Presenting a proclamation of Feb. 18 as Territorial Charter Day are Commissioner Billy Billings, left; Commission Chairman Brett Kasten, fourth from left, Commissioners Harry Browne, Alicia Edwards and Gabriel Ramos. Accepting the proclamation are Raul Turrieta and Brandy Thornburg, second and third from left.
Photo and article by Mary Alice Murphy
At the Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, combined work session and regular meeting, when the item for approval of the meeting agenda came up, District 1 Commissioner Gabriel Ramos asked for an item addressing a memorandum of agreement for challenging implementation of the Travel Management Plan of the Gila National Forest to be removed. "I want to research it more," he said.
District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne asked about a permanent search committee for a Gila Regional Medical Center permanent chief executive officer. Attorney Abigail Robinson said it would be discussed later in the meeting.
During public input, GRMC Interim CEO Alfredo Ontiveros gave a brief report. "First, finances. As of the end of December 2016, we had a positive bottom line of $52,403." He said it was even for the fiscal year, with at least one month of positive growth. "At the end of January, although we have not finalized and approved the financial report, it looks positive. The Meditech 6 upgrade is a million-dollar project and we will go live on June 1, I believe, without any issues. The executive overview of the project has been turned over to me. Ken Stone of IT is now directly in charge. We are finding contractual savings."
He said for the revenue cycle, the hospital is making sure a system is in place. "We are looking at all departments and services, looking at being efficient. We eliminated the chief operating officer, because the position was not actually needed in our size hospital."
Ontiveros also noted the GRMC Foundation was sponsoring an ice cream social for caregivers that day for Valentine's Day.
Commission Chairman Brett Kasten asked about nominations for the search committee for a permanent CEO.
"It's a board initiative," Ontiveros replied. "I'm just the advisor. The nomination process has gone to 11 different groups asking each to provide three nominees to interview and choose a quality CEO. The board will choose one of the nominees for each group."
"Will each group be represented?" Kasten asked, to which Ontiveros replied: "Yes."
Kasten said the commissioners were not sure they wanted the GRMC board to choose "who represents us."
"I will pass that on," Ontiveros said.
The next public input came from Allyson Siwik, Gila Conservation Coalition executive director. "You took the agenda item off, but we want to talk about the Gila National Forest Travel Management Plan. We were active in giving input. I strongly recommend Grant County not join the Southwest County Commissioners Alliance in a lawsuit against the Travel Management Plan."
She said the plan provides access to all, including hunting, fishing and trapping. "I have data on how much money the national forest brings in. It brings $15.5 million in spending, creates 112 jobs, which support $2.8 million in labor. It brings in $743,000 in state and local taxes. The Travel Management Plan is critical to maintaining recreational opportunities. I strongly recommend you not join the lawsuit."
Andy Payne, resident, said he, too, supports the TMP. "I ask you not to interfere with it. I see public land as an inheritance from my forefathers. It's my land out there, and I see the National Forest Service as my employee to oversee the forest." He noted the forest is much more intensively used now than in the past, so rules need to change with the times. "My wife and I camp for weeks at a time. I used to hunt and fish, but I have left that to the younger generations." Payne said the TMP would continue to protect the forest for the hunters, fishers and hikers. "I'm willing to give up some access." He requested the commission not spend millions of dollars to tie the hands of the land managers. "I support the protection of public lands."
Janet Wallet-Ortiz, who has lived in the area more than 30 years and is retired from teaching at Western New Mexico University, said she realized the item had been removed from the agenda. "I want to make sure I'm on the record. I insist you not spend one cent to challenge the TMP. It might cost initially $6,000," but the county doesn't know how much will be spent on useless and long litigation. "For many of us the plan fell short of protecting the forests." Wallet-Ortiz said. "But at least it did not cave in to special interests, which would have been against the interests of us all who seek to preserve and protect our forests."
