[Editor's Note: This is part 5 of a multipart series of articles on the Grant County Commission work session on January 22, 2019 and regular meeting on Jan. 24, 2019.]
Commissioners at the regular meeting of the Grant County Commission heard public input and addressed the agenda, after the election of chairman and vice chairman, which can be read at http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/48820-grant-county-commission-regular-meeting-starts-out-contentiously-part-3-012419 and the recognition of the Road Department for accomplishing 491 days straight without a lost-time accident and a public hearing on a low-income property tax rebate ordinance, which can be read at http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/48895-grant-county-commission-work-and-regular-sessions-of-jan-22-and-24-2019-part-4 .
Glenn Griffin, county resident, was the first to speak. He said he may have a partial answer to the drop in copper revenue. He addressed the wildlife services contract, which the county has with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to provide for dealing with wildlife issues.
"Wildlife Services pays $82.15 an hour for a part-time job," Griffin alleged. "He is a contractor, who also works part time in Hidalgo County. I talked to his boss, who was on furlough. He told me he was obligated to pay at least $7,000 this month for the work.
"If you're going to pay that, it could be used to remove feral cattle along the Gila River," Griffin said. "Ranchers could pay less than $82.50 an hour. That amount of hourly pay would fund two Sheriff's Department deputies."
He said the part-time contractor's boss told him he would try to break out the details in the report. "If he worked 1,000 hours, although I doubt it, we could find out what he did. You mandated the report in July, but it is nowhere to be seen. The job amounts to a blank check. There's some of the money you're looking for."
Al Gamboa, who lives in Grant County, offered a "warm welcome to the new commissioners. We have Grant County Day coming up in Santa Fe. My current position that I want to address is U.S. 180. I lost a long-time, dear friend on New Year's Day on that road. We've paid for this road improvement in carnage. The highway should be expanded to handle the current traffic. "
Van "Bucky" Allred, Catron County commissioner, said he came to the meeting to welcome the two new commissioners. "I want to let Grant County know that the county has been great neighbors to us. When I was lost in Santa Fe, members of the commission helped me find my way around the Legislature. I look forward to serving with you. I know you went through the process like we did on the choice of a senator to replace now Lt. Governor Howie Morales. I know Gabe. He will do a great job for all of us. I look forward to working with you in District 28."
Financial Officer Linda Vasquez presented the Financial Report at the Tuesday work session. The total expenditures since the last reporting period were $2,462,918.78, which included the last pay period of calendar year 2018 and two pay periods in January 2019 for a total of $630,313.74.
Extraordinary expenses over $10,000 are shown in the following graph:
The report was approved at the regular meeting.
Under New Business on the agenda, the first item addressed inventory transfers and deletions, including the transfer of a vehicle from the High Desert Humane Society to the Road Department and two vehicles from Senior Programs to the Detention Center and the Grant County Airport and the removal from inventory of a vehicle from Senior Programs and two vehicles and a printer from the Sheriff's Department. Commissioners approved the transfers and deletions from inventory.
Commissioners approved a proclamation of Silver City's Territorial Charter Day. County Assessor Raul Turrieta, who serves on the Territorial Charter Day Committee, accepted the proclamation at the regular meeting. He gave the schedule, which will include a run in town and various presentations, tours and, new this year, a territorial ball, with Illusion Band at the Murray Hotel.
Turrieta said he would be in Santa Fe the day of the celebration, Feb. 16, 2019, and asked Gamboa to represent Juan Patrón in Turrieta's stead.
Commissioners at the regular meeting approved out-of-state travel for Airport Manager Rebekah Wenger to attend the FAA conference in San Antonio, Texas. "The FAA are the ones who approve our funding. It helps us to attempt to get better funding by meeting them at these conferences," Wenger said at the work session. "State aviation has stepped up to help us with our projects for the runway and terminal to the tune of $204,000. The county match will be $31,000."
Commission Chairman Billing Billings asked at the work session about the lighting at the airport to prevent vandalism to vehicles left there by airplane passengers. "Is it part of the renovation?"
"Yes, it is," Wenger said. "Right now, you need to bring a flashlight. Advanced Air [the new provider of essential air service to Grant County] is doing a tremendous job. We have had one delay of 1½ hours due to a mechanical malfunction compared to 34 flight cancelations and 135 delays in December with Boutique Air. Advanced Air has a local phone number and they are buying 50 percent more fuel from us than Boutique did. I appreciate your support for Advanced Air."
Billings said he was writing a letter of support to Carlsbad, which is also looking at changing its ESA service provider. "Advanced Air told me that if they get the contract, they would place another plane in the area."
Wenger said the service is noticeably better. "They have leased hangar space and keep the plane in a hangar overnight. They clean the plane between every flight."
