[Editor's Note: This is likely to be a multi-part series of articles for the 3.5-hour meeting. This is part 3 and the final article on the meeting. It starts with public input and goes into county reports.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

You can read the two preceding articles at https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/67491-grant-county-commission-holds-joint-work-session-and-regular-meeting-090921-part-1 and https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/67531-grant-county-commission-holds-joint-work-session-and-regular-meeting-090921-part-2

Grant County commissioners heard public comments from Jim Baldwin, Grant County resident.

"A number of months ago, Commissioner Edwards and I looked at a piece of land. The survey markers were visible. She mentioned prescriptive easement. We have an easement down Cottage San Road. I went around to the county planner's office and talked to Dan Arrey. It is public right-of-way, so I will leave the issue to Ms. Edwards. I am also having trouble with Gila Regional Medical Center. I was not called to speak on the issue although I was on the agenda. I have been advised not to address the situation in public. I was asked not to discuss it in public."

General Services Director Randy Villa gave the first county report. "I want to recognize our first responders in Grant County for their service to community. I also want to recognize Taysha Walter [executive assistant who resigned to move to Las Cruces. She and their children will join her husband who has already been working there for several weeks.] I have no other report."

Detention Center Assistant Administrator Joseph Andazola said he is interim Detention Center administrator. "We have five vacancies with two in training. I want to thank County Manager Zamora for coming out to the facility. I also thank [Human Resources Specialist] Renae [Calloway] and also [Financial Services Officer] Linda [Vasquez] for the raise in pay. We will participate in a job fair at the Conference Center and with Fort Bliss [Army Post in El Paso, Texas]. We train not only our new detention officers, but we continue to train all our staff. We are reviewing the potential step plan for our employees."

He also gave a Covid update. "We had one positive officer, but he is back at work, and we have one under the Covid protocol right now. We also had one detainee test positive, and he is quarantined at the jail. We do surveillance testing to everyone when we have a positive test. We want to go to a regular 100 percent testing schedule."

Andazola said the detention center wants to implement more RISE services. "Thanks to Chris DeBolt and Kristina Ozzello, our RISE navigator. We have had 35 in the program, with nine graduating in August. Eight are now participating, with three females and five males. Even with our vacancies, I want to give all the staff recognition, because they have made sure to cover all shifts."

He noted that four detainees at that time were in special management. "Our population was 76 on Aug. 30, with a daily average of 71 for the month."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne asked what percentage of the staff and detainees are vaccinated. Andazola said 12 out of 24 staff are vaccinated and out of 70 inmates, 59 were vaccinated.

Planning and Community Development Director Priscilla Shoup gave an update on projects underway. "We will have a pre-construction conference on Sept. 15 for Bandoni Drive, with construction starting soon after. We expect the Bataan Memorial Park ADA project to be complete Oct. 25. For the Bataan memorial itself, we have a pre-bid conference set for Sept. 15, with construction expected to start in November, and we estimate a February completion. We have our trails and outdoor recreation master plan survey out. So far, we have received 334 responses and there's a healthy variety of ages taking the survey. The stakeholder and group meetings are being scheduled for this month and next month. The SE Group that is working on this master plan is planning to report to the commission next month. Grant County was awarded two DOT projects, one for $3.4 million for the Truck Bypass Road and $688,447 for Fleming Tank Road flooding project. We have two Colonias resolutions on the agenda for today for Old Arenas Valley Road and North Hurley Phase 3. We should be closing on the loan agreement on Oct. 15. We have the Bataan trails project, and we will be working on getting some quotes for construction. The deadline for the project is June 2022, so we're on track with that."

Zamora gave the county manager report. "Over the last month, I have had the opportunity to meet with employees and directors. I've been assessing to see where we stand and where we need to head. I look forward to meeting with the commissioners to see what their goals and priorities are, and we'll develop a plan from there."

Treasurer Patrick Cohn said his office had collected $35,047.18 in August, which brings the percentage collected for 2020 to 93.4 percent. Total taxes collected for 2020 equal $11.6 million, with about $178,000 remaining uncollected. He said the 10-year average is 95.67 percent collected. He reported how much would be distributed to local municipalities, school districts and special entities.