She said she had suggestions for spending the $6,000 and more, such as for free, healthy recreational activities for Grant County youth; fixing sidewalks that are falling apart; planting trees; bolstering a program to provide food security for the elderly and poor. "Vote No on challenging the forest service management plan."
Lorna Ruebelmann said she wanted to thank Chairman Kasten on behalf of her husband George, who could not be there the day of the meeting, because Kasten had voted in favor of a five-man commission. "He worked as an archaeologist for the BLM for 20 years and was aware of how hard public officials work and how difficult it is to come to consensus. When you work on a plan, you get public input from the local municipalities, the county, organizations and public citizens. The input will not necessarily change what is being planned, because of federal law, internal operations and environmental laws. We have a wonderful administration on the Gila National Forest. I propose instead of a lawsuit you create a resolution thanking the Gila National Forest for protecting our forest."
Carol Morrison, co-leader of the Great Old Broads of the Wilderness, said she is a citizen aware of what took place during the TMP process. "My husband and I identified roads that should be closed, but the National Forest denied all the closures. The TMP is not a wild-eyed liberal plan, it is the best practice to protect our forest."
Jeff Boyd, resident, said he, too, was strongly opposed to joining the lawsuit. "First of all, there is no cause to do so. It opens Grant County up to expenditures. The Forest Service was diligent in getting input. The final plan represents a fair compromise. Joining with other counties would be a huge waste of public money."
Hara Davis of Cliff said she also supports not joining the "frivolous lawsuit and waste of money."
She also pointed out the Commission website is very poor. "It makes public input difficult and doesn't let us do anything."
Davis said she and her husband gather wood and the new plan does impact them. "But we are willing to be inconvenienced. Recreation and the Continental Divide Trail are a way of diversifying the economy of Grant County."
County Financial Officer Linda Vasquez presented the expenditure report for the past month. Total expenditures, as of Feb. 9, 2017, were $2,294,551.75, which includes payroll of $420,573.36, and accounts payable of $1,873,978.39. Extraordinary expenses included the 2017 airport liability renewal to Arthur J. Gallagher Insurance Co. for $10,225; for jet fuel and refueler lease payment to Ascent Aviation for $17,641.96; for Rosedale Road Colonias paving materials to Southwest Concrete and Paving for $60,328.61; December 2016 fuel charges to Wright Express Fleet Services for $21,576.07; furnishings for the Conference Center to Workspace Dynamics & Sit On It for $142,380.55; animal control services for October-December 2017 to High Desert Humane Society for $16,580; Extension Services contribution for the second quarter to New Mexico State University for $17,000; work and financial plan services for the first half of the year to USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service wildlife services for $16,636.24; engineering services for airport runway project to Bohannon-Huston Inc. for $77,514.98; fire equipment for the Santa Rita VFD to Artesia Fire Equipment for $84,640; December and January medical management and registered nurse services at the Detention Center to Health Care Partners Systems for $26,009.32; December 2016 inmate indigent claims to GRMC for $29,445.91; December inmate meals to Summit Food Services for $22,777.40; and for security cameras and intercom system at the Detention Center to Kubl Group for $36,100.
Browne asked if the $17,000 to the Extension Services is a share, to which County Manager Charlene Webb said it was a three-way share to sustain extension services.
Browne also questioned a rent payment of $3,000 for the manager's office. Vasquez explained it was a payment from Dispatch because they pay rent in a county building and the county is the fiscal agent for Dispatch.
He also asked about $1,000 for a keyboard to which Webb said it was for five keyboards for the commission tablets.
Vasquez gave the quarterly financial reports, as of Dec. 31, 2017, for the General Fund, Corrections and the Road Department.
Actual revenues year-to-date to the General Fund at the end of the quarter were $5,440,987, with expenditures of $4,414,153.
Transfers to the Corrections Fund had not yet been made, so the balances were $0.
The Road Fund had revenues of $323,147, with expenditures of $795,039. As of the end of last year, the balance was a negative $238.997, but transfers in and other revenue sources would help the bottom line.
