[Editor’s Note: This is part 4 of a multi-part series of articles from Grant County Commission meetings the second week of February.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

Two individuals asked to present public input at the regular meeting of the Grant County Commission on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.

The first was New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity Executive Director Anthony Gutierrez who began: “Twenty years ago, when I was County Road Superintendent, I hired Earl Moore. He has been an extremely good asset to the department. I would also like to congratulate him personally.” 

[The article with a photo and the recognition at the regular meeting can be viewed at https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/63112-grant-county-commission-presents-recognition-at-regular-session-and-hears-grmc-update-021121-part-3 ]

Gutierrez continued by saying: “The New Mexico CAP Entity has been moving into a different direction since the NEPA process was terminated by the Interstate Stream Commission. In our amended JPA (joint-powers agreement) we’ve been taking more of a consulting role to the ISC for alternative infrastructure projects for the southwest region. ISC Director Rolf Schmidt-Petersen said in our meeting yesterday that the ISC will offer guidelines on criteria for how the CAP Entity will provide that consultation and perhaps amend our JPA again. The guidelines would provide the entity guidance on giving advice and help to smaller entities in the region to make their projects shovel ready through funding from the New Mexico Unit Fund. We feel that we, as the successor to the Southwest New Mexico Water Study Group, can provide technical assistance, and provide prioritization of projects.” 

“We also yesterday passed a resolution opposing House Bill 200, which would remove the regional input and prioritization related to utilization of the New Mexico Unit Fund,” Gutierrez continued. “The New Mexico CAP Entity board feels it would remove the intent and AWSA- (Arizona Water Settlements Act) provided language that the Southwest New Mexico Water Study Group and its successors would provide consultation to the ISC on expenditures from the New Mexico Unit Fund. HB 200 also attempts to remove the regional aspect and replace it with the Water Trust Board to make recommendations for projects to the ISC. We feel that would add additional bureaucratic layers and difficulties to project approval and would also eliminate regionalization of decision-making for local needs. We, as a board, feel the New Mexico Unit Fund should be as sustainable as possible for the years to come. If you have questions, I would be more than willing to come back to address your concerns and provide as much information as possible to you about why we feel the entity should provide the local decision-making on local projects.”

The next public input came from Glenn Griffin, who said he lives in District 4. “I always find it amazing that cutting taxes for the poor is unaffordable. For the copper tax, the corporation got a 50 percent property tax cut. Imagine if you could pay 50 percent of what your 1989 property tax was. On January 28, my commissioner did not support the rebate for low-income property owners, but there is no means test for our corporation. In fairness, if the mine would pay the $120 million in back taxes it would owe, then perhaps my commissioner could support the poor. I want my commissioner who opposed House Bill 4 to support it and level the playing field against the Silver City Police Department and Ms. Vick’s home that was destroyed by over-reactive police action. My commissioner was heartless. HB4 is capped at $2 million.”

At the work session during the review of the regular agenda, Fiscal Services Director Linda Vasquez presented the expenditure report ending on Feb. 4. The total was $1,951,954.90, which included two pay periods for a total of $432,654.99.

Extraordinary expenses are shown in the following chart. 

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The report was approved at the regular meeting.

At the work session, Vasquez also reported the second quarter ending Dec. 31, 2020, including revenues, transfers, expenditures and adjusted balances in the general fund, the road fund and the corrections fund. “In the general fund we began the quarter with $4,479,226 in cash, with revenues in of $6,334,787.94, transfers out of -$3,057,400.32, expenditures of $460,539.99, leaving a cash balance of $3,296,074.63, minus the required reserve of $1,115,134.75 leaving us with an adjusted balance of $2,180,939.88.”

In the road department we began the quarter with $288,037; we’ve received revenues of $339,018.34, had transfers in of $302,550, with expenditures of $895,664.70, leaving a balance of $33,940.64 and after we subtract the required reserve of $74,638.72, we end up with a negative balance of -$40,898.08.

