Editor's Note: This is Part 5 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.
Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments Director Priscilla Lucero reported that in Colonias funding, all of the 13 2012 award agreements for $3.4 million were in place. There is also reversion money to be handed out.
"We have 10 awards for $4.4 million for 2013, but no grant agreements yet," Lucero said. "We are approaching the next funding cycle, with March 2014 for the applications to be in.
"We are working on a broadband implementation in the four-county area," she continued. "Part of the application required assessments from the schools, local governments and the university. We are really lacking in broadband access in the area. We are one of two pilot implementation projects in the state.
"We need to know what areas are unserved and which ones are underserved," she emphasized. "The overarching goal is to tap into USDA dollars."
She reported the Community Development Block Grants were almost cut in half to $8 million this year. They won't be due until May. They are really lagging this year.
"I am heartfelt about Vistas de Plata," Lucero said. "One family I know of now has their own home. They are in their 70s. One Habitat for Humanity home is already occupied and another two are building.
Emily Gojkovic, COG economic development planner, said: "We have put in a PROMISE application, which came to us through the Stronger Economies Together program. It is an Obama initiative, through the USDA, HUD and other agencies."
"We are also a part of the Certified Communities Initiative," Gojkovich continued. "Grant County and Hurley have taken advantage of it. We have gone to trade shows.
"We are working on a statewide economic development plan," she said. She announced that on Dec. 16, from 3-7 p.m., the COG would be holding a public input session at the Grant County Business and Conference Center.
"The Promise initiative is available to the 20 communities in the area," Lucero said. "They are invited to apply for education, economic development and law enforcement programs."
Rep. Dianne Hamilton said: "I don't know how you do all you do. If I have a question, I just have to call."
Rep. Rodopho "Rudy" Martinez echoed the comment.
"You have brought so much to the community," Sen. Howie Morales said. I" appreciate the amount of time you spend so that every word is correct.
"For economic rural development, I didn't see any legislation to endorse," Morales said.
Lucero said it was being put together. "I think the request is for another $50,000 per COG."
"I think it would be a wise investment," Morales said. "What about the website portal?"
"Emily keeps it up-to-date," Lucero replied. "She has everything on it that is required and it is constantly updated.
"That has been one of the disconnects," Lucero continued. "Local governments have to update their sites. Some of the clerks don't have a clue.
"We have presented to the committee that training is needed on the way to use the portal, especially in the capital improvement funding process, but it won't be ready by the legislative session," she continued. "I commend my staff, which works extra hours on projects to benefit local communities."
Alex Ocheltree, owner of Billy's Wild West BBQ, presented an idea—a New Mexico Tavern License.
"I'm talking about the plight of downtown Silver City, actually all New Mexico downtowns," Ocheltree said. "They need entertainment, bars, restaurants, shopping.
"Bisbee is a good example of what could be," he said. "They have no resources, but the town is vital and thriving with bars and shops."
He pointed out that New Mexico has awkward liquor laws. Too many people have their retirement and mortgages based on liquor licenses.
"A New Mexico Tavern License would allow only New Mexico liquor, New Mexico wine and New Mexico beer," Ocheltree said. "It is an idea for New Mexico producers to have a place to market their products.
"The license would not be available to Applebee's or CVS or other large outfits," he said. "It would be strictly for rural counties. The licensee would have to be a resident of the county, with ownership at least 50 percent being a resident."
He also said food didn't have to be a part of it. "We want to shut off sales at midnight, but dancing or food could continue after midnight."
"Having a craft distillery is awkward and difficult, including for Little Toad Creek," Ocheltree said. "Funding it is hard to do. The state requires 1000 gallons a year or 5000 bottles. I recommend lowering it to 250 gallons for the first three years. The license would allow direct distribution to taverns.
"It is trying to put a tweak in the liquor laws," he continued. "It would be good for tourism. With food, there is a responsibility issue.
"If insurance sees an outfit as a bar, premiums are high, but if the gross revenue is less that 50 percent for liquor, then the premiums are lower," he said. "That's why food or dancing or other entertainment should be part of the tavern."
Morales said the idea has been discussed in the economic development committee and several other interim committees.
"It is a complex issue. One of the recommendations is that not enough emphasis will be given to it in the 30-day session," Morales said.
"You, Alex, will be called to be a presenter to the Liquor Licenses Task Force," Morales said. "I think we can come up with comprehensive liquor license laws that will bring revitalization of rural areas."
Hamilton said one thing that hit her was how different small towns were 50 years ago. "We've been here 40 years and we had downtown shops and a drugstore. We have to find a way to keep small towns viable."
"I think one way is to get more people downtown," she said. "I support your effort."
Martinez said he carried a bill last year. "Nineteen liquor licenses are sitting, purchased as retirement, and now they can't sell them because of stipulations. "
"A Tavern License would be a great opportunity for individuals to open new businesses," Martinez said. "It will take a full comprehensive look at the liquor laws.
The next article will begin the various non-profit sector presentations that were held in the afternoon.