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County audits up to date

Following a review of the Thursday regular meeting agenda, Grant County officials gave reports at the first work session of the year.

Commission Chairman Brett Kasten welcomed the new commissioner for District 3, Ron Hall, and thanked former District 3 Commissioner Christy Miller for being a good steward for the county.

"I also am happy to announce the audit are at the state Auditor's Office and we are compliant," Kasten said. "We are not on the watch list anymore."

County Planner Anthony Gutierrez said he appreciated the audits being done. "We will submit a (Community Development Block Grant) project. I'm hoping to get the funding for Representative (Rudy) Martinez for the lift station at Fort Bayard Medical Center. We got $100,000 last year and we hope for another $100,000 this year for this building and, in turn, we will do the CDBG to finish the lift station. We couldn't get it last year because of audit problems, but we were told it was the best application, so we hope we can get the funding this year."

County Manager Jon Paul Saari said Bayard would take over operation of the lift station as part of the regional wastewater treatment plant.

Gutierrez said he would also submit projects for Colonias Infrastructure Fund money. "We will ask for funding for North Hurley curb and gutters to alleviate flooding in the area."

He reported on the Loma Verde Subdivision request for road upgrades. "One road has encroachment of fences and the property goes into the right-of-way. We should be able to make adjustments to the roadway. That's why I asked for a survey to make sure the road was where it is supposed to be. Once the county approves, I will talk to Lonnie (Sandoval, the subdivision's spokesman). There may be issues with the fence line of a property owner. Once we approve the plat, we will do the realignment of the road. "

Gutierrez is a member of the Input Committee for the Interstate Stream Commission, which is reviewing proposals to utilize up to 14,000 average annual acre-feet of additional water out of the Gila Basin and $66 million up to $128 million for a New Mexico Unit, as allocated to the four-county region of Grant, Luna, Hidalgo and Catron counties by the 2004 Arizona Water Settlements Act. The Input Committee will meet Monday and hear reports on economic impact and economic feasibility from the Bureau of Reclamation.  "What we hear will affect Grant County's final scopes of work for water reuse. I am also chairman of a committee for the next plan on endangered species."

"We met last night with residents of Viva Santa Rita subdivision," Gutierrez said. "They are nice people out there. We talked about whether they want to enter into an assessment district. Everything seems to be where it's supposed to be, with a few places needing drainage improvements. They will get a petition going to get buy-in from the residents."

Public Works Director Justin Reese said people are working on resolving drainage problems at Fort Bayard Medical Center. "We are fixing things at the new jail. We have ordered 5-ton (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) units for the Mimbres and Gila Senior centers. We are also working at the Conference Center to paint the whole interior. We took out the temporary walls."

His department has laid gravel at the Santa Clara Senior Center in the back to solve some drainage problems. "We are replacing an overhead door at Fort Bayard, and we are getting bids for the electrical for the front of this building (the Grant County Administration Center)."

Road Superintendent Earl Moore said his department is doing business as usual, including working on the parking lot at Cliff Schools, as well as a low-water crossing on Mahogany Drive. The present system will be replaced with a cement crossing. "Then we'll be working on the front of this building, and starting road patching next week."

Senior Services Director Terry Trujillo said his office ordered six new vehicles in mid-December and should receive them by February. They are 1.6-liter EcoBoost Ford Escapes for better gas mileage.

Hall asked about bringing in senior citizens from the outlying areas.

"We use the Senior Center buses once a month," Trujillo said.

Hall suggested combining with Corre Caminos to bring the seniors into town more often.

Gutierrez said when public hearings for the CDBG were being held, there were requests from Gila for more bus service.

Saari said the demand service for Corre Caminos is growing. "We have to schedule things. I will have the director address the issue. We may need to get information out that a person cannot call on a whim."

Commissioner Gabriel Ramos suggested a permanent route to Cliff-Gila.

