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Grant County Prospectors hold legislative forum 120315

Editor's Note: This is the first of multiple articles on the Grant County Prospector's Legislative Communication Forum held Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015 at Light Hall on the Western New Mexico University campus. It covers the presentations by Grant County and the Town of Silver City.

By Mary Alice Murphy

Bruce Ashburn, Prospectors' president, served as moderator for the annual Legislative Communication Forum for the area legislators, who are Rep. Dianne Hamilton, District 38; Sen. Howie Morales, District 28; and Rep. John Zimmerman, District 39.

Ashburn asked the legislators to give their perspective on the upcoming session.

Rep. Dianne Hamilton thanked the Prospectors for the annual forum.

She said she would again carry the PTSD bill for veterans.

"We three try to work together for the benefit of all of you," Hamilton said.

"I will again work toward a drivers' license bill," she continued. "My phone has been ringing off the hook for years, since we passed the drivers' license bill, which I voted against. I think we need drivers' licenses for those who are not citizens, but they have to be different from the licenses for citizens."

Sen. Howie Morales also thanked the Prospectors for the informative forum.

"I ask for a moment of silence for the victims of all the tragedies, California, Colorado and Paris," Morales requested.

"This is the ninth Prospectors' Forum I've been a part of," he said. "It's a wonderful Grant County event. The proudest day of each session for me is the well-planned Grant County Day."

He noted the budget would be the focus of the 30-day session.

"We never have as many dollars as we need, and with the oil and gas price down, we won't have many this session," Morales said. "Education gets the most. There is the above-the-line budget and the below-the-line budget. The PED has control of the below-the-line funding and the local districts the above-the-line funding."

He commended the local government entities in Grant County for having all audits up to date. "The state is apprehensive to appropriate to those without up-to-date audits."

Morales said his focus is to represent residents on education, senior issues and the disabled. Veterans are also important.

"This is an election year, so there will be a lot of added fire," Morales concluded.

Rep. John Zimmerman thanked the Prospectors and the presenters, "who give us so much information, not just here, but throughout the year."

"We will be discussing a lot of issues," Zimmerman said. "This community is just awesome. I wish all the communities in my district were as active. This is what it is about—family. We need to get back to family values."

He said he sees good and bad about both above- and below-the-line funding.

"I've been asked to champion another National Guard bill," Zimmerman said. "And also a couple of others that may or may not be on the governor's list.

"Copper is under attack," he continued. "I have it from the New Mexico Environment Department that the new Copper Rule is safer for our water supply than it has ever been."

He agreed that drivers' licenses would again be an issue. "The bottom line and foremost is: What is it about breaking the law that people do not understand?"

"We need to accommodate travel throughout the world," Zimmerman said. "When I lived and traveled overseas, I never had a drivers' license in the country where I was, just temporary permits."

He noted he would arrive in Santa Fe a week early, because he is on the Finance Committee.

"We are so privileged to have the three of you representing us," Ashburn said.

"We will start the government presentations, with Grant County, represented by Planner Anthony Gutierrez and Manager Charlene Webb," Ashburn said.

"We thank you legislators for listening to what we have to say and for the help you have given us over the years," Gutierrez said.

"Our No. 1 priority is the Tu Casa continuum of care for addressing drug and alcohol abuse," he continued. "It has been the priority of Commissioner Ron Hall. We are trying to assist people with alcohol and drug problems.

"Grant County took the lead to issue bonds to be paid by a gross receipts tax increase," Gutierrez said. "We have $2 million in already for Tu Casa. We are seeking a Community Development Block Grant. The need for this facility is evident in the community and the Detention Center, and when you go to the workforce. The facility has the potential to improve soft skills and get people back to work."

The county's No. 2 priority is a chip spreader for the Road Department. "The one we have is a 1956 model. This need is extremely important. We do all our own roads and assist the municipalities with this spreader. We also use it to match dollars," Gutierrez said.

"No. 3 is the Business and Conference Center, which is under renovation," he continued. "We are using the GRT funding, but we still have a long ways to go before it's complete. It is very well used, often booked years in advance."

"Four priorities will come from the New Mexico Association of Counties," Webb said. "Two are important to Grant County.

"We would like to see the Detention Center Reimbursement Act fully funded," she continued. "And the second one is gross receipts tax reform.
We would like to partner with you and discuss these issues."

Morales asked to be filled in on the detention center issue.

"It was fully funded in 2007 and had been decreased every year since then," Webb said. "The 21 percent decrease this year is huge. We have seen a continual decline in funding."

Morales asked if the county had had any delays in funding.

"Yes, but the real problem is that the funding is based on the June 30 detention center population, which doesn't represent the whole year," Webb replied.

The county received $57,000 last year. Usually about 20 percent of the population that the county has to hold consists of state and federal prisoners.

Morales asked the status of the Road Department roof.

"The bids are out and we will begin replacement in mid-January," Webb replied.

"I like the name Tu Casa," Morales said. "You have purchased land for the continuum of care?"

"We're in touch with the state land office," Webb said. "We will stay on top of getting the land purchase approved. We want to have it by the legislative session."

"I will help. I want it done," Morales said.

He addressed Susie Trujillo, who has been working on the continuum of care. "How will the costs be reimbursed?"

