By Charlie McKee
Mayor Michael Morones began the May 27, 2014, Silver City Town Council Meeting with a moment of silence in honor of the three Aldo Leopold Charter School students who died in the Arenas Valley airplane crash on May 23. He then directed Town of Silver City staff to fly the Town's flags at half-mast on Friday, May 30, 2014, in their honor and memory, describing them as "three young individuals who distinguished themselves as leaders in the community." The students were Ella Sala Myers, 16; Michael Sebastian Mahl, 16; and Ella Jaz Kirk, 14.
The subsequent Council Comments section of the meeting was full of praise and thanks to Town Manager Alex Brown and the Town's hard-working departments for their exceptional efforts during recent Town events. In particular, the Councilors expressed their appreciation and congratulations for the accomplishments of Peter Peña and the Parks Department, as well as the Silver City Police Department (SCPD) and the Silver City Fire Department (SCFD), for a superbly run and incident-free Silver City Blues Festival held over the Memorial Day Weekend. During the Public Input portion of the meeting, Faye McCalmont, Executive Director of the Mimbres Region Arts Council (MRAC), echoed the Councilors' praise of the Town's performance and reported that the 19th Annual Blues Festival was the most successful to date. Saturday's attendance figures were reported to be 1,500 attendees, higher than at last year's event. McCalmont also promised the Mayor and Council that next year's 20th Annual Blues Festival would be even bigger and better, with plans already in the works.
Also during the Public Input portion of the meeting, the following issues were presented to the Council:
• Peter Burrows – Burrows withdrew his proposal that Municipal Election Code be changed to require photo ID, similar to Albuquerque's election practices. He stated that a change to the code required a change in the Town's charter from that of a Territorial Charter, which he reported allows the Town certain flexibilities not otherwise possible under State law. Burrows noted that he does not wish to see Silver City's Territorial Charter changed and therefore withdraws his proposal to change the voting requirements.
• William Joseph – Joseph proposed a meeting with the Town Council to discuss "grandfathering" clauses in the Municipal Code that allow a trailer park on Montana Street not to comply with town ordinances. Joseph challenged the Councilors to visit the park in question at different times of the day and see for themselves the living conditions to which the residents are subjected by the owners of the park as a result of the "grandfathering." He then requested notification by the Council when they might be ready to discuss the issue.
The following reports were presented during the Reports porting of the meeting:
• Acting SCFD Chief Tim Heidrick reported that a very successful meeting was held with the community of Wind Canyon regarding the development of a plan to protect their properties from wildfire. As a result of the community's efforts in clearing their respective properties, Heidrick said that SCFD organized "Chipper Day" to remove and chip all the slash that property owners created in clearing trees and bushes surrounding their homes. Three chippers were used to create chips that could then be used by the property owners as ground cover. Heidrick also reported that the current critical fire weather and drought conditions had necessitated raising the fire restriction level to restrict any open burning that produces sparks or embers.
• Eileen Sullivan, Director of the Silver City Public Library, reported that the Library is continuing in its "Transformation" of its core mission and services, in line with best practices throughout libraries nationally. Specifically, the Library is evolving more heavily into electronic media and making such media more accessible to the public with such programs as Teen Tech Week, a digital library, and the purchase of new laptops and other technology as a result of a grant from Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold Inc. Sullivan stated that these efforts are aimed at increasing "digital literacy" and decreasing the "digital divide" by educating the community and bolstering the skills of the young emerging workforce. Sullivan noted that in order to continue to meet the goals of the Library and its programs, the Library needs its full staffing level, i.e. an additional two fulltime employees, as well as support from the community in the form of library volunteers.
Town finances continued to be the focus of the Mayor, Council, and Town staff in this meeting, like the last several Town Council meetings, as the budget process for fiscal year 2014-2015 progressed. During the New Business portion of the meeting, the measures upon which the Council voted reflected this focus.
The one New Business item approved by the Council that has a direct effect upon Silver City residents' wallets was Resolution No. 2014-19, a Resolution adjusting water and sanitary sewer rates. Town Manager and Finance Director Alex Brown informed the Council that his strategy in developing the current and future budgets is to diversify revenue sources for the Town's operational departments. In this case, the gross receipts tax (GRT) revenue has been subsidizing the cost of the Town's water and sewer operations. In an effort to reduce this subsidy and its dependence on the shrinking GRT income stream, this Resolution puts into effect charging residents for the first 2,000 gallons of water used, which has been included as part of the base water service "access fee" to date. The Resolution does not affect the rate of $3.74 charged per 1,000 gallons, but eliminates the first "free" 2,000 gallons of water included with the existing base access fee of $10.25 per month.
Mayor Morones noted that Silver City's current and previous water rates have ranked in the lowest third of municipal rates in the State and asked Brown where this increase would put Silver City in ranking. Brown replied that it would put the Town at the mid-point or average range in the State. At Councilor Cynthia Bettison's suggestion, Brown deferred a proposed increase in the deposit required for water and sewer service pending further research.
The additional finance-related measures approved by the Council were as follows:
• Resolution No. 2014-16 – Authorizes the execution and delivery of a taxable Loan Agreement and Intercept Agreement between the Town of Silver City and the New Mexico Finance Authority for the principal amount of $359,158. This is a refinancing and longer-term loan for the rehabilitation of the Silco Theater. Brown stated that the lease payments by the Silco Theater to the Town would cover the cost of the debt service.
• Resolution No. 2014-18 – Reallocates the revenue from existing property taxes, which is now used to pay off General Obligation Bonds. Brown explained that the final payment on the bonds will be made by the end of this fiscal year, and this Resolution will reallocate the taxes to provide critically needed revenues for the Town's Street Maintenance fund in the coming fiscal year.
• Preliminary Budget for Fiscal Year 2014-2015 – Brown noted that the budget was the same as presented at the May 13 Town Council meeting, with the exception of the inclusion of an alternate judge position for the Municipal Court, the cost of which was offset by lowering the salary and benefits of an open position.
The Council also approved the following items:
• Notice of Intent Ordinance No. 1231 – Would amend Chapter 40 (Solid Waste) of the Town of Silver City Municipal Code to add a new Section 40-27, Reduction of Single-Use Plastic Carryout Bags. The ordinance would require all retailers, excepting food establishments, to use paper or fabric bags for items purchased by customers. Brown explained that plastic bags are a huge problem at the landfill, in addition to being known as the "New Mexico State Flag" because of their ubiquitous presence as litter, and that the bags result in significant additional recycling costs to the Town.
• Appointment of David Krisch to the Recycling Advisory Committee.
• Rescheduling of the June 10 Town Council Meeting to Monday, June 9, 2014, at 6:00 pm.
• Rescheduling of the June 24 Town Council Meeting to Monday, June 17, 2014, at 6:00 pm.
The meeting was then adjourned.