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Grant County commissioners hear about NMAC legislative priorities

At the Grant County Commission regular session on Thursday, Oct. 31, commissioners heard from New Mexico Association of Counties Grant County affiliate representatives on issues that are their priorities for the 2104 30-day legislative session. At the work session on Tuesday, Commission Chairman Brett Kasten had asked for the explanations to be presented, so the commissioners could make a decision whether to support the NMAC legislative priorities.

Two resolutions were considered by the commissioners, with the next to last being support of the NMAC legislative priorities for the 2014 legislative session.

Assessor Mary Guthrie asked for support of legislation to make tax rates equitable across the board. "The county can increase an individual property owner's tax rate by only a maximum of 3 percent a year, unless it is sold, then it can be raised to market value," Guthrie said. "As a result, rates are really inequitable. The rates vary from $40 a square foot to $65, $85, and $105 a square foot. An appraisal of a sold property has to have three comparables. It's really complicated."

She gave several examples, one of which was of a 1,200 square-foot house appraised at $40 a square foot, because it had never been sold. A comparable-sized house in the vicinity of the first house and of comparable age was worth $85 a square-foot, because it had been sold and was appraised at market value. "If this measure passes, it will make tax rates more equitable."

Guthrie presented another Assessors Affiliate concern and said because commercial properties are not part of public record, "we do not have information on commercial or non-residential properties, such as vacant land. Because we cannot access sales information on these properties, it's hard to determine market value."

Clerk Robert Zamarripa said the Clerks' Affiliate bill is to ask that when an individual places a lien on a property that the property owner be notified. "A contractor can file a lien of non-payment, but he doesn't have to tell the property owner. Our office doesn't report to credit bureau, but credit bureaus pick up the liens. When an owner tries to sell a property, he discovers that it has liens on it. We're trying to fix that by requiring notification."

Kasten presented the Commissioners' Affiliate request. "When a person is incarcerated, his or her Medicaid is suspended. It takes 30-60 days to reinstate Medicaid when the person is released from jail. We are trying to keep it from being suspended or ask for quick reinstatement."

Commissioner Ron Hall said it costs taxpayers more, because the person needs to stay on medications, for instance, when he or she is released.

"I am presenting on behalf of the Detention Center," Saari said. "Mike Carrillo could not attend today. The Affiliate asks for the authority to impose 2 1/16th gross receipt tax payment to be set aside for corrections facilities. As costs have grown, the number of inmates has also grown. The Detention Center Affiliate asked that the portion set aside be increased by 2 1/16th to 4 1/16ths or ¼ percent." Saari said the county has to provide medical and dental services to the inmates. "The Grant County jail costs the county more than $170,000 a year for medical services. We move $1.2 million to $1.4 million a year from the general fund. This would help offset that."

Aremndariz presented the two resolutions from the Treasurers' Affiliate.  "We have two, but we will meet next week to try to resolve the first one, which is asking to let the counties collect and keep installment payments. This resolution may make it to the Legislature and it might not. We need to know how much is owed and how much a taxpayer owes."

"The second resolution is for definition purposes," Armendariz said. "We are being challenged by the Property Tax Division, because our resolution would eliminate some of their revenue. If a taxpayer is more than two years delinquent, we transfer the list to the state. The state is supposed to work the list, but in reality, they mail from the state that the person is delinquent. Receiving that letter is the best motivation to get people to pay, and we can collect the majority. But right now, the money would go to the state and not to the counties."

Kasten said the requests encompass needs for all counties in the state.

"If I learned anything, it's about how much work goes into these resolutions," Hall said. "The discussion is by the hour, by each department affiliate, and then the resolution goes to the board, so a lot of thought goes into each resolution."

Commissioners then addressed changes to the county nepotism policy.

Attorney Abigail Robinson said the key changes were separating out familial relationships from close personal relationships, which are romantic relationships, because the latter present more liability, such as sexual harassment.

