Editor's Note: This is the Part 13 of a multi-article series on the Prospectors' Legislative Community Forum, held at Western New Mexico University on Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. Community groups presented their needs and concerns to New Mexico Reps. Dianne Hamilton and Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez, and Sen. Howie Morales.
Gary Benavidez, Grant County wildland fire officer, and Roger Gros, Tyrone Volunteer Fire Department deputy chief, presented their requests.
"Over my career, I have fought fires, done fire prevention and fought forest fires," Benavidez said. "The complexities are growing. The immediate need is for Tyrone VFD. We have a new building for the Wind Canyon Fire Station. The Tyrone station was built in 1965, and we need to restore it. The department has an ISO rating of 5, which is outstanding, but the building may compromise that rating. The department has been in 17 consecutive fires in Grant County."
He said the State Fire Department has done a good job providing the volunteer fire departments with equipment, but has not put emphasis on personnel.
"We have aging and aged volunteers," Benavidez said. "We need to recruit new younger ones. In the state fire department, there is an opportunity to release funds for stipends for volunteers to answer calls, and not only for their service, but also for the increasing mandatory training.
"We have 42 stipend-eligible positions, for the nine departments and two for each station," Benavidez continued. "It would be a little under $200,000 a year. I would like to sit with you to develop the organization and how to use funding for stipend positions."
Morales pointed out that Grant County is often the first in the state to experience fires, and the cost of fires is extreme.
"Quail Ridge Fire had low cost for suppression," Benavidez said, "about $250,000, but that does not take into account the damage. Ruidoso's fire was $4 million."
Morales asked what the cost would be without the volunteers.
"When you look at the wildland-urban interface, it depends on how long the fire lasts," Benavidez said. "Quail Ridge was caught quickly, although it did burn 13 structures."
"It would be cost- and life-saving," Morales said. "Would the State Fire Marshal be the fiscal agency?"
"If it's the same way as funding is allocated for equipment, then the fire marshal would provide the larger amount of the cost share with the county, and the county would be the fiscal agent," Benavidez said.
"I want to make sure the funding gets from the state to the county," Morales said. "It would be capital outlay?"
"Yes," Benavidez said, "or a loan, but Tyrone already has a loan for the Wind Canyon Station."
"We will put it in capital outlay language," Morales said.
"We are coming up with the engineering estimate for the Tyrone station," Benavidez said.
Martinez asked if when Benavidez spoke about volunteer fire departments, whether they were county and not municipal.
"The municipal departments in Silver City, Bayard and Hurley have the same requirements for equipment," Benavidez said.
"Isn't there a way to pay stipends in the state?" Martinez asked.
"Doña Ana and Sandoval counties have stipends," Benavidez said. "They passed a fire excise tax for stipends, but they have larger tax bases. There is a state mechanism, but to come up with funding is challenging. We could take some from equipment for stipends."
Martinez asked if it were possible to take funding from insurance payments.
"The fire marshal said he had been approached with that suggestion," Benavidez said. "He asked me to submit a proposal. We have to do something, whether local or state funded. We have to do something to improve recruitment. The volunteer fire departments have fought more fires than the Forest Service or municipal departments across the country."
Hamilton said Sierra County has only volunteer fire departments. "Yes, volunteerism is waning. We can't afford not to have volunteer fire departments. I think all of us would be supportive of your request. We can't expect volunteers to keep doing it."
The next presentation was by the Forgotten Veterans' Memorial Committee representatives Willie Andazola and Paul Madrid.
"We've been working on (the Forgotten Veterans' Memorial) at Bataan Memorial Park since 1999," Andazola said. "We got some funding from our golf tournament. We need $55,000 for a storage container for our tools. We also need power for the lights, landscaping and a Bobcat to spread gravel. We hope to purchase five benches, a gate and handrails. We want to repaint the Huey and replace broken lights, I guess done by kids."
He said a lady donated a statue of Jesus embracing a soldier. "We need $16,000 to put it up. We have estimates on all the work. Oh, we also sell bricks to make money."
Hamilton pointed out that if the group wanted an appropriation bill, the items would have to be broken out individually.
"I think we can do a plan, design and construct, with Grant County as the fiscal agent," Morales said. "In that case, we would have to put it on a form and keep it general."
Andazola said the last time the Forgotten Veterans' Memorial requested and received funding, it was given to Bataan Memorial Park, and created problems. "We want it to the Forgotten Veterans' Memorial."
Martinez said Priscilla Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments director, could guide the language.
"Make sure you include all your needs," Martinez said. "Do not limit it to $55,000. The language would specify that it go to the Forgotten Veterans' Memorial. Priscilla has the forms."
"You should ask Grant County if it is willing to serve as fiscal agent, so it doesn't conflict with any other request," Lucero cautioned the committee members. "Then we can proceed."
The next article will cover The Volunteer Center and the Silver City MainStreet Project.