“In our corrections item, we started the quarter with a zero balance. We brought in revenues of $351,685.73, had transfers in of $2,189,660.68, expenditures of $1,733,813.06, leaving a balance of $807,533.35, with zero reserve required.”

At the work session, District 2 Commissioner Javier “Harvey” Salas asked about the negative balance in the road department account.

Vasquez said because she has to subtract the one-twelfth required reserve, she will be making a cash transfer to the department. “It fluctuates throughout the year.”

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne noted that 49 percent of what is budgeted has been expended. “What is your prediction for the end of the year?”

Vasquez said she expects 98 percent of the budget will be expended. “Things are coming in. The copper production came in at $89,000 less than was projected for the full year. We are in line on gross receipts tax revenues.”

Salas asked if the copper production includes 2020.

Vasquez replied that it included the years 2017, 2018, and 2019 for the three-year running average.

Webb said: “It’s actually a little more complicated than that. I had to have it explained to me by the person who wrote the statute. The easiest way to describe it is by the three-year running average.”

She said she doubts the average will continue as it has, because in 2018 was when Freeport was opening up the Cobre Mine. “My wildest guess would be that it would maybe hold steady, but it might not.”

Salas said the state figures it out. “Freeport knows what it did. Can we get an estimate from them?”

“We do have informed conversations,” Webb said. “This being a non-disclosure state, we don’t really know until we get the check.”

The second quarter report was approved at the regular meeting.

The next item reviewed at the work session was an MOU (memorandum of understanding with the Department of Finance and Administration/Local Government Division for the DWI Program, which the commissioners approved at the regular meeting.

An agreement, which Webb described as a standard subaward agreement between Grant County and the Center for Health Innovation for more than $190,000 for health care programs and training, was approved by the commissioners at the regular meeting. Webb explained the county was simply the fiscal agent for the grant.

A series of resolutions brought discussion at the work session. The first three consisted of resolutions to apply for funding from the Colonias Board for three projects —design for Old Arenas Valley Road project, the North Hurley Road Phase III Project and for the Silver Acres infrastructure preliminary engineering report. 

Planning and Community Development Director Michael “Mischa” Larisch, at the work session said they were, in order, for $200,000, $150,000 and $250,000. “The Old Arenas Valley Road project application request, after Earl (Moore) went around with the engineer and pointed out more issues, actually went up to $275,000 because we added more items.”

Commissioners approved the three applications at the regular meeting.

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings requested the next resolution which asked for support for HB33, which would provide the reinstatement of state meat inspection in New Mexico. “It would benefit small beef producers and consumers who want to buy local beef, with no GMOs or hormones. The crux of the issue is that consumers are demanding to know where their meat is raised. The problem has arisen this year, because 80 percent of America’s beef is processed by four packers. The economies of scale make it cheaper. While it’s cheaper, COVID made manifest the problems where the meat couldn’t be processed. It especially affected hogs and poultry, because they have a shorter turn-around time. Many producers just had to slaughter them. Beef has a longer turnaround, but there was a bottleneck at the processors. There was frustration where people wanted to buy local, but they couldn’t get them inspected in New Mexico and processed in New Mexico. Rep. Rebecca Dow (R-38) heard from her constituents that they wanted to be able to have their beef inspected in the state.”

Edwards asked: “How would this change things? Could a local butcher have the meat inspected, then butcher it and sell it? Having worked for years in food insecurity, no one has ever mentioned just having a meat inspector in the state. That seems like such an easy solution to me.”

Billings replied: “I think that would resolve a lot of the problem. I said small producers, but it would work for larger ones, too. I think a producer in Hidalgo County sold 70 head this year. They had a semi full of beef. Consumers wanted to buy it. It just hasn’t been done lately. The buyers were willing because they couldn’t afford beef in the grocery store. Because meat inspections are gone and other reasons, there are few to no local processors.”