"Hidalgo Medical Services will manage the facility," Trujillo replied. "They can get reimbursed for everything except the residential service fees. The rest is billable."

Morales said he wanted to offer help, because he wants to make sure the liability doesn't fall back on the county.

"We have a wonderful business plan," Trujillo said. "One thing I would ask that I don't understand. Yucca Lodge is doing intensive outpatient services. I would like to see if you can visit with the state on Yucca Lodge to see what their intentions are, so we don't duplicate services."

Zimmerman said he sees the chip spreader as a high priority. "Infrastructure is critical to the health of the area. Being a civil engineer, I see too often that infrastructure is ignored. As I have traveled around the state, I hear everywhere that the state's infrastructure is deteriorating."

Gutierrez noted that funding has been cut in half by the Local Government Road Fund.

Next is the town of Silver City, with Manager Alex Brown and Mayor Pro Tem Cynthia Bettison, Ashburn said.

"The grant agreement process continues to be the one we struggle with the most," Brown said again this year. "We submit an application, get it approved, but by the time we are reimbursed the estimate is out of date.

Vistas de Plata is the town's top priority. Next are street repairs on Little Walnut and sidewalks on the downtown side streets.

"At the next council meeting, we have two colonias agreements and two capital outlay projects to approve that we have just received," Brown said. "At the same meeting, we are approving next year's agreements and projects, so we are a year behind.

"We are not getting the dollars spent," Brown noted. "We cannot spend them without the authorization.

"Our next struggle is the gross receipts tax," he continued. "We have really been looking at it and working with the Municipal League on the problem. We had to increase our gross receipts tax by a one-quarter percent this year.

"We had to pay $4 million for a sewer extension, and will spend $3.8 million on radio read water meters, which should be done by July or August," Brown said.

"Our two priorities are the street money and the sidewalk money," he said. "The street money would be subsidized by the Local Government Road Fund. For the sidewalks we want to focus on downtown.

"Our audits and financials are up to date," he confirmed.

Zimmerman asked how the town is reimbursed.

"By the departments and agencies," Brown said. "We're still struggling to get in touch with all the agencies, except for the Department of Economic Development. They are good. DFA (Department of Finance and Administration) is the worst."

Zimmerman suggested: "When you send an email to any state agency, cc me, Morales and Hamilton. It should help."

"I want to tell you how pleased I am when I call the city, the quick service we get," Hamilton said. "I compliment you on the people that work for the city. They are always polite and pleasant.

"I appreciate by the time an agency gets around to approving the funding that the estimates are out of date," she continued. "That is a real problem."

"Thank you for your support whenever I call," Morales said. "It's distressing to hear every year about government dysfunction. It is a concern. I will constantly put pressure on DFA. The big problem for entities is that they lose out on other funding.

"Are you also asking to look at the population limits for certain funding?" he asked.

"Yes, That 10,000 population cap has killed us," Brown said. "We can't get USDA funding because we have 250 too many people in the town. The Municipal League is looking at it, too. Silver City is one of the most affected. We'll do legislation, too."

Morales said if it were the same as last year's bill, he would get it drafted.
"Have the ambulances been purchased?"

"Only one," Brown said. "We have not finished the concession stand, because the bids came in too high. We have a problem with one field that is settling, because it's on the old landfill. We may ask for reauthorization to put the concession stand funding toward the field."

Morales asked about the sidewalks.

"We are funding them ourselves on top of the sidewalk capital outlay of $150,000," Brown replied. "We leveraged most with street co-op money. We will use more of our own money."

"Thanks for leveraging state money," Morales said. "Where are we with the regional water plan?"

"Doing the work to get water to Hurley," Brown said. "Silver City is looking at doing a direct lease for 240 acre-feet of water. No end date, no charge. It is part of the recharge credits. Silver City can't use them. The only ones who can are Hurley, Bayard and Santa Clara. We will work with those populations. The agreements will be individually with each municipality because they have access to other funding that we don't."

Morales asked about the $2.1 million from the Interstate Stream Commission of the Arizona Water Settlements Act funding.

"That goes to the Grant County Water Commission, as fiscal agent to get the water to Hurley," Brown said. "It's for construction."

Morales asked if the commission could ask the ISC for an increase. Brown said the ISC has other priorities.

Priscilla Lucero, Southwest Council of Governments executive director said the estimate is that the water commission can get the funding by June 2016. "In our January meeting, we will have the USDA meet with us to fund some of the project and also with the Colonias Infrastructure Fund," Lucero said. "We will talk more about it in the Hurley presentation."

She noted the ISC has several applications for municipal conservation.

"I think the ISC funding will be up for award at the ISC Dec. 11 meeting," Brown said.

"I had hoped we would work with the Municipal League on tax reform," Bettison said. "I'm a member of the tax reform committee for the Municipal League. If we put all the municipal budgets together, it is more than the state budget."

Zimmerman thanked Brown for briefing him on the water situation last month. "Is there any credit for Bayard for the wastewater plant?"

Kristina Ortiz, Bayard clerk said the city is seeking recharge credits and has submitted a letter of support from Santa Clara, so the process can begin. "Bayard has submitted to the state the application for credits. We included a letter of support to the past point of infiltration."

"We are happy to help other municipalities with our information on recharge credits," Brown concluded.

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