In new business, Assessor Raul Turrieta and Brandy Thornburg, who does marketing and promotions for Silver City MainStreet Project, presented a proclamation naming Feb. 18 as Territorial Charter Day. It is the 139th anniversary of the 1878 declaration of Silver City's charter, the oldest continuing territorial charter in the state. The opening ceremony will be held at the Silver City Museum at 10:30 a.m. Other events include a hike on Boston Hill and a biscochos baking contest, as well as a retablo workshop. "Sen. Morales did a memorial for the event from the Legislature."
Discussion ensured on the Conference Center rent schedule.
"This is a working draft," Webb said. "It is based on several items, including similar conference centers across the state, what we were charging and what Luna County charges. I'm not convinced we want to leave the ½-day rate. I believe this will be a work in progress until we finish the policy and procedures. I would like to get it finalized, so we can start leasing the facility."
Ramos noted the ½-day rate had been done away with in the previous rent schedule. Kasten said the county has about five events that use the center for the whole weekend.
District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards suggested for three-day events, the set-up time be comped. Kasten suggested instead of calling it a half-day fee, there be a set-up fee. He also asked about the separate fee for the kitchen.
"While the daily fee is reasonable, if you add in the kitchen, it is not reasonable," Kasten said. "I don't want to price us out of the market."
District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings said he thought it was just a starting point and could be adjusted, "if we find it hard to cover expenses. I suggest you need a business plan. In a year or so, maybe two years, look back and see how much we have lost. What's the economic benefit, and how much are we willing to lose?"
Browne suggesting letting the center manager, who is to be hired, make changes as needed, without having to come back to the commissioners.
Ramos asked about allowing the employees to use the facility at 10 percent. Webb said that would be in policy and procedures.
General Services Director Randy Villa noted the rate for employees was 10 percent of the cost, not a 10 percent discount. "This is a top-notch facility. I think employees will have to understand that it costs us to keep it up, so it stays top notch. Make sure the rates are affordable, but now that it is fully furnished, the rates have to be high enough for us to pay for cleaning and maintenance."
Ramos asked that the next agenda in March include how to handle security and how to make sure it can be enforced. Webb said the county would have to determine who can provide security, because it "is all over the board all over the state."
After motions were made and not passed, Browne asked that the decision be put off until the March meeting. Webb said she was hoping for a decision so that leases could begin to be made for use of the center.
The next item was the Conference Center lease agreement. Robinson noted that several changes had been made and it meets legal review, although more changes could be made.
Billings approved of giving the center manager latitude to change items. "She will run into circumstances unknown to us and will have to come back to us with changes otherwise."
Browne asked why the item requesting literature to be used in any of the facilities be reviewed.
"We want to make sure if a group is advertising something that it meets what they have agreed to with us," Webb said. "We've had problems with that."
"I don't want someone getting in between me and my PR spin," Browne said.
"That is not the intent," Webb said. "We can expand on that paragraph."
"We have to protect ourselves to the fullest," Ramos said.
Edwards suggested a higher deposit. "I don't think what you have is a deterrent. It's really important that the deposit cover the facility cleaning and minor repairs. I suggest a separate deposit for the kitchen. The Volunteer Center will share its commercial kitchen use language. If someone is going to do damage, it's hard to collect, but a larger deposit can be a deterrent."
DWI Program Coordinator Cindy McClean asked for approval for four DWI-related items on the agenda. All were approved. They included a statement of assurances under the New Mexico Local DWI grant and distribution program for fiscal year 2018 funding application; a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Finance and Administration for the DWI Program 2018 funding application; assurances and cooperative agreement with the NM Department of Health for services related to the 2018 funding application; and a resolution authorizing the county to submit an application to DFA, Local Government Division to participate in the local DWI grant and distribution program for fiscal year 2018.