Edwards said she had heard the processor in Arrey is six months behind. “This seems so easy, are we missing something?”

Salas said buying beef in quantity for empty-nesters like himself and his friends, it makes no sense. “But being able to buy what you need from a local producer would be fantastic. I would welcome being able to do that.”

Billings said: “I have to be honest. I don’t think all the local beef will be available here. It’s more for those who want grass-fed with no hormones, especially in non-Covid years, where people are willing to pay a bit more.”

Browne thanked Billings for bringing the issue to the commissioners. “One of my questions, the fiscal impact statement says it conflicts with Senate Bill 118. Do you know anything about that one?”

Billings said he wasn’t sure: “I’m not familiar with it. This resolution just favors bringing meat inspection back to the state. It doesn’t specify a bill. HB 33 would take meat inspection back to 2007 under the New Mexico Livestock Board and New Mexico Department of Agriculture. It seems like I heard one of the other bills was under the NMDA, but not the Livestock Board. These bills change so fast, it’s hard to keep with the changes.”

Browne’s other question was: “What happened in 2007? According to the information on the legislative site, in 2007, the USDA revoked the certification of meat inspections in New Mexico, because of repetitive non-compliance of federal standards. I assume you have some optimism about these inspections remaining in compliance.”

“That could pose a problem,” Billings said.

Browne said he knows nothing about the issue, except for what he’s read, so the non-compliance gives him pause. “My last question is about the cost. I see a New Mexico State study that projects $5 million over three years. The fiscal impact statement says $4 million over three years. I understand the USDA reimburses some costs, but we shouldn’t count on that for at least the first three years.”

Billings said his understanding was over time, whether two or three years, the federal government would reimburse the state 50 percent.

Browne said because he doesn’t know enough about it, he would probably abstain. “I have too many questions.”

Billings said he would look into the state non-compliance issue.

Edwards said she didn’t remember any bill talking about 2007. “It might be worth it to talk to the sponsors. SB118 includes a lot of other stuff other than meat inspection but related to other food products.”

At the regular meeting, Billings said he reached out to the Livestock Board and asked why the meat inspection was taking away in 2007. “Mrs. Garland told me it was because of lack of staff, lack of funding and lack of oversight. I asked why it was different now. She told me she has worked hard on the budget, for it to be sustainable. She said they would be hiring 17 people, of which two would be training and compliance officers, one for each part of the state, as well as two supervisors for each part of the state, one for finances, one for oversight and the rest would be inspectors. I had a conversation with a commissioner from a different county and he said that a slaughterhouse was interested in having a retail operation if the state had meat inspection.”

Edwards asked what if the bill passed and to pay for it wasn’t in the budget. “I’m going to say up front that I am very disappointed in the quality of a lot of the legislation that has no way to make it happen. If it passes and then there’s no budget, it becomes another unfunded mandate.”

Billings agreed that a lot of legislation is “slopped together and doesn’t address all the necessary aspects.”

“I support the bill,” Edwards said, “because it makes food access a priority across the state. I will be watching to see if the legislation passes with money to support it.” She asked for a whereas to be added to the resolution that specifically says the commission supports the reinstatement of adequately funded state meat inspection.

Webb said she read the fiscal impact for the bill. “I would be surprised if the funding were not included in House Bill 2.”

Browne said: “If we were supporting a particular bill, I would abstain, because I don’t have enough knowledge. But I have concerns about the centralization of meat processing, so I support this general resolution.”

The resolution was approved unanimously. 

One other resolution authorizing the county to submit an application to the Department of Finance and Administration, Local Government Division to participate in the local DWI grant and distribution program, was an annual requirement, and was approved at the regular meeting. 

[Editor’s Note: The resolution opposing House Bill 4, brought a lot of discussion at both meetings, so it will be addressed in a future article, along with the rest of the discussions and actions on items on the agenda.] 

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