Editor's Note: This is part one of a multi-part report on the Thursday, July 10, 2014, regular meeting.
By Mary Alice Murphy
Commission Chairman Brett Kasten opened the meeting with a request for a moment of silence to honor the Robinson and Burgess families. Interim County Manager and County Attorney Abigail Robinson's father died in Kansas on Monday morning, so she was not at the meeting.
Public hearing No. 1 addressed a proclamation declaring extreme or severe drought conditions and imposition of fireworks restrictions.
Randy Villa, county fire management officer, presented the U.S. Drought Monitor report of July 8. "We're still in severe drought, but it's getting better. We will lift most fire restrictions at noon today. Silver City lifted their fire restrictions Tuesday night."
Gabe Holguin, Gila fire management officer, said the area is in the monsoon season, but it is not yet widespread. "It's still spotty. I had a briefing with the National Weather Service in Santa Teresa, and they predict the next eight to 10 days, precipitation will be above normal. But we still have lightning and dry grass. We just staffed a fire near Reserve, and we're still seeing fires."
"We're in the transition period, when most fires are just snag or single-tree fires," Holguin continued. "We've had 30 over the past week. Some that are in the wilderness or on old burn scars we are monitoring to gauge the risk versus the gain. People's safety is of high priority. We are watching closely the pattern for the next couple of weeks until the storms get wetter. All predictions are staying above average precipitation for the next 30 days.
"We are in a weak El Niño pattern," Holguin said. "We have the potential for a wet season until December. As of Tuesday, at 8 a.m., the forest was no longer in fire restrictions and most of the neighboring forests are doing the same."
There was no other public input. Commissioner Gabriel Ramos asked if the restrictions on fireworks could be continued for two weeks. Kasten pointed out the proclamation was for 30 days.
Former County Manager Jon Paul Saari, who was in the audience, said usually the reason for 30 days is, although an emergency proclamation can be made quickly, it takes almost 30 days to get the proclamation off the record.
Kasten asked about 14 days. Villa said the proclamation could just stipulate a ban on an open flame, because fireworks require an open flame to light them.
The proclamation was approved. Commissioner Ron Hall said out of caution, he would second it.
Public hearing No. 2 for an ordinance adopting a county hold harmless three-eighths gross receipts tax brought several members of the community in opposition and one supporting.
Cynthia Bettison, Silver City mayor pro tem and councilor, District 1, representing Silver City, expressed her opposition. "The council has been forthcoming on opposition to an omnibus legislative bill phasing out hold harmless. Even with instituting the additional gross receipts tax, we will lose an annual $600,000. There are three counties in the same position—not being made whole by putting in the 3/8 gross receipts tax. Grant County is not one of them. It is protected because its population is less than 40,000, and it retains the hold harmless. In this poorly written bill, even though an area retains the hold harmless, it allows the 3/8 gross receipts tax without referendum."
"A one-eighth would be about $658,000 times three would be $1.97 million for an excess of $1.6 million," Bettison said. "You are not under threat and legislators have said they will rescind the hold harmless if an entity is making money. While we are under the impending threat of losing hold harmless beginning in July 2015, Silver City has not set its three-eighths. I ask you to join Silver City in only tax residents enough to provide services. If we put in the three-eighths, Silver City's tax rate will be 8.235 percent."
Alan Mong, resident, also said: "I rise in opposition to this ordinance. The majority of the voters last year were against the gross receipts tax bond issue. I think you will have an incredible backlash. The notice was not in the paper. I think people will be upset. I think it will be a back-door way to get the gross receipts."
Denisha Lucero, county administrative assistant, said the notice and agenda of the meeting were published in the Silver City Daily Press.
Scott Terry, county resident and Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce president, said: "I rise in support. I know there have been discussions about where to use the money. Commissioners toured the conference center to discuss how to bring in more people, which will raise the amount of gross receipts taxes received. Unlike last year's referendum, this is not a golf course. The funding can go to the many roads that need to be fixed in the county. There are infrastructure needs, including some buildings that belong to the county that may not meet electrical code."
Walter "Ski" Szymanski rose in opposition. "The previous speaker was in the minority last year. We haven't seen evidence that voters have changed their minds. There is still no public input about this. I have heard you say that federal payment-in-lieu-of-taxes might be reduced or eliminated. That is far-fetched that it will happen in the West. There is no public input again."
The ordinance was approved.
Editor's Note: Kasten told the Beat that the projects slated to be funded first by the increase in gross receipts are the top four on the Infrastructure Improvement Plan, which stood for public input at Tuesday's work session and received none. The projects include completing the front of the County Administration Center; upgrading the electrical, heating and ventilation and air-conditioning in the County Courthouse, which still has screw-in fuses; completion of the interior of the Business and Conference Center; and a continuum of care for drug abuse treatment.
The next article will cover public input and begin coverage of a series of updates and requests from external entities.