[Editor's Note: This is part 5 of a multi-part series of articles on the Grant County Commission's work and regular sessions. This one addresses the public hearing and public input at the regular meeting. The next and final article will address the rest of the agenda.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
The Grant County Commission regular meeting on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018 began with a public hearing on the issuance of taxable industrial revenue bonds for the proposed Great Divide Wind Farm in southern Grant County near the Hidalgo County boundary.
Luis Carrasco of the Rodey Law Firm attended the meeting to answer questions.
"This ordinance you will be considering is a very typical ordinance," Carrasco said. "We were able to work with the project company [Scout Energy out of Boulder, Colo.] and their counsel to come up with this ordinance. It authorizes up to $400 million in bonds to finance the project.
"What does this mean for the county?" he asked and answered. "The county is not making any obligation other than issuing the bonds. The county will own the facility and lease it to the company. The lease payments will provide the revenues for debt payment. If there is a default, there is no recourse to the county General Fund. This ordinance does not commit any county funds to the project. The project company will do sales to subsidize the construction."
He said the bond is a 30-year bond.
Commission Chairman Billy Billings pointed to part of the ordinance, which states the bonds can be redeemed at any time. "If redeemed early, then there will be no lease base revenue or PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes). If the bonds are redeemed early, then the company will never be exempt from property tax."
Carrasco said the company will be exempt from gross receipts tax and compensating tax, and other exemptions under the tax code.
Commissioner Alicia Edwards said: "So the burden is on the state. We don't pay any portion of the PILOT to the state, and we split it with the Silver Schools. For the record, the county has no financial exposure to the $400 million."
Billings said the title of the ordinance is misleading and he received irate texts and phone calls.
Commissioner Brett Kasten said he found it comical for people to think the county could pay $400 million for a project.
Bob Karsted, project manager from Scout Energy, said the ordinance is a major threshold and helps the economics of the project. "We are looking forward to building and managing the Great Divide Wind Farm."
No one had public comments on the ordinance. Browne moved and the commissioners approved the ordinance to issue the bonds.
Several residents gave public input.
Armando Arzola of Bayard congratulated outgoing commissioners Gabriel Ramos and Brett Kasten and Sheriff Raul Villanueva. "I commend our sheriff for his hard work. I would like to address the County Manager. I misunderstood. I wanted to be put on the agenda. For the new incoming commissioners, I would like to be placed on the Jan. 3 agenda. I am a former city council member in Bayard. I want to be included in the list of those wanting to be appointed to state senator. The deadline was Dec. 10. There was a miscommunication and now my disappointment. I didn't meet the deadline. We have veterans here. They will ask me why I moved to Arizona. We don't have a Veterans Administration Hospital close by. We have to take transportation to get to appointments. I ask to be placed on the next meeting agenda. I would like to be heard. Congratulations for your accomplishments I can provide information and concerns."
James Baldwin thanked County Road Superintendent Earl Moore for resealing the roads making it smooth and quiet. "In early November, I was admitted to the ER. They took good care of me, but the physician's assistant was from out of the county, two nurses were from out-of-state. I would like to see more local nurses."
He also commented on the UDAs (undocumented aliens). The Border Patrol, he said always comes with two officers. They are bringing in multiples of UDAs in groups. "Do we have enough staff to manage them? I see the trauma surgeon Dr. Tarik Ibrahim is leaving. His name has changed to Maximus Lamour. He will be leaving Dec. 21. Is there a replacement? We have had no radiation oncologist for two years. Maybe we'll have one in June. The hospital recently acquired a podiatrist, Dr. Greg Iwaasa. Silver Health Care got one a few weeks earlier. The hospital needs to catch up. We need more oncologists."
Glenn Griffin congratulated the outgoing commissioners. "I worked with Gabe on watershed work. I have questions about the Wildlife Services. I emailed you. I'm learning more about them. The part-time employee gets paid $82 an hour. The deputy sheriff makes less than half that. You have been unable to get a detailed report of what Wildlife Services does. Brandon Jones is his name. He is a USDA employee, but does not receive a car or a phone. I have left questions for his boss and for Jones, but I get no answers. Could not we use the $25,000 to remove feral cattle from along the Gila River instead? Without a report on hours, methods, it means the county is issuing a blank check."
Robert Donnelly said he comes to the meetings to see that things go as smoothly as possible. "It is up to the Grant County Commission to appoint a senator [to replace the current senator Howie Morales, who will be inaugurated as the Lieutenant Governor]. There are nine candidates. I have been impressed with this Commission I hope you deeply consider the ramifications of who you nominate."
The rest of the work and regular sessions will be covered in a final article.