By Mary Alice Murphy
At a combined work session and regular meeting on July 22, 2014, Grant County commissioners first heard public input, before addressing the agenda.
Walter "Ski" Szymanski, resident, said he was one of the "many residents frustrated and sorely disappointed at the commissioners raise of the gross receipts tax. I heard you, Commissioner Kasten, at a public meeting say you respected the vote up or down on the proposed bond issue last year. It was a two-thirds rejection by the voters. Commissioners Hall and Ramos said they were surprised at the vote result. You have unilaterally served to throw the public vote into the shredder, and you did so over the clear will of the people. This is a regressive tax and hits hardest on lower income residents and small businesses. It has decreased their quality of life. As I see it, you were in violation of a mandate."
Another resident said he supported the letters to Sen. Tom Udall and Sen. Martin Heinrich, which the commissioners later approved in a request for help to ensure that the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Payment in Lieu of Taxes and the Secure Rural Schools federal payment are reauthorized and funded at the highest levels possible. The federal funding only partially compensates the county for its rural lands that belong to the federal government and reap no tax income for the county.
"On the Travel Management Plan, apparently you have come up with an appeal," the resident said. "I would appreciate that being available to residents."
Lonnie Sandoval, representing Loma Verde subdivision, said he was looking for an update. "You recently said the next step was the petition. The petition is in place, and I think the next step is acceptance of the petition."
Interim County Manager Abigail Robinson said the process would go through Planner Anthony Gutierrez and Ordinance Officer Dolores Dominguez. Gutierrez said he was prepared for the next meeting.
Mike Stone, county resident, commended the commissioners for being proactive on raising the gross receipts tax. "Last year's vote was a different issue. The county still needs to fix its roads and provide services to its residents. I think you made the right decision, and I think there is a misunderstanding about the issue. The state is going to continue to take money away from you. I thank you for your brave stance to raise the gross receipts tax."
In financial reports, Financial Officer Linda Vasquez said there were no extraordinary expenses in the expenditure report of $740,361.90.
Commissioner Ron Hall made the motion to name Charlene Webb, current Roosevelt County manager, as the new Grant County manager and to allow the interim manager to enter into negotiations on a contract. The motion passed.
The letter to Udall and Heinrich was approved.
Also approved was an appeal by Grant County of the Gila National Forest Travel Management Plan Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision. Commission Chairman Brett Kasten thanked Commissioner Gabriel Ramos, who took the lead on the appeal "and shouldered this 110-page document."
Commissioners approved the replacement of the satellite restrooms at Bataan Memorial Park with Porta Potties. "We discussed this in the Parks and Recreation Committee meeting," Ramos said. "We were trying to figure out how to be more cost-effective. We've tried to keep people from plugging them up, by closing them in the winter, turning the water off and locking them. Vandals break the locks and plug them up. Every year, we have high plumbing costs to unplug them. We will remove the metal crates that house the current toilets and put the Porta Potties into the structure. It will avoid a big expense. We have looked at many options, but most are too expensive."
Hall said he agreed with the decision.
"There are two sets of restrooms that we are replacing," Ramos said. "The funding will be out of maintenance, according to (Public Works Director) Justin (Reese). It will save us a lot of money in plumbing work."
Silver City Town Manager Alex Brown came before the commission to request a $100,000 contribution for the completion of construction of a clubhouse at Silver Fairways Golf Course.
"Last year, the commission offered us $75,000 for maintenance of the golf course," Brown said. "The town borrowed 1.2 million, with $350,000 dedicated to the clubhouse. According to Silver Fairways, $450,000 is needed."
Kasten commented that it seems the ponds at the golf course are always empty, to which Brown replied they often are in May and June. The water comes from treated effluent, but the plant can only pump so much water up to the golf course. "In July, the Environment Department requires testing, so we have to stop pumping for a week."
Kasten asked if the town had looked at subsidizing the ponds with fresh water.
"That was what we did in May and June, but it's expensive," Brown said. "The Gabby Hayes well was down for a week, so we were limited."
