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[Editor's Note: This is part 5 and the final article of a multi-part series of articles on the Grant County Commission work session and regular meetings of Dec. 10 and 12, 2019.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

Following presentations at the Grant County Commission regular meeting on Dec. 12, 2019, which can be read at https://grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/55098-grant-county-commission-regular-meeting-grmc-presentation-121219-part-3 and https://grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/55115-grant-county-commission-hears-update-on-gila-national-forest-revised-plan-121219-part-4 , commissioners heard public input.

Tom Bates, Grant County resident:
My concern is not with Grant County, but with the U.S. Customs at Palomas. I teach English in Palomas and am on aboard helping folks there. The border crossing affects a lot of people from Grant County. They can cross into Mexico in a few minutes but coming back can take hours. It does affect those who get medications or dental care because of the affordability there. House Bill 73 in Congress will try to control the greed of medication companies in the U.S. I think the issue at the border is just a matter of management. I think it would only require a second lane. They say it's because of a lack of manpower. I think it's a lack of efficiency. It affects a lot of people in Luna and Grant counties. To me, it's an embarrassment to see such inefficiency. I have talked to Senators (Martin) Heinrich and (Tom) Udall, our New Mexico Representatives Rebecca (Dow) and Rudy (Martinez). I think it's a problem that needs a public outcry. They need to manage the border more efficiently.

[In elected official reports, Sheriff Frank Gomez spoke first.]
Gomez:
Wehired four uncertified deputies that will start at the Western New Mexico University Police Academy. We are also working on a memorandum of understanding for the Sheriff's Office to provide instruction to the academy students at Western. The university will reimburse us for our services, which will offset the costs of getting officers certified. We also provided investigative services to the High Desert Humane Society in two serious cruelty to animal matters. One with eight felony charges of severe animal cruelty against a man in Arenas Valley where two deceased dogs were found, and several others were in bad condition. Court proceedings are pending, and we also investigated allegations of a puppy mill being operated in Grant County. After obtaining a search warrant 26 dogs were found in unmanageable conditions inside and outside. The animals were taken to the High Desert Humane Society shelter for care. Multiple misdemeanor charges of cruelty and violations of county ordinances have been filed. On Nov. 21, we participated in a search and rescue. It was snowing and the man was found in remarkably good condition the next day after being 48 hours on his own. He forwarded his message that described "the efforts and professionalism of the Sheriff's Office and Search and Rescue were excellent" to our Facebook page.

DWI arrests have increased to 13 in the past 2½ months. Lt. Burns participated in the youth drug abuse and prevention conference at Western. The D.A.R.E. graduation took place. We thank Native Air for their support and Grant County Beat for its coverage. We also thank the family that thanked us for the Shop with a Cop program we supported.

At the Grant County Sheriff's Office, we have two deputies trained in the Stop the Bleed program, and we will participate in the drug take back program. We've been active all year. We will work with you to establish a Citizens Review Committee next year. Staff morale remains high.

In statistics, the HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area), 20 grams of marijuana, 12 vials of steroids, 50 grams of methamphetamine, five grams of heroin, seven firearms were seized along with $500 found in a search warrant.

We are participating more in funeral escorts. Domestic violence is on the rise with 15 arrests this year. We have investigated 285 crashes for 2019 and have given 20 driving tests. We addressed 10 livestock incidents for the month, including cattle, horse and dogs. We did 40 welfare checks in November, with two self-initiated. I already reported on the fight at Fort Bayard. Other than that, it's been very quiet. The Tri-City area has been quiet. We've been covering more with their temporary staff shortages. The two new certified deputies will provide more coverage. We've had 1,385 cases this year.

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings:
When will the deputies be certified?

Gomez:
Three are already certified and more will graduate in June.

Assessor Raul Turrieta:
We are coming up on the rendition period. We will send out notices in mid-December. We made an adjustment on the senior valuation freeze from $32,000 to $35,000 combined income in a household for those 65 years and older. If a person files for the exemption three years consecutively, it stays in the system until the property transfers. I will be going out to senior centers.

Head of household gets $2,000 off the taxable valuation and we also have veterans' exemptions.

