[Editor's Note: This is likely to be a multi-part series of articles for the 3.5-hour meeting.]

Two proclamations were approved at the meeting.

img 3570 5The first proclaimed Sept. 11, 2021, as Patriot Day and National Day of Service. Jason Quimby, WNMU veterans' affairs officer, accepted the proclamation. From left are Commission Chair Chris Ponce, presenting the signed proclamation to Quimby, third from right, with Commissioners Alicia Edwards, Harry Browne, Billy Billings and Javier Salas looking on.img 3572 3The second proclaimed October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Rachel Sierra, El Refugio Inc. director, third from right, accepted it from Ponce, Edwards, Browne, Salas and Billings.

Photos and article by Mary Alice Murphy

The combined work session and regular meeting, which took place Sept. 9, 2021, began with District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce thanking county staff for the preparations for the Meet and Greet the previous evening to welcome County Manager Tim Zamora.

Readers can view the photos and article at https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/67296-meet-and-greet-with-county-manager-tim-zamora-090821.

During approval of the agenda, District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked to remove a presentation by James W. Baldwin on GRMC Billing Procedures. Later in the meeting, during public comment Baldwin seemed concerned that he had not been called on during presentations, but said he had been advised not to discuss the issue in public, but he did speak about another issue, which will be covered in a later article. Commissioners approved the agenda as amended.

During presentations, Silver Consolidated Schools Superintendent William Hawkins spoke. "I want to thank the community for the welcoming environment my family and I have come into. My purpose today is to thank the community for your support over the years by voting for funding for our schools. We need your support again. Silver Schools will have a bond issue on the ballot. House Bill 33 and Senate Bill 9 approved a 1.5 mill levy that has supported school facilities. It is up for renewal on November 2. It has funding for public and charter schools, which allows us to take care of maintenance inside and outside our schools. Whenever we need repairs, we use the money allocated from HB 22 and SB 9. And those dollars don't just benefit the schools, but we hire local contractors, so they go right back into the community."

"The operational dollars that we get from the state, 89 percent of that goes to salaries," Hawkins continued. "The remaining 11 percent goes into supplies, utilities, student travel, but those dollars do not maintain the facilities."

He emphasized that voting for the renewal of the levy is not a raise in taxes, but a continuation of the same mill levy that has been in residents' property tax bills for the past six years. He also said that he had handed a brochure to all the commissioners.

Edwards said: "With my Health Kids [Healthy Community] hat on, I've already met several times with Mr. Hawkins. I will help to make sure the mill levy passes. We should be proud of what our schools do."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne, who has recently retired from being financial officer at Aldo Leopold Charter School, thanked Hawkins for his inclusiveness in the use of the taxes.

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings welcomed Hawkins and thanked him for the informative flyer.

Ponce also welcomed Hawkins and said he has heard good things about him.

District 2 Commissioner Javier "Harvey" Salas echoed that he, too, had heard good things about the new superintendent.

Next on the agenda was the annual report from Assessor Raul Turrieta on "2020 by the Numbers."

He noted that residential sales in 2020 had increased 38.6 percent over the number of sales in 2015. The chart also showed that residential sales after a small rise in 2016, decreased rather substantially in 2017 and 2018, before rebounding in 2019 and growing by more than 300 sales over the 2015 numbers. He said that field work on 2019 sales was curtailed to 30 percent of the usual number due to Covid-19. "When a property sells, thanks to our appraisers we comp it out to figure out what it is worth."

According to Turrieta's charts, 2020 commercial sales have dropped by 13 percent since 2015 and are lower than 2018 and 2019 commercial sales. "Our goal for 2022 is to review every commercial property sale, as well as improvements made to properties."

Building permits issued for 2020 are up 9.6 percent over 2019, but down from 2015, 2016 and 2017, with 2018 being the lowest.

Turrieta said that data on manufactured homes is sometimes difficult, as they are often hard to find. Percentages across the board were down from all preceding years 2015-2019.

The data on protests had not been totally compiled, but protests were down from previous years, although they were up from last year. He said they are often settled between the assessor's office and the property owner.

For agriculture, grazing and livestock, the numbers had been falling over the years, with the livestock head count down 12 percent since 2015, and grazing and ag accounts also down, although not as drastically.

