During a review of the regular meeting agenda at this morning's Grant County Commission work session, County Manager Jon Paul Saari said the first item of business for its regular meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday, January 9, would be to elect the chairman.

Saari then presented the financial statement ending Nov. 30, 2013, with a cash balance of $1911,028.  The cash balance projected at the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2014 is projected to be $2,370,566, minus the required cash reserve of $2,105,342, leaving a projected surplus of $265,224.

"We prepared for the downturn in 2008," Saari said. "We did not lay off any employees and actually increased services. The cash balance has been dropping slightly every year, but we are starting to level off and gain this year."

Commissioner Gabriel Ramos commended department heads for cutting back.

"When I came in, I got with the department heads, and they've cut about 5 percent a year since then," Saari said. "Everyone is doing more than they were five years ago. It's a team effort."

Commissioner Ron Hall commented that the public hears about how across the nation, since 2008, everyone has dropped in revenues, but "I commend you, the staff and elected officials. We're proud to have been able to keep the employees employed."

Commission Chairman Brett Kasten said he believes a report on July 1, rather than every month would be best.

"There are a lot of things that play up and down each month," Saari concurred. "You can't read this report at face value."

The expenditure report since the last meeting in early December was for $2,818,036. Three payrolls were paid out in a little over a month. According to Saari, the major extra payment was because of the change in insurance, as of Jan. 1. "We had to pay the insurance binder up front with the change, which doubled the cost and included the December regular payment and the binder. We are also getting ready to go out for bid for the fair barn for restrooms."

Under new business, commissioners will consider Emergency Medical Fund applications from the volunteer fire and rescue departments. The funding can pay for upkeep of medical rescue vehicles, licensing, classes and refresher courses, personnel to attend conferences and the Fire/EMS Expo, office supplies, medical supplies, medications, medical director fees, uniforms/jackets, and maintaining, replacing and adding medical equipment. They include requests by and the amount requested:
Tyrone VFR-Tyrone White Signal Station-$8,565;
Tyrone VFR-Flying A and Wind Canyon Stations-$4,455;
Tyrone VFR-Hachita Station-$6,900; and Pinos Altos VFR- $3,000.

Commissioners will also approve the annual election of officers for each VFD. Only a few had a change in chief from 2013.

During the regular meeting, Alicia Edwards and Marilyn Alcorn will be considered for reappointment to three-year terms for the Food Policy Council. Saari said the focus of the group is to try to create choices for healthier eating and to support local growers produce in schools.

Commissioners will accept the audit of June 30, 2013, which has been approved by the state. Saari said it received an "unqualified opinion, which is the best you can get. We also received an unmodified opinion on the findings, with no deficiencies." He said there were no audit findings that were required to be reported, but a few issues were pointed out that have been or are being worked on. One was an issue with the property tax reporting, but the report was written before the exemptions had been put in place. "We know we have significant delinquencies in the Solid Waste Fund, but so do most counties across the state. We and others in the New Mexico Association of Counties are trying to figure out how to deal with it. Our chairman is working on the issue."

He pointed out that at a recent Legislative Finance Committee, there was discussion on the state not knowing whether it is $70 million off or $400 million off. "They still don't know what the beginning balance is from the previous administration."

He said he got the state Finance Authority to ratify and sign the agreement for last year's funding for the sheriff's vault, which kept being sent to the wrong entity.

Commissioners will ratify a member and an alternate to the area Transit Authority. Attorney Abigail Robinson said the county has been working with the Southwest Rural Transit District and the Transit Authority Board to determine what kind of agreement is needed. The Authority decided it was not interested in a joint-powers agreement, she said, but would let Grant County run the service and let the other members contract with the county for services. "We are still working under the 2007 JPA. We have to figure out how to wind down the old JPA and what we're going to do."

Saari said the old JPA required a government official, but the new agreement might require elected or not.

Under resolutions, the Commission will consider the Open Meetings Act for 2014. Robinson said minor changes were made including most of the amendment passed last year to comply with new state statute. She said new language also gives leeway to allow for publication of an agenda or information how to get an agenda if someone needs one.

Saari said the meeting dates and times are the same unless commissioners wish to change them.

Commissioners will discuss the Inmate Orientation Policy for 2014. Robinson said Detention Center Administrator Mike Carrillo and Deputy Administrator Joe Andazola had been working on revising policies. "It's a big job," she said. "The is the first part and gives the inmates information on what they can or cannot have in a cell."

Carrillo said the purpose of the policy is "to help us maintain safety and security in the jail. It mandates their rights and what they can and cannot have. We've had, in the past, some inmates questioning what we were doing. We will laminate this policy and put it in each cell block, so there is no question." The jail has a separate health policy. "Inmates can request an outside referral, but they have to pay for it up front. We will no longer pay for outside referrals."

Robinson said the NMAC was also reviewing the policies.

An application for financial assistance and project approval to the New Mexico Finance Authority for the Tyrone VFD to add a conference room and restrooms to continue to qualify for main station status will be considered.  "They were working with Jim Redford, architect, but he has retired, so they are working with Kevin Robinson," Saari said. "We are trying to get this application on the NMFA February schedule."

An additional application for financial assistance and project approval for the Santa Rita VFD to build a substation is awaiting the finalization of land acquisition from Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. The application may or may not make the NMFA February schedule.

Commissioners will recess and reconvene as the Grant County Health Plan Claims Board to address 1,031 claims for $696,137.77. Saari said they are part of the sole community provider piece and not the out-of-county claims paid out of the Indigent Fund.

"It is still not clear what will happen with the sole community provider funding," Saari said. "A meeting will be held Jan. 16 before the Senate Finance Committee. The state is still proposing to take 1/8 of a percent of gross receipts tax from each county, but the NMAC is suggesting only 1/16. No one knows what happens if the money from the counties through the state goes to the managed-care organizations. Will the state take an administrative fee and then the managed-care organizations take an admin fee? Why can't the hospitals use the same process with the managed-care organizations it has been using with Health and Human Services? Might private groups benefit from New Mexico taxpayer money because they deny claims? We have no control."

Hall asked if the area legislators have been informed.

"Yes, and we have talked to the LFC members," Saari said. "The state would lose $150 million in federal match if county money is not used. We ask questions, and they dance around them."

"They won't answer questions," Kasten said. "I don't think the secretary knows the answers."

The next article will cover county reports.

Live from Silver City

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