[Editor's Note: Due to the length of the work session and regular meeting, they will be broken up into several articles. This one will begin with resolutions on the regular meeting agenda for review at the work session and decision at the regular meeting.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

After two presentations at the Grant County Commission work session on Jan.12, 2021 and following several county reports, which can be read at https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/62272-grant-county-commission-hears-presentations-at-work-session-011221-part-1 , https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/62328-grant-county-commission-hears-a-second-presentation-at-work-session-011221and-grmc-update-at-regular-meeting-011421-part-2, https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/62340-grant-county-commissioners-january-2021-work-session-and-regular-meeting-part-3 , and https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/62343-grant-county-commissioners-january-2021-work-session-and-regular-meeting-part-4 , County Manager Charlene Webb began the review of the regular meeting agenda resolutions.

The first resolution addressed the annual Open Meetings Act Resolution. The issue had been discussed in previous meetings, so the 2021 OMA set a schedule for two work sessions on Tuesdays, with the one regular meeting on the second Thursday, preceded by the first work session. The second work session will be two weeks after the first work session. Only the first work session and the regular meeting would allow public input.

This is the PDF of the planned meeting dates, which have been worked out not to conflict with other items such as special elections and holidays. Meetings are subject to change.

Can't see this document? Click this link to view it in a new window

In January, there will be no second work session, and this set of work session and regular meeting in these reports comprise the only meetings in January, except for a special meeting on Jan. 28, 2021 at 1:30 p.m. following the Gila Regional Medical Center governing board meeting at 9 a.m. that day.

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne said he liked the schedule, because "we will get more work done and we can schedule more presentations. It will reduce staff strain without two regular meetings."

At the regular meeting, Webb confirmed that the new schedule would begin in February, and the commissioners approved the schedule.

The next resolution addressed the annual CDBG (Community Development Block Grant program's certification and commitment requirements. Webb said it was the same resolution as usual. Commissioners approved it in the regular meeting.

Linda Vasquez, county financial officer, presented the next resolution, which consisted of budget adjustment requests to amend the fiscal year 2021 approved budget. Vaquez said it was mainly for grants, including ones for the Pinos Altos Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department and Tyrone VFRD for equipment purchases. "Each item is increasing revenue and expenses," she said.

The resolution addressing a notice of intent to consider a low-income rebate ordinance brought discussion. Webb said the county must issue a notice of intent to consider a low-income rebate ordinance in January of every odd-numbered year. "In New Mexico, only two counties have ever approved the ordinance—Santa Fe and Los Alamos. We obtained the numbers from Santa Fe in 2019 and they came to about half a million dollars. It's basically a blank check for an undetermined amount each year."

District 1 Commissioner and Chairman Chris Ponce said he remembered some of the discussion two years ago. "I would love to be able to do the rebate, but this year we have lots of unknowns that we are facing. We know we have lost at least $200,000 already, and we have no idea how much more we will lose this year."

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards said she remembers it being discussed as a "blank check, but one of the things I thought of is not related to the ordinance, but in my work with low-income seniors, given their income it could have a compounding effect to lower their incomes even more. How much they make is how they qualify for their aid."

Browne said he supports the rebate. "I think we can do a reasonable guess on how much it will cost us. The only way to find out is to do it. This is not going to bust the county. Property taxes hit people proportional to the value of their property. If we make it very clear that we can repeal if it has too great an effect on our revenues, I think it's worth the risk of knowing if we can afford it."

Edwards said the rebate assumes that seniors own their property and are not renters. She said The Commons serves about 600 families a month. If we assume they all own their property, then our exposure is about $215,000 a year. If only half own where they live, then it's 300 families for about $108,000.'

Ponce said the ordinance would affect only those making up to $24,000 annually. "We're going through a pandemic. A lost have lost their jobs and that would increase the numbers qualifying for the rebate."

Edwards concurred. "We have two different populations that get food assistance. Some are temporary and a lot need assistance all the time. Is there a way to aim it toward the latter population? We have about 7,000 residents over the age of 65 in Grant County There is a 20 percent poverty rate in the senior population. They are low income for the rest of their lives."

District 2 Commissioner Javier "Harvey" Salas asked when the county would know the impact of the copper layoffs.

"In three years," Webb said. "The amount is based on the previous three years of production. We look at the impact for last year, when we lost $200,000 and we will lose another $200,000 this year. Tyrone so far is static. It's not just copper production, but also the equipment, which is being shipped out to other operations, so we have to base our estimates on scenarios we've seen in the past."

Salas asked: "Do we only get tax money through copper production? Do we get any property tax?"

Webb said the property is taxed based on what it is used for. "It's ad valorem tax for copper production, and if it's copper company owned ranch land, it's taxed as agricultural land."

Browne threw out some more numbers. "If we assume that half of those getting food assistance own property that is valued so high that they would qualify for $350, my guess it would cost us about $50,000."

"I'm going to be a broken record," Webb said. "The two counties who have done the ordinance have a very low number of low-income families. You have to look at our proportion of low-income families. I think it's dangerous to put money into this, because as our revenue erodes, we still have to provide all the county services that are required by statute. Adding another cost would make it difficult to continue providing those mandated services and it might cause layoffs as well as a cutting of services."

