By Mary Alice Murphy
Sheriff Raul Villanueva gave the first county report at the County Commission work session. "It's warmed up and things are starting to pick up. I caution the public to be careful. We are dealing with fires."
He said this weekend, Saturday, April 26, would be drug take back from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Walgreen's. "Whether prescription drugs or illegal drugs, no questions asked."
"We have two openings for deputies," Villanueva said. "We have been fairly busy, but our staff is picking up the slack."
County Assessor Mary Guthrie reminded property owners to look at their notice of value and make sure their exemptions are noted. "You can still protest the value through the end of this month."
Gila Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Brian Cunningham read and presented letters, thanking the commissioners and County Manager Jon Paul Saari for their guidance and support during the legislative session, especially for Senate Bill 268, which restored some of the funding to rural hospitals for indigent care.
"We have completed interviews for a general surgeon, but have not finished the process," Cunningham said. "In interventional pain management, Dr. Light has been seeing patients already for two weeks. We are excited to have this position, as the nearest pain management program had been in El Paso, Texas."
GRMC has put out a request for proposal for emergency room services. "This is one of the major transitional moves for better service," Cunningham said. "There are still some items to work out on the Safety Net Care Pool at the state level."
He said construction for the new linear acceleration for radiation cancer treatment has been completed. "We are installing it through the end of April to first of May, and then there will 30 days of calibration. We expect it to be ready in June."
The hospital held a mini-retreat with the Board of Trustees and GRMC leadership and went over the comprehensive plan now in place. "It took us about three hours to lay out the plan, and we went through it and received board input. I think we are positioned to have more strategic planning and processes."
GRMC broke even in expenses and revenue at the end of December, but because that was when the sole community provider funding ended, "we knew finances would decline. At the end of February, we were $1.4 million in the red. Changes are still being implemented. A year ago, we had 150 days of cash, until the end of June when it dropped to 108. By the end of this February, we were back up to 128 days of cash."
He talked about the daily spend, which was about $190,000 a day. "Our curve for the past five years has been going up. We are bending the cost curve for the past seven to eight months, and we are down to about $180,000 a day. The work we are doing is paying off."
Commissioner Gabriel Ramos said he has been getting calls asking about the hospital replacing business office employees.
"The major part of the transition has addressed a lot of waste, because of the complex systems," Cunningham said. "One of the big changes we are doing is to bring in more revenue. When a service is performed, there are different insurances to deal with, the services are sent to coding and then to billing. That's where we were leaving money on the table. In August, we discovered $15 million was sitting in coding and $10 million in denials. We collect about one-third of the $25 million to $30 million billed. We drove the uncoded services from almost $20 million down to a more normal $3 million to $4 million. We pulled in an external agency to help us prioritize areas. The hospital already outsources a lot of hospital work. From time to time we will outsource what we don't have the capacity to do."
"I don't want to see people replaced by outsourced jobs," Ramos said.
"We are critically looking at this area for improvement, and putting a lot of effort in the revenue cycle," Cunningham said. "We don't want to lose employees, but we are looking at internal, as well as outsourcing, for whatever we need."
Detention Center Assistant Administrator Joe Andazola said Tuesday, the jail had 68 inmates. Over the past month, the average has been 77, with a high of 88. "We have a new officer in training and are hiring another new one. We are in contact with the Western New Mexico University Social Work department for internships for the inmate support group."
He said he recently graduated from the Southwest New Mexico Leadership Program. "It was a good class. Our project was collecting gently used tote bags and toiletries for kids in transition to foster care. We will try to sustain the program for the next three years."
General Services Director and Fire Management Officer Randy Villa said the stairs at Bataan Park had been repaired. The parking lot is being striped and the fields are being maintained for baseball season. "We installed a new water heater at the Detention Center and worked on the sally port doors. The HVACs are working property. The conference center stays busy. We are cleaning out the back rooms for more space, and we finished the roof at Ace Hardware. We are preparing for weed control and getting the air conditioning ready in the county buildings. At the Teen Maze, we had more than 300 kids. It is successful if we get to even one kid and keep him or her off drugs or alcohol or not getting pregnant."
He said there were no issues with the Senior program. Corre Caminos is working with Luna County, which will have the annual New Mexico Association of Counties conference.
"On the fire issue, I thank the commissioners for their actions," Villa said. "We need to make people more aware. The volunteer fire departments, state forestry, the Forest Service and Silver City Fire Department are all working together to keep people safe first, and then property. We are also working with Wind Canyon and Burro Mountain Homestead on the fire management plan. We are also working on a general county protection plan, in addition to the town's comprehensive wildland-urban interface plan, on which we are collaborating."
