the list, of which four signed installment agreements were made with the state, three were removed, and we collected $93,000 on 58 properties with outstanding taxes. Only two parcels sold for $200 each. Tax collection, as of April 16, was 71 percent, with $4.024 million having been collected, and $1.661 million left to collect. The last day to pay second half taxes without penalty is May 10."

He proposed an ordinance to create the final size and color for tax notices when mobile homes are being moved to be standard across the state. "It will give police forces something to look for. We go one step further and require the posting to be removed by a certified county employee, so it can be taken to the assessor's office and the property picked up on the tax rolls. It will then be recorded in the Clerk's Office."

"Yesterday we sent out 544 certified letters about a June 11 hearing to place a lien on properties, which have not paid their solid waste fees," Armendariz said.

Assessor Randy Villa introduced his deputy assessor Mary Guthrie.

"Annually, we determine the format of how to go through the reappraisal plan," Villa said. "We will certify values by June 15. Since 2007, we have increased values with the yield control formula, which develops rates based on the more value on the books in the county, the smaller each individual's slice." He said Guthrie does the reports.

He noted the copper ad valorem tax, based on three years of Freeport production, should start going up. "Property tax brings in more than 50 percent of the county's revenue."

Villa said everyone should have received notices of valuation. "If they come back, we can't resend them, but you can pick them up in our office."

Villa noted that radio spots would be aired in English, Spanish and Native American languages about illegal dumping in the state.

Saari said he has met with department directors on the budget. "We are looking at preliminary numbers. The state certified numbers come later. The union wants to wait on negotiation until the preliminary budget is in place. The federal payment in lieu of taxes is still being discussed. The Eastern states want to squash it, and the Western states would prefer the feds pay taxes.  The Secure Rural Schools funding is also up for renewal. With it, we only make one-time purchases, so it doesn't affect us as much. There have been requests for budget increases. The jail is larger, so the volume is up. The Sheriff is making more arrests, so it takes more money. We are not looking at any raises. We are looking at a 15 percent increase in insurance, which the county will bear at about $300,000. Both work sessions in May will be budget meetings. We will present one budget with requests unchanged and another with our recommendations."

"We have advertised in-house for a fire management officer/general services officer," Saari said. "The position will be combined. It will be different from what (retired FMO) Gary (Benavidez) could do."

The fair barn preconstruction meeting was held, and it will take six to eight weeks to receive the building, which is on order. "We started the drawings of the footers and sent them to the manufacturer. Fowler Brothers will tear down the old structure this week or next. It will take two to three weeks. We are changing the orientation of the building from north-south to east-west and trying to salvage as many materials as possible. We have a big push to be operational by the fair. It's a big unknown in getting the building in time. No restrooms this year. Silver and Cliff FFAs are working on new pens."

He said the county would get from the old Fort Bayard Medical Center some furniture for the Conference Center, which is "getting close."

Commissioner Gabriel Ramos said he had received comments on the quality of life project proposed by Western New Mexico University President Joe Shepard, Silver City Mayor James Marshall and Saari. "People like most of the projects and suggest a committee to determine which projects to support. My brother was appointed to the New Mexico Game Commission. We had baseball teams here from Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Farmington, Albuquerque and southwest New Mexico at Scott Park. They all liked the fields."

At the regular session, Ramos read a letter he had sent to Gila National Forest Supervisor Kelly Russell requesting the no-change alternative for travel management, until a full environmental impact statement was furnished, which included all roads in the forest. "Let's keep our love for the forest and keep the roads open. Choose Alternative C, until we have a correct EIS."

Commissioner Ron Hall commended county directors for "serving the public well." He said he has been attending Arizona Water Settlements Act meetings, and he recently attended the New Mexico Association of Counties meeting in Deming, where legislators discussed the recent session. He said money was "well spent" on Scott Park. "The Bencomo boys are going to Adams State as wrestlers."

At the regular session, Hall said the front line in preventing fires is the citizens. "When you are camping, be careful. If you smoke, be careful. Be careful with hot vehicles and tall grass. Firefighters risk their lives, if we have made a bad decision."

Kasten said he and Villa had attended a meeting with many agencies and the New Mexico Environment Department to address how to alleviate illegal dumping. "I commend Randy for his work with the NMAC. He will be stepping down, and I will run for the position."

At the regular session on Thursday, Kasten said one of his pet peeves is the solid waste fees and lack of collection. He presented four public service announcements put out by the NMED, which show kids on bicycles finding illegal dumps. "These illegal dumps are messing up the state and Grant County Call 1-855-nodumps if you find an illegal dump, and visit the website nodumpsNM.com. Clean up Grant County."

The commissioners took a tour of the Detention Center and adjourned from the lobby of the facility.

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