Hall said he supports the golf course, because "I realize the value for locals and tourists. I would like to see how the budget shakes out to see how much we can help."
Brown said the town would open bids at the end of the month and it would be another month and a half or so before construction would begin. Kasten asked if the money would go toward furnishing the clubhouse, too.
"No, just the building," Brown said. "We will sell the metal building being used now and use that money for furnishing."
Ramos asked if the town has plans, to which Brown said yes, because they were required for the bids. "I want to assure you that there are no worries about anti-donation, because the golf course is owned by the town, which has a contract with Silver Fairways to manage it. All revenue generated by Silver Fairways is put back into the golf course. The course would have to have a big amount of rounds before there are any profits. Silver Fairways puts the money back into the course to keep it accessible to everyone."
Ramos asked how the golf course benefits youths.
"The price is very cheap for youths," Brown said. "Every summer, we do a golf camp and for the remainder of the summer, those who participated can golf for free."
Harold Bray, resident, said 10 years ago, the junior program began, which has served more than 1,000 Grant County young people. "We teach ethics in golf and life, and we appreciate what you can offer."
The course manager said junior golf camp serves from 80 to 110 youths each year. "The clubhouse would help with classrooms to keep them engaged."
Kasten asked whether the schools had high school teams, to which the manager replied that Cobre and Silver have teams and hold invitational tournaments each year. Western New Mexico University hosts an invitational every other year.
Ramos asked if any activities were planned to raise money. The manager said they have discussed such fundraisers, but nothing was yet planned.
Kasten asked how many non-profit organizations hold fundraisers at the course each year. The Silver Fairways manager said the course had a contract that sets $35 a head for each player and the organizations can bring in their food. "With a clubhouse, we would have another venue for the food. There are about 20 to 30 a year, spring through October."
Hall noted the university homecoming alumni usually host a tournament.
"I appreciate the town of Silver City taking on the golf course, because its population is only a third of the county," Kasten said. "We need to look at the budget to find the money. I will accept a motion to table the request."
"I'll come back when you need me," Brown said.
Under the agenda heading resolutions, commissioners approved continuing with the Senior Program. Robinson explained the resolution went along with all the other contracts the commissioners had recently approved. "The Area Agency on Aging sent the resolution after the contracts. It's for their records."
Also, involving the Senior Program was a resolution limiting the use of senior facilities to senior-related events. "We need to implement a policy for use," Robinson said. "I'm hearing grumblings to make sure that everyone is paying for use of the centers. I ask the Parks and Recreation Committee to develop a policy that limits the use to senior-related events and government groups. We already have the groups in place using them."
Ramos said Senior Program Director Terry Trujillo and General Services Director Randy Villa recommend not letting others use the facilities. "The policy should not let anyone into the kitchens because of possible contamination. We don't own two of the centers."
"We own the one in Gila and the one in Mimbres," Robinson said. "We don't own the Santa Clara or Silver City centers."
"I have some problems with this request," Ramos said. "In the unincorporated areas, there are no other places for people to meet, for instance in Gila. Lots of groups use the Senior Center. Rita Larson, the site manager, says Gila does charge and requestors have to fill out a form. She says the groups have always been responsible and respectful.
"The centers are owned by taxpayers and they depend on the building," Hall said. "Kicking them out leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I would like to see you, Commissioner Ramos, work with the people."
Ramos pointed that that another facility would be available at the fairgrounds.
"That, too, has been kicked around, about who should use it and manage it," Kasten said. "The Extension Office used to oversee it, then the Fair Board during Fair time and then it was through Justin. Is this just a knee-jerk reaction to complaints?"
Robinson said it has not been at the top of the list until she heard from people that sometimes people don't pay. "They want uniformity and I don't want to run afoul of contracts and the constitution."
Hall said the county must follow the law. "I think if there are donations or payments, we let the groups keep using the centers until we have a policy."
Kasten suggested segregating the Silver City and Santa Clara centers from the rural ones in the policy.
"I think we can move quickly on the policy, if we move to disapprove the resolution today," Robinson recommended.
