Editor's Note: This is part 4 of community presentations about capital outlay to Sen. Howie Morales, and Reps. Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez and Dianne Hamilton on Monday. This article addresses Grant County's infrastructure capital improvement plan priorities.
Grant County Manager Jon Paul Saari said the county is probably going to tear down and rebuild the pig barn at the Grant County Fairgrounds. The first priority on the list was caused by a microburst that destroyed not only the roof, but also the trusses, which were snapped. The Fair Board was to meet the following day to make recommendations on the size of the new structure.
Saari said the insurance to replace the roof and trusses is about $69,000, but the building "sits in a hole, and every time it rains, it floods. We had to put in a temporary structure and a new roof on the bathroom for the fair, which is coming up. We will put all the insurance toward the building. We've done the clean up and rented light plants. We have put in a bunch of work and our money, so it's ready for the fair. Then we will tear it down and replace it. The building is 180 feet by 130 feet, and it will cost about $500,000 to tear down, do the dirt work and rebuild. We can reuse some of the pens."
The second priority for the county is to move the Sheriff's vault to the Grant County Administration Center, so it is near the Sheriff's Department offices. Parking lot improvements also need to done to accommodate the department's vehicles.
Commission Chairman Brett Kasten said the plans for the second priority were being drawn.
Saari said the county is waiting for the elevations for the façade, also part of the second priority, which will be similar to the one being built on the front of the Business and Conference Center. Portions of the stucco at the administration center are peeling and in danger of falling on visitors to the building. "We will have the Road Department demolish the concrete center sidewalk and put in planters and handicapped parking around the re-furbished sidewalk," Saari said. "We want the concrete done by December. We will put in heater blankets to keep the concrete from freezing and will actively heat the handicap ramp."
Kasten said the fair and the façade are requests for capital outlay. "We are also looking at the Courthouse. We are seeking 'green' money for the electricity rewiring. I think we can find the monies."
Morales said if it was a project the Legislature could fund, it should be in the top five priorites.
Saari said state money would not be appropriate, because "the building still has screw-in fuses. We have to redo the electrical."
Kasten said the county is "triaging" the list and will finish by October. Tyrone roads will need chipsealing, which might qualify for state funds.
Morales said he supports the fair project and the façade and Sheriff's vault would be public safety issues. He suggested the two be separated as two distinct priorities.
Saari pointed out that the proposal would be more detailed, showing the front entrance is the same for all the offices, including the Sheriff's Department.
He also said the engineering would be done for the projects. To a question about the county's late audits, Saari said 2010 is at the state now, the 2011 one will be done within a few weeks, and the 2012 audit should be completed by Nov. 15, before the Dec. 1 deadline.
Saari said the county would have $36 million in bonds for Gila Regional Medical Center. "We can do the bonds for $10 million each year in any of our community banks."
Two water projects on the extended ICIP are water projects that would be part of the regional water plan, but the entities are waiting on the executed grant agreement from the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration.
Morales said the communities are going through the same thing again with the DFA as a few years ago, when the department stalled sending out the grant agreements and then took away from the entities the money allocated to the projects because deadlines had not been met.
He asked if the county has had any discussions with the volunteer fire departments, of which Saari said there are nine districts and 17 stations in the county.
Saari said Hachita is trying to get into the Department of Transportation building for its station. "We are also looking at upgrading the main Tyrone station, so that it continues to qualify as a main station, as it is in danger of dropping to the status of a substation, with a subsequent loss of about $30,000 in fire protection funds."
Morales suggested priorities in roads and the VFDs.
Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments Executive Director Priscilla Lucero, who facilitated the meeting, said Federal Emergency Management Administration grants are available for firefighter personal equipment. She has put in applications from Wind Canyon and Pinos Altos VFDs and for Silver City Fire Department personnel, who are paid employees.
She said another grant program for fire prevention and fire safety had not been tapped into by the communities, nor has a program that pays for additional personnel, who must be sustained by the department at the end of the grant period.
Saari said the county has upgraded all the radios and the repeaters are being upgraded to narrow band. "The issue is that all the VFDs want to be separate, so it's hard to get them together."
Morales pointed out that if they want funding, they have to get together and set up a priority-based structure for funding and recruiting.
Saari said a legislative issue would be to request from Fire Funds a stipend to volunteers. Otherwise, it would cost the county $200,000 to $250,000 a year.
Morales suggested it could be a statewide issue. "Doña Ana County just passed a tax for it. You get hit with the costs of corrections, roads and fires. This would help everyone statewide."
Saari said the county has changed policies on fighting fires. "Our volunteers have been fighting them, but now we do the initial attack and call the state to come fight their fires."
"Another unfunded mandate is that we have $50 million in probation and parole violations that the state does not reimburse," Saari said. "What I've started doing is when we send someone upstate for holding who hasn't yet been convicted, and they send me a bill, I send the bill back and say: 'Take it off what you owe us.' Every county is owed, but the state will never pay us for watching their probation and parole violators. The Legislature allocated $5 million for the problem. We got about $2,000, but we spend $70,000 to $80,000 a year. We continue to pay it down, just like fires.
"Another problem is the Local Government Road Fund," he continued. "The Legislature has to enact the distribution, but the DOT can take it away at any time. We'll be in the middle of a project and will get a new grant agreement that says: 'You have 25 percent less than the prior agreement.' The DOT has to go to the Legislature for more money, but they can take it away from us without going to the Legislature."
Grant County Planner Anthony Gutierrez said the usual reason for the change is that the funding is by priority.
"These are changes that would help us," Saari said. "We have to make them up out of our General Fund. When we get the revised agreements, we have to sign them or we get nothing."
Saari also addressed the Southwest Alliance of County Commissioners. "I know we're getting bad publicity, but we're saying that we are seven counties, so we have a larger presence in Santa Fe. We're trying to complement the COG and trying to work together legislatively. That's why we go for capital outlay, so we can finish what the state has mandated on us."
Martinez asked about the Fort Bayard Medical Center water project.
Saari said it is in the design stage. "The New Mexico Environment Department reviews the issues for the New Mexico Finance Authority, not for us, but with what has happened at the NMFA, the NMED is in the process of restoring its relationship with NMFA."
"Is funding by NMFA going to be announced?" Martinez asked.
"It's going to be close, so I will call Stone, McGee to make sure the audit is completed in time," Saari said.
The next article will address the Bayard ICIP priorities.