Editor's Note: This is Part 3 of a multi-part series on the Prospectors' forum, which was held on Dec. 9. Then the holidays happened, and the rest of the articles did not get written.
Grant County Commission Chairman Brett Kasten thanked the legislators for being there and listening to the presentations.
Anthony Gutierrez, county planner said: "Our ICIP has our legislative requests for this year."
"For the Administration Center, we were allocated $300,000, but we have had issues with getting the final agreements done," Gutierrez said. "$250,000 is directly related to how much we have already spent. We spent $100,000 on the front of the building, and money for the lift station for Fort Bayard is being reallocated to the building and for the Sheriff's vault.
"Our next priority is the Grant County Veterans' Memorial Business and Conference Center," he continued. "We had funding of $2 million from the EDA for the exterior and the parking lot, which the EDA requested be done first. They said we would receive another $2 million for the interior, but now they have no money. "
He said the interior needs work. "The size is good, but the utilization has been impacted. It was for a call center. I think we have the potential for entrepreneurship and incubators would be a plus."
"Ace Hardware wants to expand," Gutierrez said. "Data processing in the building needs to be updated. The call center cut all the lines when they left. We are requesting $200 million for planning and design."
The third ICIP priority is for the courthouse. "We are mandated to offer space for the District Judge," he said. "We are not able to do upgrades for the old building, and $872, 000 would be required to get the electrical upgrade, so we can do renovations."
"As the newly elected chairman of the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission, I ask the legislators to support the projects at the Interstate Stream Commission," Gutierrez said. "We can get the data to you."
Rep. Dianne Hamilton commented that the priorities are so well documented that it will be easy to submit these requests, "once Howie and Rudy tell us how much we have."
Sen. Howie Morales said he believes each representative and senator will have a bit less this year. "We know water will be a priority."
Jon Paul Saari, county manager, clarified that the county last year received
$100,000 for the front of the administration center and $200,000 for the Sheriff's vault.
"We have an issue with DFA," Saari said "They sent to the town mayor our agreement. He sent the agreement back. Then the DFA told us we needed the survey, but didn't send us the survey for the bond sale, because it was listed under the town, so we can't get reimbursed. We're worried we will be docked because we haven't spent the money."
Hamilton concurred that there has been a lot of confusion.
"Everyone who knew anything at DFA is gone," Saari said.
"Our major concern is not to lose the money," Kasten said.
Rep. Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez said the legislators are aware of the difficulty. "We need to be careful that the money is not re-allocated. And because of the timing, the county is also ineligible for bond funding."
Morales asked for clarification that the No. 1 priority is to finish the Sheriff's vault and the building and $1.5 million for the courthouse?
Gutierrez explained: "We had to change the request because the need was higher due to the courthouse evaluation. We didn't receive the evaluation until after the ICIP was submitted."
"We have to do a full electrical upgrade before any renovation," Saari said.
Priscilla Lucero. Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments director, said: "With regards to not seeing the grant go forward until the bond sale, once the bond sale occurs, we have to be vigilant so we don't lose out."
She said part of the confusion was that the county did a questionnaire for going to capital outlay. Grant County did go to the bond sale in June, and the DFA should have issued an agreement.
"Yes, Hurley and Bayard proposals are on tomorrow's bond sale," Lucero said.
Morales thanked the county for having its audit up to date. "There is no way to hold up your projects. I have argued for you with confidence."
"Will we still have problems with the agreements after the bond sale?" Martinez asked.
Lucero said the new DFA project manager was coming to the county the next week and she would explain things to them. "We are trying to keep following up on everything."
"We just want to see the money come here," Martinez said.
"Sam Ojinaga and Barbara Romero—we thank them for their service, although they are no longer with DFA," Morales said.
Silver City Mayor James Marshall cited the projects that the town has completed. "We're waiting on the payments for Chihuahua Hill streets, and on agreements for the Scott Park lighting. Vistas de Plata has four houses now and others starting. The Blackhawk sewer project is ongoing, as is our project using Colonias funding."
He said the regional water system is being reviewed by the Office of the State Engineer.
"Our challenges include hold harmless," Marshall said. "It could have a 22 percent negative impact on the town, which is about $1.2 million. If we activate the 3/8th percent gross receipts tax, it will give us $900,000, but our GRT would be 8.58 percent."
He noted that there is no tax increase at the state, but the state has moved it down to the local level. "We are asking just to keep us at neutral."
Funding delays continue, he said. "Gila Regional Medical Center was listed under County of Gila Regional."
Phase III of planning for Scott Park would include a concession stand and lights. The town needs two additional rescue vehicles. There are huge cracks in the joints, he noted
"For Vistas de Plata, we continue to apply for every type of funding," Marshall said. "The utilities are in for the next phase."
"We appreciate you because before we ask questions, you have answers with information," Martinez said.
"Your concern is the hold harmless impact to Silver City and the county, which lands on the shoulders of residents," he noted. "We will keep an eye on it to minimize the impact to municipalities."
Morales also commended the town. "Your audits are always in place on time. Every time I have a question you have answers. Is the funding there for the lights?"
Alex Brown, town manager, replied: "Yes, but not for the concession stand. The loans should be already approved, but they were taken back to the board for spending in February. We will go on and start by using $275,000 to order the lights. We're hoping if we close in February, by the end of April, we should be completed."
"We will try to keep to break even on the hold harmless," Morales said. "It's not doable to increase the gross receipts tax more."
"We're the center for shopping for southwest New Mexico," Brown pointed out. "On any given day we have 18,000 to 19,000 people in town. The whole issue is frustrating. The only true portion of gross receipts tax is the one that used to be on food and medical services.
"Our average growth over the past 10 years was 1.7 percent," Brown continued. "The food and medical services average was 2.4 percent. We will lose the growth factor."
"We are seeing rural areas shrink," Morales said. "Is the Municipal League going to present a solution?"
"On the Senate side we need a tax overhaul, and putting the gross receipts tax back on medical services and food," Brown said. "Looking at the low-income tax credit, there will be no impact on lower-income residents. The Bureau of Business and Economic Research is doing a study for good numbers."
"An article I read showed the hold harmless didn't have the affect that was intended," Marshall noted.
"I will definitely advocate for changes to what passed last year," Morales said.
"I ask to have capital outlay requests to submit on the first day of the session," he reminded the presenters.
"Are you including questionnaires with the requests?" Martinez asked.
"The state hasn't released the questionnaires," Lucero said. "We hope to have them the end of December or first of January."
The next two articles will complete the local government presentations, which took place before the lunch break.