"In August, our office had a visit from the New Mexico Property Tax Division," Cohn said. "The division red-tagged delinquent properties and a sale will take place this fall. Under the Treasurer's tab on the county website anyone will be able to access the auction list. Once the PTD publishes it online, anyone needs to contact the treasurer's office. Last Tuesday, I sent a notice to the Property Tax Division to get a list for the 2021 tax roll, which will be imported in November. On December 1, we will send out the first half tax bills, with Jan. 10 being the deadline to pay. Second half taxes will remain the same, with the send out date as April 10 and the deadline May 10. Not only Grant County is asking for an exemption until after the election to know if the bond issues pass. Sixteen counties are having to delay the sending of the first half bills. I thank the commissioners for putting the Covid safety and security renovations as part of the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding."

Sheriff Frank Gomez thanked the county and commissioners for funding crisis intervention training. He said that his office had provided active shooter training to the district attorney's office and is planning to provide the training at Silver Schools. The acronym is ALICE for alert, look down, inform, counter and evaluate to be prepared to address the actions in the first minutes of an event to save lives. He said he hoped the governor's office would hear his next comments.

"We have seen a significant increase in violent incidents this month, and the majority are already convicted felons that have been released no matter the charges," Gomez said. "The judicial system can't do anything, and victims are continuing to suffer. This is a significant miscalculation We are being told that the Legislature is considering changes in the law to correct the situation. The New Mexico Supreme Court created its own insane interpretation on the constitutional amendment, which voters approved years ago. Hopefully the legislators will overturn the Supreme Court decision that was presented to the voters as something popular and needed."

He reported several recent incidents. One was a critical intervention with a suicide attempt with a weapon, which was successfully de-escalated and the subject was taken to the hospital to get care.

He talked about the two vehicles versus pedestrian fatalities recently, with both victims likely to have been under the influence, walking in and out of traffic.

Gomez said the sheriff's department is working a lot in Bayard and Hurley due to both departments being understaffed or non-existent.

"We are also doing court security, with two special deputies," Gomez said. "With one out on extended leave, we are having to put deputies on overtime to cover our duties. I think the county needs to fund a third part-time court security deputy without benefits, as an on-call position."

He noted his department continues to work Stonegarden in the Hachita area. He said Border Patrol is anticipating more transnational activity as the weather cools, with human trafficking the most prevalent issue in the area. Federal sources have reported that New Mexico highways 9, 81 and 146, all or part of which are in Grant County, are the most trafficked areas.

Gomez said his department would participate in the 9/11 ceremonies and expects to participate at the Fort Bliss job fair for transitioning qualified military members into full-time civilian jobs.

He talked about how fleet maintenance is taking a lot of time for his department due to the shortage of workers at the county road department.

He noted that domestic violence calls have increased in the month of August from 15 last year to 44 this year; most other categories of crime had also increased.

"I am blessed with my deputies," Gomez said. "We have a lot patrolling in the Tri-City area, and not as many in Mimbres or Cliff-Gila. Hopefully the Tri-City will get the officers they need."

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked Gomez to define human trafficking.

"A local person was arrested in a traffic stop," Gomez answered as an example. "Eleven illegals were stopped with this one driver. There were children involved. We took the state actions we were supposed to do, and the rest went through the feds."

Edwards said the reason why she asked was if it was mostly cross-border, "which it sounds like it is."

District 2 Commissioner Javier "Harvey" Salas asked for clarification if most actions with Stonegarden were in rural areas, which Gomez confirmed. "What if an officer needs assistance?"

"Usually there is more than one officer," Gomez replied, "plus they can get help from Border Patrol. We notify Lordsburg, so we are all aware of who is where and are on the same radio frequencies. Usually, we are where the Border Patrol needs us at that time."

Salas also asked about the increase in domestic violence. "Are you regularly sending people to El Refugio?"

Gomez said anytime they get involved in a domestic violence call, "we advise them of all the resources available. If they are willing to go to El Refugio, we will make that call."

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings thanked Gomez and said he would like to get a copy of the written report. Gomez said he could scan it and email it. All the commissioners asked for the report.