Commissioner Harry Browne said although the airline was still working out the glitches in the purchase of blocks of tickets at a time, they had been extremely helpful and professional. Billings said he had traveled to and from Santa Fe on flights he had purchased at the book price. He, too, noticed a considerable difference in service and cleanliness.
Commissioner Javier Salas said he was happy to approve the travel for the airport manager. "It's very valuable. You get to put faces to names, and it helps you stay up-to-date. I hope we can do the same for other departments."
Five items addressing the DWI Program were under consideration. Program Director Cindy Blackman said the distribution budget is a guesstimate. "They are usually close to correct, but last year, we got $6,000 less than expected. We have to be careful with our spending. I will bring our proposed budget to your February meeting."
The first item was the statement of assurances for the Local DWI Grant and Distribution Program for fiscal year 2020. The second item addressed a professional services agreement between the DWI Program and Chris Helgert, DBA The Recovery Management center. "The total contract is for $50,000. We appreciate their continuing to see clients even if the contract money runs out," Blackman said.
The third was a memorandum of understanding between the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration Local Government Division for the DWI Program; the fourth an agreement with the Department of Health Assurances and Cooperative Agreement with the DFA; and lastly a resolution authorizing the application to the DFA LGD to participate in the local DWI Grant and Distribution Program. All were approved at the regular session.
Commissioners approved the 2019 volunteer fire and rescue departments annual election of officers and the service report and EMS Fund Act local funding program application for fiscal year 2020.
Webb said, at the regular meeting, that all of the reports had been received except for the one from Cliff-Gila, which would be considered at a later meeting. For the funding application, Webb said Whiskey Creek would not apply this year, as it was missing a few qualifications, but planned to apply next year.
Browne had requested an item be placed on the regular meeting agenda to discuss the process regarding the New Mexico Senate District 28 seat vacancy letter that was submitted to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. At the work session, he said he was looking for a fuller notion of how it all happened. "I've had comments from people that thought it was a conspiracy. I don't think anything wrong happened."
At the regular meeting, Browne said: "To improve my understanding of what happened, I requested this item. I felt we weren't working as a team. I didn't understand how the decision was made to send the letter. I understand our original decision which we made in the requested special meeting. I got a communication that we needed to send a letter, and then I learned it was sent."
Webb said that she received a call from Chairman Billings that "we needed to send a letter. I attempted to reach out to our attorney. I thought we had complied with statute. I am to execute your decisions. You had decided 3-2. I reached out to each of you, and it was explained to me that I was holding things up and needed to send the letter. So, I drafted it. I did not get an overwhelming response to call a special meeting. I heard back from four of you. I'm taking 100 percent responsibility for sending the letter."
Billings said a letter to the editor in the Silver City Daily Press asked him to apologize for not replying. "We had responded. I thought Manager Webb's letter was courteous. Catron and Socorro counties had already responded to the governor. I also heard from (former commissioner Gabriel) Ramos (who had been nominated by Grant County, as well as Catron and Socorro counties, to replace Morales in the District 28 seat) that a letter needed to be sent to the governor."
"I did my due diligence," Salas said. "The letter from the governor's counsel, I saw between the lines, that they thought we needed to submit another name. I talked to the Socorro County Manager and I called Manager Webb, because she was requesting us to reaffirm our decision."
Browne said it was hard to understand without it being done in a public meeting.
"It was done in a public meeting," Salas said. "I didn't want to lose our county representative, which we had put in the seat. The session was about to begin, and we would have had no representation."
Billings agreed that the commissioners had held a public meeting and made their decision. "We needed to stick with our decision. I feel like we're a bunch of chickens with people throwing rocks at us."
Commissioner Chris Ponce said when he got the email about the need for the letter, which he read later, "the way I interpreted it was that the county should send a name from their county. We did. The others also chose Ramos. I saw that the other counties had followed the statutes. I called Manager Webb and said: 'Please send the letter, because we followed the law.'"
"Thank you," Browne said. "I think we had a minor miscommunication. But it's good to know the process worked."
Commissioners approved an agreement with the NM Department of Transportation through its Aviation Division for airport terminal renovation and code compliance.
Resolutions were next to be considered. The first addressed the Open Meetings Act. Billings noted that in the work session concerning a funding application to the Colonias Infrastructure Fund that a newly approved OMA was needed.
Community Development and Planning Director Michael "Mischa" Larisch said the needed to put the OMA and the resolution on the application, "so I can apply in a timely manner."
Webb presented two versions of the OMA at the work session. One had changes to the schedule to match the 2019 dates. And the second one was at the request of Commissioner Browne to have public input at all meetings, including work sessions.
Commissioner Alicia Edwards said she thought it important to hear from the public at the work session. "I would like to hear from them ahead of the regular session."
