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Grant County Commission to rehire county attorney

The Grant County Commission meeting Tuesday morning began with a special meeting, in which the commissioners approved a match of $283,253.98, to be paid for by the county-owned Gila Regional Medical Center, to allow the hospital to receive Sole Community Provider additional supplemental funds of $924,458.16.

The request was in a letter asking that Grant County send a check by Oct. 19. However, the request was not received until that date, so, with the approval by the commissioners, the check will, with permission from the state, be sent overnight to be received Wednesday in Santa Fe.

County Manager Jon Paul Saari explained that those facilities that cannot meet the match for additional funding forfeit the money, which is then divided up among those that can meet the match.



The work session began with the expenditure report, showing the county has paid out $348,935.20 during the past two weeks, ending Oct. 22. "That is for one payroll, so it is typical spending," Saari said. "The next report will be larger, because it will include the match just approved for the Sole Community Provider additional funding."

Commissioners, at their Thursday regular meeting, will appoint three members to the Grant County Food Policy Council. They are Sunny McFarren, Ken Barr, and John Song.

Saari said the group is trying to redo its bylaws to conform to current policy. "They changed the quorum requirements, but not in the bylaws."

Commissioner Christy Miller said she met with The Volunteer Center Director Alicia Edwards, who chairs the Food Policy Council, and "they want to come up with more workable bylaws."

The county received a request from the village of Santa Clara for an inter-governmental donation of an industrial washing machine that was left in the old detention center.

"The village requested it for the use of its Police Department to help offset the costs of having laundry sent out or requiring officers to do laundry at home," Saari said. "We have no need for it, as far as I know. The dryer is of no use, as it burned out before the move to the new facility. It does not violate any laws to transfer the item to another governmental entity."

Commissioners discussed a sub-grant agreement with the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management in the amount of $50,665.

Saari explained that Gilbert Helton of the county Emergency Management Office would spend $24,000 on mobile radios, $6,665 on fire incident response support training and $20,000 on radio cache sustainment to have radios available for use during disasters. The funding is at no cost to the county.

The next item of discussion was the contract for Abby Robinson to return as the county attorney.

"She will finish up at her job, with her last day on Oct. 26," Saari said. "This is a continuation of her former contract."

Miller said to Dave Gorman, who has served as interim by contract attorney for the county: "Dave, you have done a great job."

Saari explained that the county was bringing Robinson in as the in-house attorney, but would still have need of outside specialties. "There are still opportunities to work with Dave."

Commissioner Gabriel Ramos said the in-house attorney does the everyday jobs for the county. "We wish to keep Dave on for big items."

Saari said Grant County and its Commission are the only clients for the county attorney. She does no work for residents.

"I was happy with Abby's work, but I am not happy with the contract," Commission Chairman Brett Kasten said. "I think every contract with every county employee should have a moral clause, and the county should be able to terminate with or without cause. With contracts for future employees, the language needs to be added."

To Gorman, Kasten said: "I've been happy with your work and hope you can continue to help us with specific projects."

The discussion item of salary increases for the departmental chief deputies and the undersheriff ensued.

Saari said two years ago commissioners approved a salary increase for elected officials, but not for their deputies.

"Kudos to Robert Zamarripa, who has saved the county a lot of money because he has no deputy clerk," Ramos said.

Treasurer Alfred Sedillo, who championed the effort, said he had met with department heads and gotten job descriptions for the deputies. "We believe the deputies deserve the increases."

Mille said she would prefer that the elected officials and their chief deputies not be out of the office at the same time.

Sedillo said sometimes it was not avoidable, such as in the case of training or when both need to be at New Mexico Association of Counties meetings. "We are out in the state making things better for residents."

He reported his office has in the past month collected $96,000 in taxes that had been delinquent for several years.

Ramos pointed out that elected officials are on call 24 hours a day. "I believe the elected officials deserved their raise, but I also believe we need to keep up with inflation. However, the deputies should not make more than department directors. I would like to see in the next budget raises for directors."

Sedillo said all directors are making more than the deputies, and in some cases, more than the elected officials.

Saari said in the last union contract, the county started paying 100 percent of health benefits for all employees. Two years before that, the county began paying 100 percent of health benefits for elected officials. "It gave them more take-home money, although no raise in pay. We've been under a wage freeze for four years."

Under the next agenda item, commissioners discussed bids for county fleet vehicles.  Three bids were received for four-wheel drive Ford Explorers and Escapes. "These bids do not bind us to this agreement or purchasing from the state. We can award to multiple vendors." The bids were close in price.

Terry Trujillo, Senior Services director, said he had received $120,000 from the state for vehicles. "I'm trying to work out buying six, with money left over."

He said he had requested four-wheel drive vehicles, because of the need to deliver meals in the snow and sometimes on difficult roads. "Normally, we don't use the vehicles outside the county."

Trujillo had originally asked for an SUV and vans, but with the Escape, the seats go down, which allows enough room to carry meals. "We used to do more transport of senior citizens, but we contract with Corre Caminos to transport now."

"What is the gas mileage for these engines?" Kasten asked.

Saari said it ranged from the mid-20s up to 30 miles per gallon on the highway, depending on the engine, with the Eco-Boost ones having smaller engines and higher fuel efficiency, while having the same power as larger engines.

The Assessor's Office has requested two new vehicles; and the Road Department needs a new vehicle to replace that of the superintendent, which has close to 200,000 miles on it.

Also Undersheriff Kevin Flamm's truck is nine years old and costing more to repair that it is worth.

"We have money in the vehicle replacement fund," Saari said. "Everyone can attest that I'm cheap when it comes to vehicles. We also need a new one for Justin (Reese, Public Works director).

"We are doing Ford vehicles across the board, so we can have a uniform fleet," Saari said. "It is easier for the Road Department to have one set of software for repair of the vehicles."

Indigent claims to be approved/disapproved at the Thursday meeting include 1179 claims for $685,176.15.

Saari requested the addition of an item to the regular meeting agenda—the approval of the Corre Caminos bus system budget.

"Is (the rural transit district) still working?" Kasten asked.

"Ramos and I have discussed this issue," Saari said. "When the county took over the management of the buses and Corre Caminos, the RTD became an advisory board. But we are having trouble letting them know that the county commissioners now make the decisions. The board can recommend, but the Commission decides how to spend the money."

Ramos said at the last meeting he and Saari requested a simple audit of the books.

"Corre Caminos will be run as a full department under Grant County?" Kasten asked for clarification. "If so, I think the department head should be here to give reports."

Ramos suggested some reorganization might be needed. Saari said the bus system is run, using funding from two federal grants—one for administration and one for operations. "Both require matches. Deming and Luna County each put in $60,000; Grant County and Silver City, each $30,000; and Lordsburg and Hidalgo County, $10,000 each. Hidalgo Medical Services help with the Hidalgo County match." He explained to the Beat that Deming and Luna put in more because they make less on ticket sales.

Saari said the department would be part of next year's budget, but the grants being on the federal calendar would complicate things.

"It's one of those things where we are always in the hole," Ramos said, "but it's a public service."

"Corre Cantinas is almost self-supporting," Saari said. "DWI gives it $30,000 a year and receives back $26,000 from ticket sales."

The regular meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, at the Grant County Administration Center.  

County reports will follow in a subsequent article.

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