He asked people to pray for the family of Joe Kennedy, who passed away. "He was a station chief at Tyrone and Animas."
"We are working on the chipper, so we can get it out to the public to chip tree debris," Villa said.
He announced the Forest Service that day was going in Stage 1 fire restrictions.
Commissioner Ron Hall thanked Villa for working on Corre Caminos routes to Cliff and Gila.
Road Superintendent Earl Moore said the road department is working on Mimbres roads. "The first week in June, we will be doing chip-sealing, including in Hurley, we hope."
County Planner Anthony Gutierrez said the public Interstate Stream Commission meeting on the Arizona Water Settlements Act process showed the ISC trying to complete studies and engineering preliminary evaluation reports by June, and the Bureau of Reclamation reports will be ready in July.
"Last Tuesday (April 15), I attended the environmental impact statement meeting on the Mexican Gray Wolf," Gutierrez said. "I was concerned about the expansion of the release and relocation area. It would include anywhere in the forest. Silver City, Mimbres and Cliff-Gila are surrounded by national forest. Releasing wolves could be detrimental to populated areas. There are also issues with problems for grazing allotments and danger to personal pets, not to mention children. This was our first meeting as a cooperating agency. We need a memorandum of understanding."
Commission Chairman Brett Kasten asked if the MOU could be added to Thursday's agenda.
Gutierrez said there are a lot of cooperating agencies across New Mexico and Arizona, but to Ramos' question, no specific number of additional wolves was given.
"They are wanting to make sure the wolves have good genetics to maintain a healthy population," he said. "My concern is about a good plan for additional wolves."
"As for genetics, I would not like to see the northern wolf bred in for genetics," Ramos said. "We don't need any 250-pound wolves around here."
"We have enough pairs and wolves in the wild," Gutierrez said. "I think the population will double over the next 10 years and double each year. It's kind of concerning. Fish and Wildlife did a song and dance and didn't answer questions."
"We need to address this up front," Hall said. "Drought is already impacting the price of beef. We don't need more wolves."
"A livestock owner can get a permit to terminate or relocate a wolf," Gutierrez said. "They are still tossing around how to protect private property. A person can protect personal property if it's on private land, but not on federal land."
"Thank you for following this issue," Ramos said.
"We're late to the process," Gutierrez said. "I will forward the draft EIS to you."
The rest of last week, Gutierrez said he was in Clovis for flood plain management. He reported New Mexico has 15,000 flood insurance policies, whereas Florida has 2 million. "I brought up that we don't have good flood plain maps and need funding to develop them."
"Next week is the Tour of the Gila," Saari said. "From April 30-May 4. April 29 will be registration at the conference center. People need to be careful with the bicyclists on the road."
He reported two 40-yard roll offs were filled during the Western New Mexico University football team clean up last week. He said an auction would be held May 3 for unwanted county inventory at Turner's place.
"We have sent out budget request forms to department heads," Saari said. "We are looking at revenues. We will stay pretty close to flat to play it safe. We won't know the property value until after the protest period and the rates don't arrive until September. Last year, after the protest period, Mary Guthrie did an estimate that was right on the nose."
Saari said he met with the sheriff and the county is looking at replacing some of the vehicles with more than 100,000 miles.
Ramos said he hoped the county was working on the standard of at least 18 miles per gallon.
"The Explorers we bought are getting 20-21 miles per gallon," Saari said. "That is one of the considerations. They have decreased the fuel budget, and overtime is one of the lowest in the past five years. The department is under budget currently.
"The plan is that Linda and I will meet with the department heads," he continued. The budget hearing will be the first meeting in May. We will keep travel at $1,500 per director, per elected or per appointed. We've been at 32 cents a mile for 12 years, and we'll stay there. We are trying to partner with Silver City to pool fuel. We bought the Road Department a 10,000-gallon fuel tank, which has cut expenses, by not having to purchase at retail.
"Outside funding will be considered for the final budget, not the preliminary budget," Saari said.
"I'm still concerned about funding recurring expenses with non-recurring funds, such as PILT," Kasten said. "Same thing with capital outlay. We need funding for the courthouse, this building, the conference center is half finished, and we need a detox facility for the continuum of care.
"We need to sit down and buckle down and say we're going to make a change in Grant County," Kasten said.
"We're stepping up to take care of the detox, because the state is not stepping up," Saari said.
"We got our audits in place," Kasten said. "It's time for the next step."
Robinson said Loma Verde subdivision road improvement took one tiny step forward with the agreement of the two remaining landowners to sign a dedication for a cul-de-sac,
Ramos thanked county employees for working hard. "I, too, want to thank the firefighters. And watch out for bikers."
Hall said the Tour of the Gila still needs volunteers.
The meeting was adjourned.