Those in familial or close personal relationships can work together, but not be supervised by a family member or of close personal relationship or work on the same shift.

The policy also took out quite a few from the list of not permitted employee relationships, because it wasn't flexible enough.

Kasten said the Sheriff's Department and Detention Center agreed with the policy, as they have familial relationships in their departments.

"I sent the policy to the department heads and the union for comments," Robinson said. "We will further clarify accommodations on a case-by-case basis on how burdensome it is on a department."

Saari said the county has lost some good employees because of the nepotism policy, so "we made it more flexible."

In county reports, Armendariz commended his staff for getting the tax bills done. "We finally resolved our software issues between the Assessor's office and ours. Twenty-seven thousand tax bills are going out today (Thursday, Oct. 31). Ted Martinez will send out the solid waste bills."

Saari said every department has worked hard, and it showed in the audit. "The auditors are writing up the report, and we should be able to make the Nov. 15 deadline."

Ramos asked what had happened to the former employee of the month recognition program and said he would like to see it return.

Saari said it has been started up again in the Detention Center. "We can talk with the directors, but we can't use county money for the social committee. They used to take donations for the recognition program."

Ramos said he attended the Southwest Regional Transit District meeting, where he heard the public is asking for schedules to be posted at the benches and shelters. "We are also working on a better website, where the schedules will be available, and to have it linked to the county website."

"We have the schedules in our office," Saari said. "We're looking at laminating them and posting them. Since we took the district back over, it has been running much more smoothly. An individual came into the office and thanked us for Corre Caminos."

Hall, in his report, said it had been a busy couple of months. "With the Southwest New Mexico Continuum of Care Coalition, we're working from prevention to two different types of detox for medical, outpatient and long-term care. The Detention Center is helping by putting together the inmate support program. They do work with the inmates while they are there, so when they leave they can get their medications and help with jobs. I heard that New Mexico is No. 1 in the nation for abuse of prescription drugs by youths, and No. 1 in the state is Grant County. That means we are the worst in the country."

He has also been working with residents in Cliff and Gila on a recreational program for the area. "They have come together and are close to putting something together. We are also working on road issues in Wind Canyon. I am excited about the safe routes to school and employment. We want to allow employees to ride bikes to work by helping them to buy the bikes."

"I attended the Gila Economic Development Alliance Roundtable, where we heard a presentation on regional broadband service filling in the gaps," Hall said. "I have invited them to make a presentation to the Commission. We are also looking at the possibility of a Corre Caminos route to Gila-Cliff and maybe one to the Mimbres. I would like to see that developed. I also attend the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission meetings on the Arizona Water Settlement Act planning process to hear updates from the Interstate Stream Commission.

"More than anything, I receive calls from people about their neighborhoods, especially about abandoned mobile homes," Hall said. "They are a health hazard, a fire hazard and cause depreciation of property.  My most objective meetings are at Walmart. We are finishing Domestic Violence Awareness month. We are lucky to have the El Refugio shelter and dedicated individuals.

Discussion ensued on when the one meeting in November would be. It was decided that Nov. 19 worked for every commissioner.

"I'm glad to see we're back online with the audits," Kasten said. "I am most proud of our partnering with Gila Regional Medical Center and Hidalgo Medical Services to provide the sign up center for the Affordable Care Act. The Business and Conference Center is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for people to sign up for the ACA.

"The Forest Industries Group and The Nature Conservancy held a combined meeting on watershed restoration," Kasten said. "I am interested in tire-rendered fuel. A million tires can be used as fuel. It's already being done in Colorado. I will ask for a resolution to get it through the local Environment Department.

"At the Association of Commerce and Industry meeting, one thing discussed was tourism," Kasten continued. "We need to steer our local tourism department toward putting advertising for Silver City in the Phoenix Airport, since we have direct flights from Phoenix."

The meeting was adjourned. The next combined work session regular meeting will take place at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19.

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