[Editor's Note: This is part 2 of a multi-series of articles on the Commission budget hearing on April 27, 2021.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

After several department head budget requests were presented to the members of the Grant County Board of Commissioners, which can be read at https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/64646-grant-county-commission-met-in-budget-hearing-042721-part-1 , commissioners heard more requests.

The next request came from Sheriff Frank Gomez. He requested an increase in the mileage and per diem for training purposes. "Most advanced training is not done locally. With HB4 going into effect, we need to make sure to do our crisis intervention team training now. We will have great expense for CIT training and certification. We're taking over almost all vehicle crashes now. We need more training in that area. For the mileage and per diem, the reason I'm asking for more is that I'm not going to let them stay in cheap hotels, like when I was doing trainings and I had to keep my gun by my side at all times. I'm also looking at the fleet repairs. When we have unavoidable crashes, such as vehicle versus deer, and others we could have avoided and we're taking care of them. I have asked for an increase for repairs. Another is ammunition. As you know, it's hard to get and expensive, so I'm asking for an increase there. I would like to see the commissioners have a line item for vehicles. Presently we purchase our vehicles using Stonegarden funds. We are budgeted for 39 deputies and we have 36 on the street right now. I submitted a fleet report, so that's something I'm hoping for."

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce said thinking about the training budget, "I understand you have biannual training still going on."

Gomez said the department is now mandated to have annual and semi-annual training. "We will start them in the August-September time frame for the annual and follow up next year with the biannual."

Ponce said he can see that more training will become mandated. "Are we prepared to increase the training budget? Or has money been set aside? And lapel cameras also cost money."

Gomez said he met with the county manager. "We have LEPF (Law Enforcement Protection Fund) money. So, with the county training money, I have an extra $15,000 available for training, but it only covers overtimes. I use the rest of the LEPF funding for fleet needs. I don't want to buy a unit with that funding, because it would deplete it."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne asked about body cameras.

Gomez said that they are mandated and by law, everyone on patrol is required to wear one. It is against the law not to have one on.

Ponce said because of what law enforcement goes through, the cameras need upkeep and maintenance. "I just want to make sure they're not halfway through their budget and don't have what they need."

District 2 Commissioner Javier "Harvey" Salas said the only way to comply with HB4 is through training and supervision. "I think Albuquerque has gone to having a compliance officer that reviews all camera footage. Big Brother is going to be seeing it, so 'I better do it right,' but training, training, training will be our defense, along with the supervision."

"I can tell you when I started looking at the body cams, it was going to cost $86,000 just for that," Gomez said. "I didn't have a budget for that, so we went to GoPro cameras. The second quote I got was $96,000, the way the governor had it in the law. Lt. Burns and the deputy sheriff tested them, and we went with the GoPro cameras. So far, they've been effective. They do break, so we have money in the budget for extra ones."

Joe Grijalva, Road Department supervisor, said he was leaving the budget as presented. "If we do decide to consider electric vehicles [referring to comments made by commissioners in the prior article], we're trying to keep everything in the fleet the same brand, so we can use interchangeable parts. If you want to consider electric or hybrid, we would have to take them to El Paso or Albuquerque, so it would be more costly. For some equipment, when we have maintenance it costs $500 just to get the repairman here. I think we're staying fine where we are in the budget."

Ponce said if something changes, for Grijalva to talk to County Manager Charlene Webb or Financial Officer Linda Vasquez.

Browne asked about the difference from $122,000 to $176,000. Vasquez said she is putting in what was requested.

Grijalva added: "if you consider electrics or hybrids, the maintenance portion would need more expensive diagnostic equipment."

Next was Randy Villa, General Services director, who said it was straight across the same budget. "We do all the postage costs. And there's a small increase on wildfire certifications."

Vasquez said the probate judge budget remains the same as last year's.

Community Development and Planning Director Michael "Mischa" Larisch brought his replacement, Priscilla Arredondo Shoup, to introduce her to the commissioners.

Larisch said mainly what he was doing was moving things around in the budget. He said the plotter is broken, and they expect it to be repaired tomorrow. "Instead of looking for $30,000 to replace the plotter, which is aging out, we are shifting funding to maintenance and we will lease a plotter and a couple of printers, especially for the large 11X14 printer. We are looking at leasing a new plotter and a large printer. It will include all the maintenance, and then they will be replaced on a 48-month to 60-month replacement basis. It looks like a large amount, but we moved money into the item from other areas we weren't using as much, so the total is pretty much the same."

At the request of the commissioners, Shoup came to the podium and said: "Hi. I am Priscilla Shoup and I will be taking over the planning director position. I am currently in the planning department in Silver City, so I'm just moving over."