McClean said her program would be doing many of the same things, including a lot of prevention in almost all the schools, Bully Proofing, and Creating Lasting Families for schools and the community. "We collaborate with other agencies, such as the school health advisory councils, the Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, Healthy Kids-Healthy Communities, the Continuum of Care Coalition, and inmate support group. We collaborate, so we don't duplicate services. We also address teen dating violence. Our compliance officers have 135 on supervised probation and 28 on unsupervised probation for misdemeanor offenders. If the state doesn't sweep funds, we will be OK."
Edwards said: "When I asked Charlene about all the DWI paperwork, she told me Cindy's program is an award-winning program and people across the state look to Cindy for a model program."
Browne asked if the Casino Nights would continue. McClean said they would be held after the prom.
County Clerk Marisa Castrillo asked for appointments to the 2017 Purge Board. Two Democrats, Sharon Bookwalter and Patricia Cano and one Republican Carol Lutz were appointed. The two alternates were set as Democrat Frances Vasquez and Republican Pilar Killough.
Webb asked for approval for the transfer of a 2008 Chevy Cobalt from the Senior Program to the County Manager's Office, "so we have more than one vehicle available. HMS has questioned why the senior program had so many vehicles, especially passenger vehicles—sedans—like this one, so it's not an issue for us to take it." She said nothing is final with HMS taking over the Senior programs, because the county and HMS have not finalized the agreement, but it will be on the March meeting agenda.
To a question from Edwards, Webb said the vehicle was purchased originally by a contractor and turned over to the program. Webb said the transfer could be tabled until March to determine if HMS wants the vehicle, she said to appease address questions. The item was tabled.
A discussion-only item was brought up to explore the combination of the Magistrate and District Courts at the Courthouse. Webb said Sixth Judicial District Judge J.C. Robinson and Magistrate Court #1 Judge Maurine Laney are both heavily in favor of exploring the option before the lease expires on the magistrate court building, which is being leased from a private owner. If combined, the Association of Courts could pay the county instead of a private owner. A motion was made to give the manager the authority to explore the options.
Another item for discussion only addressed whether the county attorney should send a question to the Attorney General's office regarding whether a county commissioner could be appointed as an ex-officio, non-voting member of the Gila Regional Medical Center Board of Trustees. Billings noted that it should include whether such an appointee could attend closed sessions. The attorney was directed by a motion to send the question. Ramos said it should state whether the commissioner could participate in all meetings.
The next item under agreements addressed a revised Tu Casa lease. Abigail Robinson said the lease trades space for services. "They use the space for uncompensated services. The estimate is that there will be $145,000 in uncompensated care. The rent market value is $132,000. I've been working with the state Board of Finance making lots of changes to the lease. There are a lot of hoops to jump through. Our hope is that you approve it and next week we go to the state for them to approve it.
Kasten noted the second half of the lease addresses the state land Tu Casa will sit on. "The state leases the land to Silver City and we lease it from Silver City. It's Silver City's contribution to the project."
Robinson said if HMS, which will lease the facility, doesn't reach the uncompensated amount it will pay the county within 60 days.
After approval of the lease, Robinson said more tweaking might happen before the state board of finance approves it.
Browne noted it was a 24-year lease. "What if we reach a point in society where we provide services to everyone, will HMS have to compensate us?"
"You mean we have a single-payer system? I would probably recommend we go out for bid if it changes that much," Robinson said.
Commissioners approved an amendment to an agreement for nutrition service of senior centers by the Nutrition Service Incentive Program with the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging. "We send an estimate," Webb said. "They are compensating us for actual costs."
County Emergency Manager Gilbert Helton said the Grant County Multi-Jurisdictional Mitigation Plan, which will be created by HazAir Inc., "has been going back and forth between us and the state. We adjusted the days listed and will have a plan written by the contractor. The steps include Phase 1 for a pre-kickoff meeting on Feb. 24. Phase 2 is a meeting with stakeholders a few days later with representatives of Silver City, Grant County, Santa Clara, Bayard and Hurley. Ninety to 120 days after that will be the approval. Because it involves risk assessment, it is very time consuming and intensive. Phase 4 calls for the meeting plan to be complete by Aug. 14. Phase 5, within 180-210 days will be a presentation of the plan." The agreement with HazAir Inc. was approved.