Personal property accounts have grown by 2.7 percent between 2019 and 2020 and a similar increase between 2020 and 2021. Turrieta noted that personal property is self-rendering, and "we used to go look at it, but we have no time now to look at it. We lost Traci Burnsed who moved to Las Cruces."

He said exemptions include for the disabled and veterans who are property owners. "Once the exemption stamp is on the books, the valuation stays the same."

Edwards said any low-income senior can apply for an exemption if the total household income is less than $34,000.

Turrieta agreed and said: "Every year I go to the senior centers to tell people how to apply for the exemptions."

Edwards suggested a good place to present the information would be to those who go to food distribution centers.

Turrieta laid out his goals for this year and the next. "There is so much value out there. Someone adds a carport, for instance. The concrete pad adds value. We definitely need to get full disclosure in this state. We need the Legislature to weigh in and get it done."

The parcel mapping phase 1 should be complete soon, he said, with phase 2 having been initiated in April 2021.

"We will have Bohannon-Huston come and give a presentation, hopefully the first meeting in October," Turrieta said.

On overall value, he said the change for 2021 is expected to be 2.1 percent in overall valuation for residential and 2.2 percent for commercial, with a significant drop for copper production valuation.

"I will be doing a separate presentation on copper production," he said.

Browne said his general impression is that local realtors are saying they are super busy. "Why aren't we at the 3 percent cap for the tax levy?"

Turrieta said: "We're looking at it, but a lot of the properties are selling at value. Yes, it's a seller's market, and I work closely with the realtors."

"That's not my question," Browne said. "With that cap and all the activity, I would have expected that value would have grown to 3 percent, rather than the 2.1 percent you have listed."

Turrieta said it is gradually coming up.

Edwards asked who determines when it gets to 3 percent.

Browne said he believes the gap is in market value and assessed value. "The market value has gone up, but not the assessed value."

Turrieta said his office can only increase assessed value when a property sells.

To more questions to Turrieta, who kept saying the assessed valuations only go up with sales. "It depends on sales and valuation maintenance."

Salas asked what valuation maintenance meant, and Turrieta gave the example of removing a carport from the books.

More questions kept coming, and County Manager Tim Zamora suggested more presentation slides at a different session, but Turrieta kept talking, until Zamora stopped him.

The following item was a proclamation, "We Must Never Forget," for Sept. 11, 2021, to be Patriot Day and National Day of Service in remembrance of the terrorist events 20 years ago on Sept. 11, 2001.

Executive Assistant Taysha Walter, at her last meeting, read the proclamation, which was approved by the commissioners.

Jason Quimby, WNMU veterans' affairs officer, noted the upcoming event to be held at the university on Sept. 11. A report and photos can be viewed at https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/67391-20th-anniversary-9-11-commemoration-at-wnmu-091121 .

Billings said he read the county proclamation at last year's ceremony, but offered the opportunity to read it to Ponce, as he is a retired law enforcement official.

"I would be honored," Ponce said.

Quimby also updated the county on the veterans' service officer position that has been put out by the state for a person to be stationed in Grant County. "They have agreed to put someone under the university. The state Veterans Services department put out the position, then pulled it and are again asking for applications."

The second proclamation declared October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Walter read the proclamation, which stated that El Refugio, Inc., Silver City's domestic violence shelter, had taken care of 434 women and children in 2020.

El Refugio Inc. Director Rachel Sierra accepted the proclamation. She said: "I come here every year to proclaim our intention to celebrate the survivors and remember the lost. We don't just do this in October. We do it every day of every month."

Sierra noted that the number of men victims had increased. "At one time, we had three men and their children at the shelter. We need all of you to support our victims." She said the proclamation would be read at 9 a.m. on Oct. 1 at The Woman's Club. "We have invited your chairman Ponce to read it. We will present magnets for law enforcement vehicles that say: 'Love Should Not Hurt.' Awareness and education are where it's at. Let's keep it aware every day."

She also said Oct. 28 at 6:30, the shelter would honor the victims with a "Remember My Name" ceremony for families of the victims at the shelter's memory garden. "On Oct. 18, we will 'paint' the town purple by putting purple ribbons or lights at businesses."

"Our numbers of events of domestic violence are increasing," Sierra said.

"Thank you for what you do," Ponce said. "Law enforcement appreciates that you give them another tool."

The next article in the series will begin with the monthly Gila Regional Medical Center report.