Be sure to report your cattle and personal property.

We decided to change the rules on manufactured homes. Call us and we will report it.

We have two new employees, Gabe Grado, whom we welcome back. And another (unintelligible), who will be working on the historic models, which are tedious to convert. We are 12 months into the parcel mapping, with about 15 more months to go. Traci Burnsed will do a presentation in January or possibly February. We have completed all the subdivisions. It has been a tedious job in the Mining District.

I just got appointed to the Taxation and Revenue Committee for New Mexico Counties. The state needs to move on CID permits. We haven't received any for 6 to 7 months. That is a loss of revenue to the county.

Treasurer Steve Armendariz:
I thank everyone for their support and outreach during this challenging time. I thank my staff for performing beyond my expectations.

We have collected $3.6 million of 2019 taxes. We are now at 58.4 percent collection rate, up from 2017 and 2018. The staff has really stepped up. We had a rough spot when the county website address changed from .com to .gov, but people are learning it and can go online and pay their bills.

[Commissioners approved financial reports, which were presented at the work session and can be read at https://grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/55088-grant-county-commission-work-session-dec-10-2019-part-2 . One was the quarterly report ending Sept. 30, 2019 and the second was the monthly expenditure report.]

Edwards:
I move approval of Doug Dinwiddie to be reappointed to the Grant County Lodgers; Tax Advisory Board.

[It was seconded and approved. The item on the one or two monthly meetings in 2020 will be further addressed at the Jan. 9, 2020 combined work session and regular meeting. County Manager Charlene Webb will create two versions of the Open Meetings Act to propose one meeting a month or two meetings a month.]

Agreements

District 1 Commissioner and Commission Chairman Chris Ponce:
On this agreement, we already have a five-year lease with Hidalgo Medical Services for the use of the Gila Senior Center.

Webb:
This doesn't need to be on the agenda. That's why there's no action required. We can just move on from this item.

[The subaward agreement between Grant County and the Center for Health Innovations was discussed in the work session and was approved in this meeting.]

[The changes in a resolution passed in 2019 after the Legislature made changes that were later vacated by the NM Supreme Court were approved to return to the original salary schedule for elected officials and chief deputies.]

[The vacation, abandonment and sale of a strip of land owned by the county, will now go to In-n-Out Lube where it is located. The strip of land was paid for at the appraisal price.]

Southwest Council of Governments Executive Director Priscilla Lucero:
Let me talk about the history of Colonias. In 1983, the state of New Mexico received a $50,000 grant award so that southern New Mexico could benefit from the colonias designation. Originally, it happened by county. As it has evolved, counties can still designate, but municipalities can also designate themselves as colonias. There are several different definitions of a colonia—HUD, USDA, EPA and then the state definition. And they all have different criteria. I had to educate myself on the differences. It is always my goal to maximize dollars for improvements. The actual designations in the county were done in 1990. Grant County has received $19 million of colonias funding over the past five years. From the state program, communities cannot always match the 10 percent and the loan match of 10 percent. Silver Acres was not originally designated a colonia, but the county can make that designation. It is only a designation that shows some inadequacies in the area. It helps on the federal level to gain more grants and loans and on the state level to get more dollars. The state program is most like the HUD on program criteria, but not totally. The state program stipulates that the area has to be within 150 miles of the border and has water and wastewater inadequacies. As of yesterday, the Colonias Infrastructure Fund can now help connect systems. Another requirement is that the entity has an approved affordable housing plan, which Silver City has. The funding includes the line to the home and can help with abandoning septic systems. I want the county to have an affordable housing plan, too. The process is not as cumbersome as it used to be. You can just amend your comprehensive plan to include the affordable housing plan and get DFA approval. The colonia designation is a document showing the inadequacies and you adopt a resolution. It does not say anywhere that the area has to be low-income.

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne:
I am curious about the timing of our resolution. I would like to talk to the residents, but don't want to interfere with access to federal funds.

