At left, Cissy McAndrew, Southwest New Mexico Green Chamber Executive Director, second from right, presented an award on behalf of the green chamber and PNM to the county for the large business award for energy efficiency for its outdoor lighting at the Grant County Veterans Memorial Business and Conference Center. Accepting the award are Commissioners from left, Chairman Brett Kasten and Gabriel Ramos, with Ron Hall at the right.

Below, Richard Lawyer, longtime Fair Board member, second from right, received a proclamation naming Sept. 24-28 as Grant County Fair Days, from Commissioner Gabriel Ramos, Commission Chairman Brett Kasten, and Commissioner Ron Hall.

Article and Photos by Mary Alice Murphy

During the public input portion of the Grant County Commission meeting on Thursday, July 10, 2014, Silver City District 4 Councilor Guadalupe Cano thanked the commission for the wheelchair lift. Following foot surgery, she is wheelchair bound for several weeks. "You made this room accessible for me. I also thank Lori Ford of Community Access Television of Silver City and Interim County Manager Abigail Robison for making the lift possible."

Guy Petrucci, who identified himself as chairman at the Silver City Senior Center. "I am understanding that our public buildings are neutral from spiritual or political uses. I've been challenged by other seniors. I would like to know the policy."

"We're not versed enough in policy details, without our manager here today," Commission Chairman Brett Kasten said. "I would suggest you get with Randy Villa, our General Services director."

Cissy McAndrew, Southwest New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce executive director, said the green chamber is partnering with PNM on energy efficiency. "PNM has new business energy efficiency program awards. For large business, Grant County has been given an award for its outdoor lighting at the Business and Conference Center. Your savings of 165,000 kilowatt hours annually should bring you about $165,000 in savings." She presented the award to the commissioners.

Continuing public input, Marilyn Alcorn of Silver Adult Care Services and new Grant County Community Health Council member, said she is concerned by the impending closure of home health and hospice services at the hospital." In Grant County, 23.5 percent of the population is over the age of 65. I think the closure will adversely impact our seniors. It is estimated that more than 500 will be impacted. I don't believe the current local service can absorb the numbers. I know elderly people who have been waiting long times for services. I encourage the commissioners to look into the issue."

"A lot of seniors come with a guaranteed income," Alcorn said. "If we lose services, they won't come in the first place. They are starting to have to look at other places to go. I ask you to look at the economic and humanitarian impacts."

"I encourage you to go to the hospital Board of Trustees meeting and give public input," Kasten said to Alcorn. "We commissioners have a meeting with Gila Regional (Medical Center) tomorrow and will discuss the issue."

Villa clarified what had been stated earlier in the meeting. "Within our fire restrictions are fireworks restrictions, which we will lift today. Your proclamation trumps our restrictions, so I want to make sure the public knows the fireworks ban is still in place."

Chris DeBolt, representing the Health Council, thanked the commissioners for approving the additional members. "Beginning in August, we will come in during the work sessions to make reports."

The next agenda item was financial reports. Linda Vasquez, county financial officer, gave an abbreviated report. For more details, see http://www.grantcountybeat.com/index.php/news/news-articles/16703-grant-county-commission-holds-special-meeting-to-hear-icip-input

Under new business, the first update was by Lisa Jimenez of the National Center of Frontier Communities, reporting on the Non-Profit Resource Center. She explained the NCFC is a national organization based in Silver City, which advocated on behalf of non-profits, particularly in rural and frontier communities. The other members are Susan Wilger and Charlie Alfero.

"My report on the Non-Profit Resource Center covers from January 1 to June 30 of this year," Jimenez said. "We are a hybrid combination of the green chamber and a consulting firm to non-profits so they can continue providing services. The non-profit may not have a dedicated grant writing or marketing person, for example, which we can provide. We do an annual survey to non-profits and use the information to develop workshops. On each Wednesday morning, we have a free walk-in 'Curbside Consulting,' which we can also provide by phone and email. We connect people with existing organizations and provide strategic consulting services. That's where city, county and Freeport support comes in. That support provides underwriting for a fund for consulting services on a sliding fee, with the scale based on the organization's budget. The costs are $20 to $40 an hour. It's local government working with private industry."

She said the center provides workshops and advocacy. Jimenez said 8 percent to 9 percent of employment locally is in the non-profit sector. She said House Bill 311, which will be brought up again the next session, is designed to create a legislative study group to improve the state's contracting with non-profits.

Jimenez cited as key activities of the group the 56 responses on their survey, and "with a lot of help from the Health Council and the Gospel Mission, a regional non-profit conference that served 87 people. We are starting to plan the 2015 conference. We would like to piggyback with a Saturday event to get people to stay over and provide economic development. We assisted with Give Grande and assisted with the United Way drive. We are working on our own website and want to create a non-profit resource hub. We thank the county for its support."

John Francis of WNM Communications said Western Telephone seeks approval for a 15-foot-by-15-foot easement at the Faywood Fire Station to provide broadband for about 25 residents. "We work with the Council of Governments and its broadband consultant to identify unserved or underserved broadband areas of the county. The location at the fire station is optimal, because it has commercial electrical connections and we have existing fiber optic cable access. It will cost $50,000 to $60,000, but we think it's important to improve services."

Kasten said he was not sure whether it would require a lease, and he would turn it over to the Planning Department to research and to the fire management officer to ensure agreement with the fire chief.

County Planner Anthony Gutierrez said most of the time such an easement was done administratively, to which Kasten said it could be done that way or the commission could approve it, if necessary.