Billings said he was glad the county had helped with the CIT, and "we moved the sheriff's vehicles to No. 3 on the ICIP (Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan), but there are some issues that I don't know that we have solutions for. My belief is that law enforcement is the No. 1 responsibility for the county. One thing that comes to my mind is the Mining District, with your having so many responsibilities there that you can't get to other areas of the county."

To a question from Billings, Gomez said he was five deputies short.

Billings also had a concern about the recent raise to county employees, but that it did not include the sheriff's department. "Can you explain why it needs to include your department?"

Gomez said he has spoken to Zamora. "We have been completely excluded from the step plan except for administrative staff. The step plan when it was originally set up, for those with 1-3 years of service, they are completely locked into $17.53 an hour. So, the 1.5 percent raise a couple of years ago, and this 3 percent raise those deputies under three years have still not gotten any raise. Silver City is getting $18.88 and Bayard is going to $21 for starting right out of the academy. I'm not sure if it can be looked at. After the three years, ours get raises, but until then they're stuck at the low end."

Zamora said he wanted to make it clear that the 3 percent raise is not for the Sheriff's Department. "With their step plan, I picture it as a longevity pay, as we had in the military. I don't think there is anything we can do about it right now, because we don't have the funds. When we decide on the step plan, the sheriff's department will be included. Any cost-of-living increases have to be separate from the step plan."

Billings said the sheriff's department was 11 deputies short, "we did the step plan and got just about staffed up. So, the proof to me, and my opinion, is that we are not paying enough to our beginning deputies, or we could fill the now vacant positions."

Assessor Raul Turrieta noted that the commissioners passed the 2021 tax rate table at the Tuesday special meeting. "I at the time noted what seemed like a discrepancy in the Hurley rate. I received clarification that it was correct, and the actual change is capped at 5.225 mills, because of the yield control formula." He read from a prepared statement with lots of legalese and said without the cap the rate would have been higher. He also told the commissioners and the public that his assessor office representatives will be out in the field looking at livestock and other properties.

"Come November-December, we will mail out renditions for personal property," Turrieta said.

Browne offered to summarize what Turrieta had just read to make sure he understood what was said. "Even though this is general, property taxes are going up. But you said nearly 57 percent of properties are not having increases? Why?"

Turrieta said he would get the information to Browne.

Next came the financial report by Accounting Specialist Veronica Rodriguez. Grant County expenditures for the period ending Sept. 2, 2021, totaled $3,128,460.08, which included two pay periods totaling $453,088.39.

Extraordinary expenses above $10,000 are shown on the chart below:


Commissioners approved the expenditure report.

In new business, commissioners heard from Corre Caminos Director Kim Dominguez discussing the transportation authority's annual budget, which is the same as the federal budgeting schedule as most of the funding comes from the federal Department of Transportation.

"We will receive $65,465 more in fiscal year 2022," Dominguez said. "I have budgeted an increase for mobile communications and switched to Verizon, which eliminates dead areas for our drivers. We are also adding cameras and GPS devices to our buses. Also, I put in a 5 percent raise for drivers."

To a question about how much the drivers are paid now, she said the non-CDL (commercial driver's license) drivers are paid just under $12 an hour and CDL-holders are paid just over $12 an hour. "We wanted to get everyone to at least $12 an hour. We also put in a 4 percent increase for administrative staff. No one has had increases since 2018. None of these increases will impact what the county pays. We will not increase the county cash match. Everything you've heard is grant funded."

Browne asked for a budget comparison with last year's actual costs. Dominguez said she would provide it to the commissioners.

Billings asked for clarification that the county cash match of $80,000 would not change. Dominguez confirmed that the $80,000 would remain the same as it has since 2013.

Edwards, who serves on the Transportation Board, said she shares a lot of information that she gets at the meetings. "The increases are covered by the increase in grant funding."

Salas asked for specific amounts that the drivers will get an hour with the increases. Dominguez said the non-CDL drivers would receive $12.12 an hour and the CDL drivers $12.73 an hour.

Billings asked if Corre Caminos is fully staffed. Dominguez said the program is short two drivers for the Corre Cantinas service, which provides public transportation to those who prefer to take the bus instead of driving their own vehicles, after drinking at parties or bars on weekends. "Otherwise, we are fully staffed."