Lucero:
They are moving the application deadline to February. The benefit of the December deadline was to get the notice of intent into the system. But public input would also have the benefit of getting names in support of the designation, plus you can explain the issue to the residents. I will assist you. Silver City could apply for federal dollars on behalf of its residents in the area. It opens up the opportunity for state and federal dollars. The deadline for the notice of intent is not mandatory. We can just apply directly.

Browne:
Can we submit the NOI without the resolution? I would love to take you up on the assistance with public input. I'm guessing you will field a question about the impact on property values.

Lucero:
I had that concern in another community. It does not impact property values. In fact, grant dollars can only enhance property values, because septic systems and cesspools can contaminate groundwater. We also want to make sure we have the most sophisticated piping. Lance Drive has cast iron piping, with fails over time. I have to be blunt. If we do it now, we can get grant money if we get the designation and the project designed, we will be way ahead in the process.

District 1 Commissioner Javier Salas:
Is Silver Acres part of Silver City?

Lucero:
Silver Acres is an unincorporated area in Grant County. I think we were looking at applying for the wastewater system first, which would involve Silver City.

Salas:
Some people still have wells.

Lucero:
I did some research on whether the piping is adequate. They are cast iron and need to be replaced. Once you get the water and wastewater systems fixed, then you can apply for roads money. USDA funding is also within 150 miles of the border, with EPA and HUD at 100 miles. Sometimes, we have to tailor the application to fit the program funding.

[The resolution was tabled to the Jan. 9 meeting.]

Browne:
I plan to do promotions on a meeting.

Ponce:
What if the cast iron piping collapses?

Lucero:
It's a city line. During the Quail Ridge Fire, there wasn't adequate water pressure to put out the fire. Whether it is city or county, it would bring in dollars.

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards:
I'm confused about the jurisdiction. It's unincorporated, but Silver City provides water? and if the piping collapses, who fixes it?

Lucero:
I don't have that history.

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings:
I own a piece of property in there that is on a well.

Planning and Community Development Director Michael "Mischa" Larisch:
Indian Hills has the same issue. If there is a problem with water distribution, the city fixes it.

Browne:
My understanding is that the area does not have access to the wastewater system.

Lucero:
I don't know if it's permitted or unpermitted, on septic and if there is potential for contamination of groundwater.

Salas:
What liability does the county have if something catastrophic happens or if the groundwater is contaminated?

Webb:
We have all of these questions. Mischa and I can meet with Alex (Brown, Silver City town manager). We're straying off topic.

Lucero:
On the Quail Ridge Fire, it became a collaborative effort. If you look at the $19 million that has come to Grant County that is a result of collaborative efforts. If you get input, they would see the benefit of the designation. If you have support from residents that will enhance the application. It gives a comfort level to the state.

Edwards:
Earlier on, we were talking about the notice of intent. If we table this item, we have to have clear instructions to do the NOI. Can we give direction to our staff if we would miss the deadline for the NOI to just go on and do it?

Lucero:
Because the application date has changed, I think the NOI is now due in mid-January, and the application deadline is the end of February. It will just be helpful to state staff to have the NOI.

[Commissioners approved the equipping of Public Works utility vehicles. They also approved the changes to the pronghorn season from August back to October.]

[As the Health Care Claims Board, the commissioners approved claims by Gila Regional Medical Center for $6,597.45.]

[Commissioner reports were next.]

Salas:
We are coming up on the next legislative session. I think it will be important for us to attend and lobby for our county. Maybe we can set a schedule?

Browne:
I have no report.

Billings:
I, too, want to congratulate Charlene and thank the manager's office for looking ahead. We heard an example today of the forward thinking. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas.]

Edwards:
I congratulate Charlene and appreciate all the hard work of our great county staff.

Ponce:
It has been a challenging year for me with personal matters. I thank the commissioners because I have learned a lot. Thanks for teaching me. I also thank the county manager for teaching me about the county. I've had a lot of good learning experiences. Tell everybody I appreciate them. Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

The commissioners went into executive session for almost three hours, came out, said they had taken no action, and in open meeting tabled the manager's contract to a special meeting on Dec. 18, which can be read athttps://grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/54928-grant-county-commission-approves-contract-for-county-manager-121819

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