Ponce agreed that loss of employees would hit the county harder. "Not too long ago, we had a conversation about the potential to furlough employees. We can't help one group to hurt another."

Vasquez also noted that the county expects PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) from the federal government every year. "Every time we have a new president, it has an impact on PILT."

Salas said he knew the county has to follow strict requirements but wondered if there were any way to help a senior with an emergency.

"No," Webb replied. "Because it gets into helping only one. That's anti-donation."

Salas said he also knows that many seniors planned for their retirement years.

Webb said she would have a conversation with Priscilla Lucero (Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments executive director) on resources for the county to help make connections for those in emergencies.

Salas said he would like to help with the rebate but with the county facing declining revenues, it might not be the right time. At the regular meeting, Salas asked if a real estimate of how much it might cost the county had been developed. Browne said he would present it at the hearing at the special meeting on Jan. 28.

Edwards asked if the ordinance could apply only to those over age 65.

"Not on this ordinance, but maybe we could," Webb said.

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings said everyone brought up good points. "I think the over 65 is worth looking into."

Th next four resolutions involved appointing county members to various boards and groups. The items were approved at the regular meeting.

The Southwestern County Commission Alliance member will be Billings and the alternate, Ponce.

The Grant County Water Commission member will be Salas, with Ponce as the alternate.

The Southwest Solid Waste Authority has two members Webb and Browne, with Community Development and Planning Director Michael "Mischa" Larisch and General Services Director Randy Villa as alternates.

The Elected Officials Board-Workforce Investment Act will have Ponce as the member and Salas as the alternate.

The final resolution, which was in Support of American Democracy and Condemning New Mexico Representative Yvette Herrell's Votes to reject the electoral college votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania, brought by Commissioner Browne will be a complete future article. It was not discussed at the work session but only at the regular session.

In other business, at the work session, Procurement Officer Randy Hernandez addressed the bids for the Bataan Memorial Park ADA project. "We have $750,000 from the CDBG (Community Block Development Grant) program, but all of the bids came in much higher than that. Our recommendation is to reject this bid and look at rebidding it in the future."

Webb explained: "It is our strong belief that because we have unknowns, the bidders added to their bids. We don't know what kind of rock is underneath where we are proposing the work. If it requires blasting that will increase costs. We will go back and do some geo tech testing to look at what kind of rock we're dealing with. The second part of this is that we are in conversation with the Department of Finance Authority to combine the capital outlay we received for this project with the CDBG funding. Then maybe we are a little closer to bids like these."

Salas said: "It's probably sitting on top of blue granite, which I think is the hardest rock there is."

Webb replied: "That's our fear."

Edwards asked: "Am I correct in remembering that we had to move Tu Casa because of a big rock?"

Webb replied: "Yes, we had to redo the entire site plan. We couldn't blast because of failing foundations nearby."

Edwards asked if any geo tech had been done when the park was built, and Webb said they had been unable to find any.

Billings asked if the geo tech would require drilling.

Webb confirmed that it would and "we will include it in the bid specs. These bidders bid for unknowns. I'll continue to be optimistic. Maybe once they know what they are dealing with, the bids may go down."

Larisch noted that the cost estimates came in at $750,000-$800,000.

Salas wondered if the scope could be narrowed and phased.

"That's another conversation we're having with the engineers on the scope," Webb said.

Browne asked if the contractor who does the geo tech will have the knowledge.

"Yes, but the county will own the document," Hernandez said.

Larisch said the engineer would be at the site the whole time the geo tech is going on, "so they will have the data."

The Commissioners recessed as the Board of County Commissioners and convened as the Grant County Health Claims Board. They approved at the regular meeting an indigent burial by Terrazas Funeral Chapel of $600 and the Gila Regional Medical Center health care claims of $1,652.94.

The adjourned as the Health Claims Board and reconvened as the Board of Commissioners to hear commissioner reports.

Billings had no report.

Salas said he thinks 2021 will cause some tough decisions to be made with the declining revenue. "I will save my other comments for Thursday."

Browne had no report.

Edwards said she recently went out to the airport to see the work being done. "Manager Rebekah Wenger is planning an open house. It is amazing what they have accomplished out there."

"I want to plan a seed," Edwards said. "We are talking about declining revenue. We have an amazing manager at the airport, but she will want to retire in three to five years. We will be ready for a new runway. We need a plan for the airport to have a manager as good as Rebekah. Maybe we can get someone in there for her to train? There is an avionics program at Eastern New Mexico University. Rebekah would be interested in hosting an intern. We need to know what skills are needed to run such an airport. I would recommend listening to her and learning about what the airport needs."

Billings asked if he could have a chance to speak. "I did have notes. I've been attending the COVID Task Force meetings when I can. It takes a lot of time. I wonder if the Commission wants to appoint an official representative. We didn't discuss, but we will vote on Thursday, about whether the chairman wants to continue and whether the vice chairman should remain the same. Are you willing to continue?"

Ponce said he was interested in continuing.

"We've had good leadership," Salas said. "My only concern is the hospital governing board. There is so much work for Ms. Edwards. She's been in the CEO interviews."

Edwards said she appreciates the support. "I do think that Commissioner Billings and I will have our hands full on the hospital."

Browne said he would appreciate consideration as the vice chair, as he will retire from the school in June.

The commissioners will have other reports at the end of the last article.

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