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SWNMCOG hears broadband discussion

 

By Mary Alice Murphy

The first item of business on the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments Board regular bi-monthly meeting on Thursday, April 24, was a list of the Colonias applications that will be submitted.

Priscilla Lucero, SWNMCOG executive director, presented the submitters and the costs of the proposals: Catron County road project for $866,000; Bayard for $225,000; Lordsburg for $751,000, Hidalgo County for $743,000, Rancho Grande Mutual Domestic Water District in Catron County for $59,000; Hurley for $709,000, Silver City for $660,000; Tyrone, $487,000; Reserve, $873,000; Santa Clara, $628,000; Virden, $732,000, four EPA NMED requests for $200,000, $160,000, $900,000, and $366,000, plus an NMED Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund for Santa Clara for $650,000 and an NMED DWRLF for Tyrone for $487,000, another EPA NMED DWRLF for $8,845,000 and a Highway Safety Improvement Project for Deming for $45,000. Another DWRLF is listed for Hurley, with no amount.

 

A presentation on an implementation to bring more broadband access to the area was given by Susan Oberlander, contractor with the New Mexico Information Technology Broadband Program, and Lynda Aiman-Smith, a Silver City volunteer, who has been working on availability of broadband in the area.

"What we're leading up to are the next steps once we find out the deficits," Oberlander said. "The grant will go away in September or October. We want to know how the COG sees ways for how to move forward."

"I was interested in this project, as a volunteer researcher, because my background is in how organizations can use information technology to improve business," Aiman-Smith said. "We want to know what the uses are potentially for organizations, such as health care, education, profit and non-profit small businesses. We want to know what kind of technologies they need. What I'm looking at with all the sectors is how lives can be improved. We need an Internet that is always on."

She passed out several handouts with information, such as what broadband speed can do for an individual.

"There is a lot of data out there," Aiman-Smith said. "As of November 2013, the NMDOIT ranked in the bottom tier. These needs and findings do not relate to us. Lots of small businesses could use reliable high speed.

"We are developing discussion forums, so we can share information on best practices," she continued. "E-government is one possibility. A big group at IBM is thinking of things and working with the government for more quickness and efficiencies to work with the public.

"We need to get public input on possible projects," Aiman-Smith said. "Citizen engagement, if we make it accessible, e-government ways can improve citizen participation."

She cited three things that need to happen:
• Technology that is robust, fast enough and affordable;
• Beam high-speed accessible wi-fi in parks, which gives opportunities for entrepreneurship and gives baseline data for grants. The next step is for entrepreneurs to provide the technology, and education gives ways to improve peer learning and sharing; and
• Improve skills. An example she presented was the Aldo Leopold High School entrepreneurship boot camp. "I bet half will involve high-speed Internet."

"I was at the Small Business Development Center, which ought to be an Internet hub," Aiman-Smith said. "Broadband there sucks. They want it to be an entrepreneurship hub, and a co-office incubator, but not without broadband."

She said she has read every major study on broadband, and they all ignore non-profits, which she said provide a great deal of vitality to the area.

Kim Clark, representing the Realtor Association, asked what should come next.

Aiman-Smith said she continues to gather data on using technology and how people are using it. "I am seeing trends. The next step is to sit with Priscilla, tell her the trends I see, as well as the gaps in technology and skills."

"Who is working for the providers?" Clark asked.

Lucero said they do not meet often in implementation.

Aiman-Smith encouraged fill in, working with local and small providers.

"There is no way without Lynda, we could have accomplished as much," Lucero said.

"I want to find ways to encourage entrepreneurship and technical skills," Aiman-Smith said.

The board approved an extension to the New Mexico State University contract for Community Economic Development plans.

"With public input, the seven different regions in the state have to stay involved, to ensure the local plans are rolled into the state economic development plan," Lucero said. "If we need an extension of time, I can talk to the EDA representative. Because we are the fiscal agent for the plans, I want to make sure every region is represented in the plan. I also want to roll in the transportation plan. I depend on each region to make sure the plans are consistent. The state plan is supposed to be reflective of the regional plans."

A nominating committee was made up of Grant County Planner Anthony Gutierrez and Jovita Gonzales, representing Bayard. Election of officers will take place at the June meeting.

Pam Eley, COG office manager/planner, reported four homes are complete in Vistas de Plata and the project is going out for bid for the next phase.

Economic development planner Emily Gojkovich said she is gearing up for the next round of the Promise Zone applications. "I learned the specific questions we were dinged on. One thing was the letters of support were too boilerplate. I'm trying to find out what grants are included, so the groups to benefit can write the letters foreseeing themselves using the grants. I can help write them, but not overnight again."

She said the regional CEDs are due in January. "We have all of our public input, I ask for working groups in the off months of our meeting schedule. Lordsburg received the Frontier Communities Initiative and will start the process next month. The PNM grants are out for beautification for 501c3s. The REAP (Rural Energy for America Program) grants are due July 31. A workforce initiative from President Obama offers $500 million to community colleges or business partners. The job fair in Deming was a huge success, with 175 people coming in.

Aaron Sera, Deming city deputy administrator and COG board chairman, asked how many jobs were created, to which Gojkovich said she would try to find out.

Lucero presented the transportation report, in the absence of Transportation Planner Cerisse Grijalva. "We will continue to have the stakeholder process. Silver City, Deming and Lordsburg were awarded for the Transportation All program."

She said a notice had come out that if an entity did not have an audit, it could not apply for Community Development Block grants. If the entity has an audit with findings, it can consider using a fiscal agent.

"On May 1 and 2, the Colonias applications are being reviewed," Lucero said. "If there are changes, let me know. I will notify you of Colonias meetings, because we need local participation. The Colonias awards for 2012 and 2013 are not yet closed out."

She said no vetoes were put on capital outlay for any of the region's requests.

"If you need a fiscal agent, the state is requiring that it be approved at our board meetings," Lucero said. "I'm frustrated because several municipal governments did not receive the notice of a questionnaire that was required for applications. It's also pretty disheartening hearing from the regional director that we weren't giving them what they are paying us, which is $95,000 a year. If I need to we may ask you to send letters telling how much you receive from our work."

Rep. Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez had arrived and was asked to speak about the legislative session.

"I thank the COG during the legislative process and information from the Prospectors Forum, so no capital outlay project was vetoed," Martinez said. "In keeping ears open, I overheard a conversation questioning the Colonias Infrastructure Fund. The northern part of the state feels slighted. They don't understand that the Colonias is a designation by the federal government. We did well in capital outlay, but $50,000 was vetoed to The Volunteer Center Backpack Program and another veto for funding for diabetes education.

"It's sad," he said, "because the vetoes are directed to those most in need. The budget was $6 plus billion, with $2.8 billion to education and a 3 percent raise to state employees. A 9 percent reserve for the state budget will be worked off of for the next session. Every agency received an increase, except Medicare. It had a decrease because of the anticipated pharmaceutical funding and funding from the federal government. One of the most important issues, we were working on was to address the end of sole community provider funding to rural hospitals. Twenty-seven rural hospitals would have been lost. I thank Grant County for leading in this issue. There are two pots of money, one for uncompensated care and another pot for reimbursements to providers. Gila Regional Medical Center will be down from $15 million in SCP last year to $9 million with the new program."

The next meeting was set for 10:30 a.m. Thursday, June 26, at the Bayard Community Center.

 

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