A sales agreement to purchase a HME Ahrens Fox Water Tender apparatus for the Upper Mimbres Fire Department was approved. Villa said county excise tax funding, state fire funds and a $100,000 grant would pay for the equipment.
Under resolutions, commissioners approved accepting roads within the Oak Country Estates and Loma Verde Subdivision for maintenance by the county.
Larisch addressed the Grant County Americans with Disabilities Act transition plan. He said a plan was completed in 2013, and the county has been working on self-evaluation by receiving public input. "We are working on redoing sidewalks in Tyrone to meet ADA requirements. We have signage issues and several volunteer fire departments don't have ADA compliant facilities, but because they are not open to the public, signage will take care of them."
On adopting a position classification schedule and compensation plan for Grant County, Webb said she began working on it in August 2015. "I have presented the plan to department heads and elected officials. I met with the union president and received permission to move forward. The county has not had salary changes in a while. I am confident this document will meet our needs. I included in it, 'dependent on our budget,' and 'as soon as the budget allows.' It would bring everyone to the minimum. It will take about five years to get everyone caught up."
Browne asked how urgent it was to approve it at this meeting.
"It was one of my first marching orders when I got here," Webb said. "I got the approval of elected officials and department heads."
Browne said he would not be able to vote on it because he had received the large packet late Friday and had not had time to review the item. Edwards and Billings both admitted to not having had time to look at it.
Because a motion was on the floor to approve it, it received three nays, and then a motion tabled it until the March meeting.
County Treasurer Steve Armendariz said he has previously mentioned this agreement. "Not to detract from the quality of services in the county, but something that sets rates for directors at $10,000 more than for elected officials is not right. I have tried to schedule a meeting with the union president, Mr. Maldonado, but we have not been able to meet. I also have spoken to the manager about my concerns. I think there should have been a public hearing. Yes, she was charged with this when she came in. I find some shortcomings. I think there are a lot of holes and things that could be improved on."
Sheriff Raul Villanueva said he is pleased to see the country attempting to get this into place. "It's a struggle for me to retain officers. I have reviewed it. Four of my officers have applied to state police. I think this is a right step to take. It's something we need to move on. It will give staff hope that they will receive the pay they deserve. It's a major problem retaining because of pay. I support it, because it needs to pass."
Browne asked what kind of increase was contained in the proposal.
"Not much," Villanueva said. "But it is compensating for the wage rates. We are under the minimum in our office."
Billings said he believed it needed to be settled quickly.
Webb said: "What's another month after 1 ½ years?" The approval did not pass. Browne moved to table it, with apologies.
Later in the meeting, the proposal was added to a special meeting to be held Feb. 28, at 9 a.m. in the Grant County Administration Center Commission Chambers.
Vasquez then presented budget adjustments and explained the majority was to address increased insurance costs.
Under bids and requests for proposals, commissioners heard from Webb on the construction of Tu Casa Continuum of Care. "We had four bidders, and the apparent low bidder is White Sands Construction Inc. for $2.093 million. It is the recommendation of the architect that we approve this bid. Two of our bidders were under our budget."
Browne asked if there were no local bidders. Kasten replied that the only local one that could do it was Tatsch Construction. "And I think they are closing the business."
The bid was approved.
A single bid was received for a mobile X-Ray system for GRMC for $125,000. "The capital outlay came to us. We are the fiscal agent. The hospital recommends accepting the bid."
Commissioners approved the bid.
The commissioners recessed and convened as the Grant County Health Care Claims Board to approve $7,540.16 in GRMC and GRMC ambulance indigent claims.
The next article will cover county and elected officials' reports.