Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of five articles on the Grant County Commission regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 21, addressing agenda items, including county reports from the Tuesday work session and the Thursday regular session.
At the work session, Public Works Department Manager Justin Reese, said his staff members had put in a new heating and cooling system at the Mimbres Senior Center. They have also been painting inside the County Business and Conference Center, which needs new carpet, he said. Because of an inmate damaging smoke detectors at the Detention Center, the county is considering cages for the detectors. New skeet shooting equipment is being ordered for the shooting range. A bid was awarded for the front of the Administration Center.
"We're working with WH Pacific on phase 3 construction of the Grant County Airport apron," Reese said. "We are also trying to do an electrical retrofit at the Courthouse. We have ordered 200 hog pens for the Grant County Fairgrounds, and batting cages for the ball fields, but we need to sit down and decide where to put them."
Commissione Ron Hall said there is a wish list for the shooting range, with minor issues besides the skeet shooting.
Road Superintendent Earl Moore said his personnel have finished the low-water crossing on Mahogany Road. "I have turned in certified mileage. We will start patching as soon as the hot mix plant is back up. The City will drop a water line in front of this building, probably today, so as soon as the electrical is done, we can move to the other side."
"At some point, we're going to have to look at capital outlay for roads," Moore said. "With the funding we receive from Local Government Road Fund, we can only do three to five miles. Several roads have not been touched since I've been in the department, which is 14 years. The price of oil has jumped, so we will drop one road, Galaz, in our plan and put it in next year's. It will cost about $35,000 to fix it. Right now oil is $648 a ton and I'm guessing it will go up to about $700 a ton."
County Manager Jon Paul Saari said the county has been putting in about $100,00 from the General Fund into roads the past few years. Moore said Rosedale Road also needs work.
Joseph Andazola of the Detention Center said he is working on the last few warranty issues at the new jail and with Reese on the detector cages. "We do charge inmates when they damage equipment. We have hired six new detention officers, bringing us to a full complement." He said training was going on, with some officers already having received the training. The jail is also training volunteers, who teach such courses as GED study and life skills. All volunteers must undergo orientation. A camera and a voice box are in the classroom, and each group of volunteers has a leader. "Sometimes, we sit in on the sessions. We make sure the volunteers are safe. The inmates enjoy the classes. We screen inmates for the classes, with only certain classifications being eligible."
Assessor Randy Villa said his office is almost ready to send out valuation notices for 2013. "We will continue our reappraisal plan until we're done. I'm also following this whole stack of New Mexico Association of County bills at the Legislature, including requiring annual delinquent property tax sales, a bill giving county governments the authority to ban fireworks in drought situations, affidavits on non-residential property sales, changes to public records fees, and a bill to increase volunteer fire department personnel retirement stipends after 25 years service. We are holding weekly conference calls on the legislation. The district will have a meeting April 11 to determine the good and bad of the legislative session."
Saari asked Villa about the bill to deliver property notices of value electronically. Villa said, as a whole, it would save money. "Right now, if someone requests a notice electronically, we send if we can. We send out 19,000 notices of value by mail. It depends on the contest period. For those that live elsewhere the electronic delivery would be good, and the sending electronically would include the tax bill." Saari pointed out the county gets "a ton of returned mail."
Villa said, at the regular meeting, that Feb. 28 is the last day to report livestock, manufactured homes and personal property. He also said that Rep. Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez had received the letters of support for the off-highway vehicle bill, and Catron County sent another letter of support, so hunters could go into Reserve or Glenwood on the ATVs.
Commissioner Gabe Ramos said the bill would be local option, and he didn't see it happening in Silver City. Commission Chairman Brett Kasten said if the county did approve the local option, it would not include municipalities.
Treasurer Steve Armendariz said his department has already been sending electronic tax bills by request, but by law, the county must continue also sending them by mail. However, the recipients don't always receive them. He reported that a tax sales legislative bill would allow installment payments for those who are in arrears. "We could collect partial payment and we could keep the tax portion and send the penalty and interest to the state. Formerly, the state would keep it all, perhaps for years, until the total bill was paid. If we get this passed, we can reimburse the schools and municipalities, which also do not receive their due if the payment is held up.
"We have collected 64 percent so far this year, with about $2 million outstanding," Armendariz said. "Over the past 10 years, we have averaged a 95 percent collection rate."
He said April 4 is a tentative delinquent tax sale. "We have been collecting a lot, but we still have some out there. The sale may be cancelled if we don't have enough for a tax sale. The guy who's doing the review will make the decision on whether to hold the sale and whether a property is marketable. We want to knot what happens to parcels if they are not sold. The Treasurer's Affiliate will bring a resolution. We're trying to work out a system to deal with mobile homes, whether livable or not."
Villa added some issues that enter into the marketable question are if the parcel is not large enough to build on, if it's in a ravine, or if there's not enough room for a septic system. "The solution is to get a surveyor to look at the properties that we don't know who owns, and perhaps the only value is to a neighbor."
Armendariz said the delinquent properties totaled about 60, but the county is now down to 20, because 40 have been collected on.
At the regular session, Armendariz said he wanted to clarify the solid waste issue of delinquent accounts. "We will send out a notice to each delinquent account. The person has 30 days to respond and pay, or then a hearing will be held. Between March 15 and 30, we will send out notices and people will have to the end of April to catch up their bill. We will then hold a hearing the first part of May. The person will have another 30-day grace period to catch up on their bills by mid-June, and 10 days later we will file the liens."
Kasten said: "We don't really want to put liens on people's property, but the county is out $400,000 from unpaid solid waste bills."
At the work session, Sheriff Raul Villanueva said the county has seen a rise in burglaries throughout the county. "We are trying to catch the people who are doing them, and we have leads." He reported he had sent staff to training on drug issues and will target drugs in the county. In addition, several staff members attended a car seat clinic to make sure car seats are installed correctly to keep children safe. "We met with the Silver High School and will start training in the schools to make sure we're all on the same page. We've already been working with Cobre High School."
Saari said because the meeting in March would conflict with the last week of the legislative session, only one set of commission meetings will be held, with the work session on March 19, and the regular session on March 21.
He reported the county might consider setting up a training officer position, along with good training protocol, for law enforcement and the jail.
"We're getting ready to go into union negotiations April 15-19," Saari said. "The union will take the contract before the members and then, when ratified, it will come back to the Commission for approval."
Saari said capital outlay requests had gone in, and "we hope to get $400,000, but we may have to scale back." He said the Ford Escapes for Senior Services were expected from Lawley Ford soon.
Kasten asked for highlights on Sen. John Arthur Smith's bill to appropriate "our water." Saari explained the bill Smith introduced into capital outlay called for a pipeline from the Gila River to metropolitan Las Cruces. "Sen. Smith said he was frustrated that the process hadn't gotten anything done. He doesn't want the water to go to Arizona, but wants to keep it in the four counties."
Part of the problem for the four counties is that if the water goes to Las Cruces, because of many unused water rights in the area, they could be appropriated and the area would lose them to Las Cruces. If the state of New Mexico loses a lawsuit filed by Texas, the metropolitan area would lose its water, which would cause a $1 billion impact. "We can't compete with that. Smith's not attempting to harm anyone in the four counties. It's an attempt to keep the water in New Mexico.
Ramos said Smith made it loud and clear that if the four counties don't use the water, the state will.
The last article will complete the county reports from the work session and regular meeting.