Airport Manager Rebekah Wenger gave her presentation. "Basically, we have a flat budget. The only increases are moving things around to adjust salaries for certifications. We have 23 trainings required by the FAA every year, and the state Environment Department also requires certifications. There's a lot of work that goes into training and the amount of certifications my employees have to carry."

Salas asked about the 25 percent increase in salaries.

Wenger said that most of her staff members are below mid-range. "We have three employees, as well as myself."

Browne asked if the 3-5 percent increases and any additional requested increases were in the budget. Vasquez said the 3 percent is based on what the employee makes right now, but the budget does not include requests.

Wenger said in the past, she thought the airport employees were lumped in with other departments. "When we looked at what these guys do, building maintenance, facility maintenance, electrical maintenance and with all the certifications they are required to have, and we work every day, they deserve more. There is not a day off at the airport. I have a staff I would like to keep in place. Whenever we have a turnover, it's costly. Just for the trainings, these guys have to go to Dallas-Fort Worth. We don't have instate training for these guys. Hanging on to staff is really important to me. I would like to point out that the airport is supporting itself."

Browne noted that all of the commissioners have commented on what a great job Wenger is doing at the airport, getting grants and funding for needed upgrades. "So, I will ask, are you included in that increase?"

Wenger said: "Yes, I am."

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards said she had toured the airport several times. "We have discussed the staff and their many responsibilities and requirements. I want to reiterate what she said about how expensive it is to replace an experienced staff member if they find a better paying job."

Wenger said she has one employee that is making right around $13 an hour and two are under $14 an hour.

Salas asked Webb if it was a specific problem or a systemic problem that many employees are not paid as well as they should be.

Webb said she sees it as a long-term systemic problem. "We hire them, and we don't reward them for their training. That was the goal of the plan. I think it's time we correct that. I will be looking at the actual cost to bring any employee that is below the mid up to the mid, and I'll be looking at the updated salary figures we have just received. We'll be giving you guys a look at the preliminary budget, once we put this in. Rebekah's department is a perfect example of where we have failed."

Salas said his priority for this year's budget is salaries.

Detention Center Administrator Mike Carillo presented his budget requests. "I have a few items. I'm asking for more for overtime salaries. The justification is that it's a tough job and we have a lot of turnover and with the shortages in staff, people work more hours. I have staff shortages and then I need to give them time off. FMLA emergencies, I've had quite a few this year. I've had some with medical issues requiring extending leave, which causes more overtime needs. I've had to do some investigative leave that personnel have been on. The primary reason is the one-on-one suicide watch we've had at the facility. Between July 1, 2020 and April 26, 2021, we have had 60 one-on-one overtime suicide watches. They are ideations found through medical screening and medical staff are the only ones who can release them from the one-on-one watch. They can be there for one day to five days. We don't like to keep them in there for extended periods, so we try to do step-down. I have no control over it when they come in and are put on one-on-one watch. We are pretty much on track for the same this year. Just in 2021, we've had 26 on one-on-one watches. The inmates have behavioral health issues, addiction issues. A result of addiction issues is that they often go into mental issues. Some we have arrested also have dementia. They are all causing problems."

For building maintenance and repair, he said the maintenance contract with APIC is a one-stop shop. "They can do it all. I ask you to allow me to increase the service agreement. When something breaks down at the detention center, we need it fixed today. For operating expenses, I'm asking for an increase in internet, because the courts are doing all processing over the internet. And medical personnel are required to have bandwidth to access medical records of inmates. The feeding and care of prisoners is also going up $4 a meal. When we have fewer detainees, the price goes up."

Edwards asked if the consolidation of everything into APIC would get rid of other contracts. Carillo confirmed that it would. The old contract used to require them to subcontract out jobs.

Edwards also said Jason Lockett of maintenance was asking for parts for the sliding doors. Lockett confirmed that his department would pay for the parts, but APIC would do the work.

Carillo noted that the cameras would have facial recognition through the entrance gate and would include speakers. "APIC came in and said they knew the capabilities of the equipment and that we weren't using them to their full capacity."

Edwards asked if the new fence would allow inmates more outdoor time.

Webb replied that was not the intent of the fence.

Carillo said he was also asking for more for advanced training for his officers. "The majority is for recertification for our instructors, so they can teach the training in house. Costs of training have gone up."

Ponce asked if an officer with certification in training could, for instance, train dputies in the Sheriff's Department.

Carillo said: "Yes. We do all fairly consistently the same training for law enforcement. There is nothing in the state for training for corrections. Yes, when we do trainings, we share and invite others."

Browne asked on average how many hours of training are required.

"Our officers do 160 hours of required training to begin," Carillo replied. "They are not released into taking care of inmates until they have done the original 160 hours of trainings. If a trainer does not believe an officer is ready, he won't release him to work in the facility. Every officer also does 40 hours remedial training every year."

The next article will complete the budget requests and will include commissioners' reports