Treasurer Steve Armendariz said his office is "diligently processing tax payments. We have a 62 percent collection of the county's portion of the payments. The bulk of the rest will come in the second half payments due May 10. I want to be specific at these meetings about what the county is collecting. The school districts will be in a different format."

Hall said it was important to let citizens know about what is the county's portion and what is for the school districts.

Armendariz said out of the $12 million billed, about $5 million is to the county. "My figures will be specific to the county. Out of the $4.8 million billed for the county, we have collected about $3 million."

Assessor Randy Villa welcomed Hall and Armendariz. "I have the warrant and abstract of how much we collect for the county, cities and others."

He explained the veterans' exemption is $4,000 off the taxable rate, and 100 percent exemption to 100 percent-disabled veterans. Veterans do not have to reapply for the exemption each year, but those who must report their manufactured homes must do so every year. There is also a tax freeze for those 65 years and older who have a total household income less than $32,000. The rate freezes to the previous year's rate, and they must reapply each year.

Livestock must be reported by the end of February. "We also work with Catron County."

He reminded residents to notify his office and other county offices in case of a change of address. "You can do so electronically or call us."

Saari said some of the residents interested in road improvement districts asked if the assessor's department would be triggered to increase values.

"Valuation depends on market value," Villa said. "Likely, when a house in the improved area goes on the market, the improved road will improve the value of the property, but it doesn't trigger a re-evaluation, unless we're already in the area re-evaluating."

Sheriff Raul Villanueva said his department was fairly busy over the holiday period. He gave statistics comparing 2011 to 2012. "We have had increases in calls, and we're working a lot of burglaries everywhere. We have leads and suspects and have arrested one. We're wondering if outside people are coming in. Call us if you see anything suspicious. We recovered stolen firearms yesterday (Monday) because of observant citizens. We are asking people to be observant."

Hall asked if many areas had Neighborhood Watch programs.

"Yes, we have a Neighborhood Watch in the area where the most recent burglary occurred," Villanueva said. "It's very beneficial. I encourage you to contact us to help you set it up."

Clerk Robert Zamarripa had no report.

Saari said many of the county officials would be attending New Mexico Association of Counties meetings next week prior to the start of the legislative session. "The first four weeks of the session, we will be in Santa Fe.  We had a meeting with Freeport McMoRan, Western New Mexico University and Silver City. We will have conference calls as a joint effort, looking at what's going on, so we know if we need to go up for a hearing to have someone who can talk on behalf of any of us."

Ramos asked if the county had a lobbyist.

"We can't afford one just to work for us, and it's hard to split one,"
 Saari said. "That's why we're working with Silver City, the university and Freeport."

Kasten said normally when one is looking at lobbyists they are usually working for an industry and they don't know anything about county issues. "Or if they are working with other counties, there may be conflicts."

Ramos also welcomed Hall and Armendariz. Ramos asked if the county could have the Forest Service present on the Travel Management Plan again. "I understand there have been some changes, and the decision is supposed to be made in March. I've been bombarded with questions from constituents. It happened in Santa Fe that most roads in the forest were closed. The public needs to be heard from. The majority of those I've talked to want to keep our roads."

Saari said the only meetings in February would be the work session on Feb. 19 and the regular meeting Feb. 21, and he would try to get the Forest Service lined up for the 21st.

Kasten said he understood the decision is slated for March 31, and Saari said implementation is set for July of this year.

Ramos also announced that no Southwest County Commission Alliance meeting would be held in Santa Fe, but a new date will be chosen and publicized.

Hall thanked voters for the vote of confidence for him. "Jon (Saari) and (County Attorney) Abby (Robinson) have given me a lot of information, and I appreciate the old commissioners' support. I have visited with a lot of the staff and elected officials. It's important to me to be in contact with citizens, so I will be available after every second work session of the month in my office here until 4 p.m. Please set up an appointment with (executive assistant) Randy Hernandez at 574-0006."

The meeting was adjourned, with the next work session set for Tuesday, Feb. 19, and the regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 21, both at 9 a.m. at the Grant County Administration Center.

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