Ramos suggested the policy should be only for the county-owned facilities. Hall moved to table the resolution.
The next resolution requested a Colorado River Day proclamation.
"I don't know much about this group," Hall said. "I appreciate the Latinos and the river, but to put my name on something, I want to know who they are." The resolution was approved.
Commissioner ratified an agreement between the county and the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments. "This is an agreement to be a member of the COG," Robinson said. "The annual cost is $5,250."
Ramose said: "The COG does so much for us." The resolution was approved.
Also approved were the budget adjustments for fiscal year 2014. Vasquez said they included increases in revenue of more than $400,000 and increases in expenditures of almost $1.4 million.
Vasquez also presented the quarterly financial report, for which approval was needed for Santa Fe to accept the county's final budget.
The commissioners approved the final budget for fiscal year 2015. Vasquez said the budget included the increase in the cost-of-living-adjustment for everyone.
Kasten thanked Vasquez "so much for getting through this."
During county reports, Kasten explained that the implementation of the increase by one-third of a cent in gross receipts tax was made "to make the county more secure. I don't feel guilty at all to make sure our infrastructure needs are met for our residents."
Sheriff Raul Villanueva said several Crime Stoppers incentives have brought in some tips. "I thank the public for helping us. We hired the three deputies we were short and they are going through training."
Hall said residents on Little Walnut "are high on the Silver City Police Department and the Grant County Sheriff's Office for the work they did in quickly apprehending a burglar who broke into a house in the area."
Treasurer Steve Armendariz said he is in the middle of going through the delinquent taxes list. "We are 40 up from last year. I sent out in April courtesy letters, which has whittled the number of delinquent payments from 600 to near 400. Since I sent the list, we have had a few start making payments to get caught up. We also have $200,000 delinquent taxes on mobile homes. I'm working with the assessor's office to make sure where the homes are located. Some move in the middle of the night. Some have been notified that they need a certificate and they have come into the office to get them. We have collected 96 percent of revenues for tax year 2013."
Kasten asked if anyone had been caught moving without the certificate.
Armendariz said state police had stopped several, "but it's mostly new ones coming in. They are supposed to be courtesy. We don't touch new ones, but if they are pre-owned they are covered by the ordinance."
Assessor Mary Guthrie said all the assessors in her office were attending class this week to work toward certification.
"I want to say something about the boards we all participate in," Ramos said. "At the last Parks and Rec meeting, we went out to Bataan Memorial Park. It looks really good and is well utilized. We discussed putting lights on the big field. I have discussed it with (Sen.) Howie (Morales) and (Rep. Rodolpho) 'Rudy' (Martinez). We need it on our ICIP." Kasten said it was already on the Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan.
Ramos said the committee also talked about sheetrocking a wall, as well as the Porta Potties issue. "We talked about putting a soccer field on the top portion, but it's just discussion."
Hall said the committee that addresses adult substance abuse has a news release that addresses how to turn citizens around who are impacted by substance abuse. "The raise in the gross receipts tax is such a value—one-third of a penny will make all our lives better. I thank you commissioners for the courage to pass it."
Kasten said, speaking of committees, the Transit Authority, made up of Deming and Luna County, Lordsburg and Hidalgo County, and Silver City and Grant County, has its routes split up. "I felt they were tolerably fair, but I don't think Grant County is being credited for our in-kind services, and that our Road Department does a lot of the maintenance. We need to know how much we spend in-kind. We're running in the red, but once we put in our in-kind services, we will evaluate each route to determine whether we are putting in our fair share."
"Ever since I've been commissioner, I've worked hard to build a partnership with Silver City," Kasten said. "I would also ask Silver City to respect Grant County's views."
He introduced new Gila Regional Medical Center board member Joe Ramirez, who was sitting in the back.
"What we do here is about our residents," Hall concurred. "Not every decision we make is easy. There are a lot of difficult decisions, but we are working together with Silver City and the other municipalities. I have respect for the other commissioners, and it is a pleasure to serve."