Browne moved to accept the second version. Salas asked that public input at the work session be limited to agenda items that were under consideration.
During discussion on the motion, Billings said he felt public comment at the beginning of the work session would not only lengthen the meeting, but the speakers would be uninformed about the issues on the agenda, whereas with public comment at the beginning of the regular session people would have two days to learn about the agenda items from the discussions at the work session.
Extensive discussion at the work session centered on what time the meetings should be, with suggestions of evening meetings. Billings said staff would have to be paid overtime. Webb said she could give comp time. She also suggested that county reports come at the beginning of the meeting, so that those that were not involved in items on the agenda could get back to work. Billings noted that he was surprised to learn in Santa Fe that most counties allowed only three minutes of public input.
The consensus of the commissioners was that five minutes was better. Browne said he found the public's information useful in making his decisions.
Salas said he would cede to experience, and "if it isn't broken, don't fix it" on the public comment discussion.
County Attorney Abigail Burgess said she could put public input on both agendas, with the input at the work session being only on agenda items and anything could be commented on during public input at the regular meeting.
No decision was made on changing the time. The OMA was approved with the public input changes.
During the work session, a resolution was moved up in the agenda, so that representatives from Hilltop Securities could talk about the resolution needed for the Great Divide Wind Farm to go ahead with general obligation bonds funding.
Luis Carrasco, attorney with Hilltop, said the resolution was a simple resolution allowing the firm to publish notice of the ordinance to address at next month's meeting. "I wanted to address an amendment to the Public Securities Act that allows an entity to authorize a person to deal with us. We've seen mixed reviews. You can choose to delegate to the county manager to choose the better bidder, so as not to have to have a meeting to coincide with the letting of the bond.
David Bucholtz said it allows flexibility. "The negotiations are theoretical. The Commission may not have the ability to question the details. In my experience, if the delegated person has experience in general obligation bonds that it is best for that person to do the negotiating. In this case, Manager Webb has done an excellent job of negotiating. I think it makes sense to give her the authority."
Webb said that in her discussions with finance counsel Lalleh Daleny of Hilltop, counsel prefers delegation, because it gives her the flexibility to go for the best rates.
To a question from Browne on how to structure the payments, Webb said she and Daleny had been looking the options. "In year one, we have to spend at least 5 percent of the bond. By year four, we will have spent 85 percent, so it would behoove us to commit all of it at once. My recommendation is to issue the bond once, because we are going to spend it anyway. Two issues of funding would just create more costs."
At the regular session, the commissioners agreed to delegate the decision on the bond rates to the county manager.
Carrasco said he would place the language in the ordinance.
Treasurer Steve Armendariz said all questions that he had had about the bond issue had been answered by Daleny.
Daleny said she expected the ordinance to be ready by the beginning of February. "We will plan the pricing and sales for March 18." She confirmed the delegated authority is seen as a standard in most bonds across the country. And that way the sale date didn't not have to correspond to a County Commission meeting. "We will not set pricing yet, as it allows us to time the market better, so we can have flexibility to get the best pricing."
Bucholtz commended Carrasco for his work. "He's a Grant County native, and he's now a partner in the firm.
Daleny talked about the different sale types. She said the top two are competitive and negotiated. Another option is private placement, but she did not think it would be the best option for this bond. "With a general obligation bond, the market handles it most efficiently. We will structure it as already determined, so we are not facing fluctuations in rates. We will post the terms and the day of sale and all underwriters will bid for it. We feel this is cost effective, is competitive and the most transparent way to present it. The market is conducive to competitive rates right now. We're seeing a lot of investor interest.
Bucholtz said they used to see more negotiated bonds, but now that "you're getting the financial advice, competitive is good."
Daleny said the county's current GO bonds from 2014 are rated A2 on Moody's. The state had not fared as well because of its pension liability. "Rating agencies look at Moody's, Standard and Poor's, Fitch and others."
"A large percentage of the market is out of the control of the county," Daleny said. "But the finances of Grant County are excellent. Your increase in cash reserves is looked on favorably. Your audits are excellent. With recent sell offs from equities, investors are going into less risky markets, such as bonds. I'm seeing a favorable time to take bonds to the market."
Salas asked what the estimated interest rate would be. Daleny said they were looking at 4 percent to 4.5 percent, but now were estimating 3.5 percent to 3.75 percent.
Salas asked what the life of the issue would be and Daleny said 15 years.
"The county has a balance in your debt fund of $2 million," Daleny said. "That will allow us to shorten the term to 14 or 15 years. Your tax base is not facing any volatility."
Upon conclusion of this discussion, the commissioners returned to prior issues in the agenda, including the appointments of commissioners and staff members to serve on various agencies and entities. They will be addressed in the next article.