McAndrew presented her final report for the Visitor Center and Tourism, as the Silver City Arts and Cultural District has taken over, as of July 1, the center and tourism, maintaining the same staff and volunteers.

"Visitation continues to go up," McAndrew reported. "As of August, we will have three years of data. Our visitation at the center is up 7 percent for local visitors, 20 percent for New Mexico visitors and 36 percent for Arizona, California and Texas visitors. We have been doing a lot of advertising in Phoenix and Tucson and we're looking at El Paso. It takes about three months to have a response from ads, because it takes people a while to plan a vacation. The number of nights visitors are staying also continues to go up."

She said it seems that Sundays are not a big visitation day, so "do we market Sunday as a day of rest, because not many stores are open and a good time to go to the Cliff Dwellings? When we track events, the numbers of visitors to the Visitor Center are not going up. Maybe because the Mimbres Region Arts Council, and Gem and Mineral Show do a good job of marketing, so the people don't need to come to the Visitor Center for information, unless we are providing an extra service."

"The Cliff Dwellings and the Gila National Forest are the destinations for about 36 percent of the visitors, with downtown at 27 percent," McAndrew said. "The Silver City Museum does not track visitors, but the Western New Mexico University Museum has seen an increase of 5 percent this year. The number one means of finding out about Silver City and the region is by word of mouth, with different types of publications, such as travel guides, bringing in visitors. We find the articles go further than an ad. New Mexico Magazine has Silver City as a foodie town this month, and the September issue will feature Silver City as a destination. Travel & Leisure had Silver City as one of the 'coolest Western towns.'

"For the past year, we are up 12 percent in visitation, and gross receipts and lodgers' tax are going up as fast," she continued. "The Visitor Center subscribes to civic tourism and has hosted a business roundtable and community stories at Western. We want to maintain a sense of place."

In discussing the Green Chamber's future, McAndrew said the office moved to a vacant storefront at the Silco Theater. "We are working with MainStreet, have monthly Green Drinks, monthly breakfasts for the Merchant's Association and continue our Buy Local campaign. For entrepreneurship, we are working with the Western business department and Aldo Leopold Charter School. We have an angel fund—the Investment Opportunities Network. We want to develop a business incubator and are looking at existing locations. We are partnering and collaborating. We have distributed 15, 000 copies of 2014 Visitors and Relocation Guide. We are working on wayfarer and public restroom signs. We are developing Second Saturdays, inviting people to come to Silver City on Friday night, go to an event, stay Saturday night and go up to the Cliff Dwellings. We are partnering with MainStreet on the Silco, the Continental Divide Trail Gateway, and the Chicano Music Festival over Labor Day. The Tamal Fiesta will be the same day as the Lighted Christmas Parade. Your Tourism Committee is excellent." She also held up the new map pads, which have additional areas on the maps.

"I want to thank you personally for your work with the green chamber," Commissioner Ron Hall said. "I'm a great supporter of Downtown. I am concerned that you are not promoting outside of Silver City. I would like to see the rest of the county promoted more."

"We want to get merchants to tie into events," McAndrew said.

"I would also like to see Conference Center events promoted," Hall said.

"Get them to the Arts and Cultural District," McAndrew suggested. "We are trying to get a clearing house of events."

Kasten said he didn't see the Blues Festival or the rodeo on the list of events polled.

"People don't put them down when they visit the Visitor Center," McAndrew said.

Kasten asked if the green chamber was changing its mission.

"Our mission has always been to build a sustainable community," McAndrew said. "We feel out new vision fits into the mission statement."

Commissioners approved an inventory deletion of old voting machines, as requested by the Clerk's Office.

They also approved and presented a proclamation naming Sept. 24-28, 2014, as Grant County Fair Days. The proclamation was accepted by Richard Lawyer, a longtime Fair Board member. Hall encouraged people to take their families to the fair.

Also approved were the Loma Verde Subdivision rights-of-way on Ventana Drive, Loma Verde Drive, Alcorn Drive and Corto Drive. This is the next step toward creating an assessment district to improve the roads up to county standards, and then the county will take over maintenance.

Emily Gojkovich was appointed to the Food Policy Council.

Commissioners approved an amendment to the food service contract with Summit to provide food for the Detention Center.

Under resolutions, the Commission approved a resolution declaring July 14-18 as New Mexico Hunger Week.

"I'm involved in the Hunger Summit," Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments Executive Director Priscilla Lucero said. "My goal is to have every local government support this resolution. New Mexico is No. 1 for child hunger. In the county, volunteers provide 325 food backpacks weekly. The Volunteer Center Food Pantry has seen a 100 percent increase in people coming for food in the past year. The Volunteer Center is serving 1,000 families in their programs. Grant County is one of the counties listed as being one of the highest for senior hunger. This resolution and the others will be posted at the summit next week, where Sen. Howie Morales will speak."

Hall said he was proud the county has opened the exhibit hall at the fairgrounds for commodities distribution.

Also approved was a resolution approving publication of a notice of intent to adopt the gross receipts tax bond ordinance.

In addition, Kasten and Ramos switched committees, with Kasten going on the Transit Authority Board and Ramos going on the Grant County Water Commission.

Assessor Mary Guthrie noted that mapper Violet Villegas is retiring. "We are losing a lot of knowledge, but come into our office and we'll help with your property questions."

Ramos said things were going along well in the county.

Hall noted that when he was running for commissioner, he was told that the Commission didn't do much. "Daily, it's something. I'm busy and I'm loving it."

Kasten said the Commission would conclude its interviews for county manager on Friday. "We will announce the decision in open session on July 22." Commissioners then went into executive session for the sole purpose of interviews.

Live from Silver City

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