By Mary Alice Murphy
Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce Board president Sabrina Pack had everyone in the Zoom room introduce themselves.
The featured speaker was Silver City Mayor Ken Ladner, who gave an update on his activities and those going on in town.
"I was appointed to the Governor's Task Force on reopening as the coronavirus slows down," Ladner said. "She gave us the task to determine how to reopen small businesses. I've built a local task force, and we created a report, which I sent to the governor."
He then reported on projects in town. "We've been working for about the last year and a half at Scott Park. We needed a concession stand and bathrooms. We got a bid from White Sands Construction and they hope to start July 1. The project will also make the park more accessible, too. The Fire Department needed a brush truck and a new engine. We got a loan for the equipment. We have received the brush truck and the fire engine is being built to our specifications."
He said several road projects will soon be underway. "One is at Swan Street and 12th Street. For Ridge Road we will work from Golf Course Road to New Mexico 90 for Phase 1. The latter project will include sidewalks."
"We're going to start a project to replace the headworks at the wastewater treatment plant," Ladner said. "The waste goes into a holding pond and a screw lifts it up to put it in the treatment plant. The headworks needs to be replaced in order to lift the waste. We will also put in a viable spud pump, too. This will be paid for with a Colonias grant. The other major project is Little Walnut Road. Hikers walk along it if they are going to the Continental Divide Trail. We have the money for planning the project, which will include sidewalks, when we get all the rights-of-way. The city's part of the project is from highway 180 to the city limits, then the county is planning the rest of the way."
He said the town will use a CDGB (Community Development Block Grant) for replacing water lines on Chihuahua Hill. "We have done the west side of highway 90 and we are looking for grants for the east side."
"I just want to say that Alex Brown is an amazing city manager," Ladner said. "He not only handles the numbers, but he's good at working with other groups.
"When I was running for mayor," he continued, "I talked to (Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments Director) Priscilla (Lucero) and now-Lt. Gov. Howie Morales about a new recreation center. That was one of my platforms. We got capital outlay of $4 million, but that won't be all that is needed. Freeport-McMoRan gave us a grant for planning. Now, Alex is working on a plan to move City Hall to the Washington Federal Building, so we won't be renewing their lease. We plan to renovate the building for our City Hall. It is needed, because City Hall downtown is really hard for people to get to for paying bills or whatever. It's hard to find parking. In addition, Alex would like to turn Gough Park and the portion across the street into a recreational area, with a splash pad, volleyball and tie it into Penny Park. We want to get that project started. Hopefully next month we can begin to get community input. We are looking for property for the recreation center and working to purchase land for it. We finished the sidewalk project downtown with four blocks on Yankie and Market streets."
He also said the three welcome to Silver City signs were in place. "We spend a lot of money to attract tourists. I think we are the only community in southern New Mexico with bilingual welcome signs."
In a safety project, New Mexico Department of Transportation will move the traffic light at Walmart to the southeast corner "near the taco place."
"We tried an experiment to close Bullard so that restaurants could provide outdoor dining in the street on the weekends," Ladner said. "The jury is still out whether it is a success."
Pack asked if any projects were in jeopardy by the cuts anticipated in state funding in order to balance the budget, after the price of oil dropped and the coronavirus hit.
Ladner said some of the 2019 funding that hasn't been spent is in jeopardy.
Lucero noted that the capital outlay funds from 2019 were general fund dollars. "The staff has been looking at projects to sweep. We've worked hard to get the awarded funds obligated. As for severance bonds, those are not being jeopardized at this point. I've been hearing there will be a grace period to use the funds. They need to be spent as quickly as possible. The 2020 grant agreements haven't gone out yet and the bonds have not been sold."
Pack said she enjoys working with Chamber Director Steve Chavira, as she introduced him.
"With no meetings for several months, it was important for us to get together," Chavira said. "When the world spun off its axis around March 13, it tore up our plans to bring in new revenue and new members. We are financially strong as a chamber, so we have shifted and reworked plans. We have strong connections in the community. We know businesses are hurting and reeling, so we must make sure we are strong advocates for businesses. We want to make sure you have a seat at the table in the discussions going on. We are working with the task force on next steps. We have gotten on Zoom calls and created basic questions. We gathered people who might not ordinarily be in the same room. The restaurateurs have met together. Localized issues are the same; fears are the same. We met with individuals, small businesses and large businesses. Discussions are not over. I want to give a shout out to Silver City and Grant County for helping us build a successful PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) bank. This week we will receive another 2,000 masks."
"If you need masks for your employees, let Steve know," Pack reminded members."
Chavira said his office in the Grant County Veterans Memorial Conference and Business Center, which the chamber also runs, will have masks to distribute from 8 a.m. to noon. "Some were purchased, so you have to pay for them, but we can also give some away free."
"We've held meeting after meeting, but in good ways," Chavira said. "Good things have come out of these meetings showing how we can work together."
He noted that Independence Day is "upon us. When I was growing up here, I always loved the parades. I was holding out for the day the governor would say go out and have fun on the Fourth. But that didn't happen, so we cooked up the idea of a virtual parade with short videos. We already have a great group of businesses, sports groups, non-profits. The Pinos Altos Volunteer Fire Department will take part. I know we are social beings, so I'm excited about the virtual parade."
Pack said the videos will be archived at the Silver City Museum. "The Museum will host the link to the parade. It's a collaborative project."
Chavira said the fireworks will go on. "I think it will be the largest in the region, with 1½ hours, accompanied by music on the radio."
Members then had a chance to speak. Lucero said the COG will receive federal funding. "We are awaiting the approval of $400,000 to the council of government to hire economic recovery specialists. I've been a part of subcommittees at the state level, one of which is on childcare. It's a challenge. The other challenge is the economic recovery. Through the economic relief subcommittee, we are working to foster ideas for the economic recovery. With the economic relief committee, I've been able to talk about our struggles. I've been speaking on our behalf and able to advocate to put a mechanism out there that the funds will be distributed geographically. We talked about incentives to shop locally, using existing businesses. Send me ideas, please. A lot of the funding is coming from the CARES Act. The town of Silver City got a police award of $443,000 to equip the officers with cameras. We know how important it is to work collaboratively. Lastly, we applied to U.S. Parks for renovation of the Waterworks Building and we are collaborating with the Forest Service for outdoor access. That will include Fort Bayard."
Silver Consolidated Schools Associate Superintendent Curtis Clough gave a quick update on schools. "We have a task force working on fall re-entry for students. It will be released on Wednesday. We have several plans, addressing whether we will be shut down all the way to October or to January or to open up in August. We qualify for $810,000 in technology initiatives and safety and sanitizing. We are facing $1.5 million in budget cuts and $800,000 to $1.2 million more cuts. We are waiting for the Public Education Department (PED) to tell us when we can open."
Lucero asked if the CARES Act provides tablets to all families.
"We're making sure that families have good internet connections," Clough said. "Most families want to use their own computers."
Lucero talked about the Census. "One of our lowest response rates was in Santa Clara, but we got a jump there. Hurley is at 45 percent response and Silver City at 55 percent. Everybody else is at 30 percent to 40 percent. We are still trying to figure out ways to get people to fill out the forms. If someone comes to your house, make sure you verify that they are certified census workers. If no one comes to your house and you didn't get a form, go to https://grantcountycensus.com to fill out the form online. If a family of four is not counted, that is a loss of $150,000 to the county."
Chavira encouraged business owners to get their employees to do the census at https://www.icountnm.gov . "We will ask every business to get their employees to do the census."
Bart Roselli, Silver City Museum director, asked about the percentages in the county.
"We have the ability to count only the incorporated areas," Lucero said. "We will also be able to show how many completed the forms online."
Laura Phelps of Freeport-McMoRan said Chino Mine furloughed 75 percent of its workers due to impacts in the copper market. "Copper prices are coming up a bit again. We still expect to have layoffs, a minimum of 450 and as high as 850 sometime around Aug. 1-15. We should know more by the end of July. Chino will not be back to pre-Covid any time soon. The leaching operation is ongoing. Tyrone is relatively unimpacted. They have furloughed about 30. Human Resources and I have been working with Workforce Solutions to get almost all the employees on unemployment. We've been doing Zoom calls on training opportunities. We are also working with the university for those going back to school. Trade Adjustment has assistance to go back to school. The state submitted an application. We're waiting to hear what the Department of Labor says."
Chavira said it is really important for him to have open dialogue. "I have had discussions with other chamber executives. The work is very fulfilling. We're talking about what happens when we come back. We are maintaining the Conference Center. The Forest Service has been using it for the fire team. They will downsize tomorrow [Tuesday, June 23]. We've been in discussion with other groups interested in using the conference center. The Gila Regional Medical Center Governing Board is meeting there, because they can spread out. We're ready for meetings and events as soon as we get the go-ahead. I am working to make sure we help our members, maybe through scholarships or if they are in a pinch. We are making sure to bring businesses back to the forefront of what we do."
He said Co.Starters will have its third virtual meeting this week. "We are taking small groups through the incubator phase. You would be surprised at the age range of those starting new businesses. Some great things are going on. Plus, we are working with Freeport to help them revamp. Covid taught us how to restructure our businesses. Some will go away, but others will be a lot stronger. We want to make sure to fulfill our mission which is to serve our members by promoting business, commerce and tourism in Grant County. I work with everybody. The only way to work is by busting through barriers. I'm thankful for the board of directors being behind me. I couldn't do it without Romeo (Cruz, conference center coordinator) and Sabrina (Summers, conference center assistant), plus our custodian Nancy Harold. Together we will get through Covid with flying colors."
He said anyone who wants to provide a video for the virtual parade should get it to him by July 26, so they can be put together in a show. "We are looking for sponsors. We will likely keep doing the virtual parade in addition to all the other traditional activities."
Lucero thanked Pack and Chavira for continuing to form partnerships. "We can't help unless we know the needs. Public-private partnerships are key to the quality of life for our residents."