Commissioners approved the Corre Caminos fiscal year 2022 budget.

A second item of new business addressed a proposed settlement agreement re: Grant County et al. v. New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department.

Haley Grant, Mynatt, Martinez and Springer law firm associate, said the settlement of $306,000 would be sent to the county after the state receives the commission approval. "Thirty-three thousand will be deducted for the contingency fund to Kennedy and Gallagher law firm. The full amount comes to the county, and it must pay the gross receipts tax and Kennedy and Gallagher."

The agreement was approved.

Under agreements, a sub-grant agreement with Consuelo Paul in the amount of $44,625 as authorized under the New Mexico Behavioral Health Services Division FY2022 RISE grant agreement, was approved. Paul will serve as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor for the RISE (reach, intervene, support and engage) program at the Detention Center.

After a short break, commissioners considered a resolution related to the industrial revenue bonds for the Great Divide Wind Farm LLC project. The resolution declares the intent of Grant County to issue such IRBs up to $500 million to induce Great Divide Wind Farm LLC to develop the project site and to construct and install the project and to publish a public notice of intent to consider an amended and restated ordinance authorizing the issuance and sale of the bonds.

Browne asked: "Didn't you just last month say you wanted to base the payments on actual generated energy rather than capacity?"

Project Manager Bob Karsted said in the exchanging of drafts that part was left out. "The payments in this version say the payments will be per installed megawatt. We're capped at 250 megawatts. The bond counsel said no to the generated energy."

Luis Carrasco of Rohde Law Firm attended the meeting on the phone. "The 2018 version of the resolution was identical to today's version in the matter of payments. In my discussions, I realized changing it to generated energy could have a detrimental effect on how the county is reimbursed."

Browne agreed that from the county perspective it is certainly better to have a fixed amount rather than it be variable. "Is there a statutory amount per megawatt?"

Carrasco said there is no statutory requirement. "It is subject to negotiation. This resolution does not give a specific amount, only how it is to be divided up among the county and the Silver and Cobre school districts."

Browne said, as he understands it, the payments will be to replace the property values lost to the tax rolls. "These are basically grazing lands. Everything we're talking about will be above those requirements. My desire is to do it fairly. I define fairly as equal per student. The amount will divide the payment between the two school districts. I would like to see an amendment to say per student. The company has also considered adding payments to ensure it is equal per student."

The other man, representing Scout Energy and Great Divide Wind Farm, did not identify himself, but he said: "We are agnostic on how the amount is split up."

Ponce said he has two issues. "My understanding is that Silver Schools passed a similar resolution. I would like to see it and honor it before we go into negotiations."

Salas agreed with a set amount to each school district and then more per student.

Ponce said: "This is Step A to pass the resolution in order to get to Step B."

Carrasco said: "It is totally fine to pass this resolution as it is now and leave the details to the ordinance and bond agreements. Another couple of changes, in addition to adding Cobre Schools, is that the bond issuance has been increased from $400 million to $500 million and that the project can include wind, solar and battery energy storage systems."

Zamora noted the resolution in no way limits the per student idea.

Carrasco confirmed that the resolution offers the intent to negotiate terms. "This does not bind the county to any course of action beyond the intent to issue bonds."

Commissioners approved the resolution as written.

Karsted asked when the next meeting it, so that he can plan to attend.

[Because of the already long meeting, Ponce quipped: "Maybe in a few minutes."]

It was determined the next regular meeting would take place on Oct. 14. Edwards, who also serves as chair of the Gila Regional Medical Center governing board, reminded Zamora that just like the present day of the meeting, the governing board members, who are the county commissioners, also had a 1 p.m. interview with a GRMC CEO candidate.

The next resolution authorized a Colonias Infrastructure project loan/grant agreement between the New Mexico Finance Authority and Grant County for road improvements to the Old Arenas Valley Road.

Shoup explained the Colonias award is $275,000, with a county match of $27,500 to the $247,500 grant for the purpose of a design of Old Arenas Valley Road.

Commissioners approved the resolution.

A following similar resolution was also a Colonias grant/loan agreement for the amount of $150,000, split between a grant of $135,000 from New Mexico Finance Authority and a $15,000 match from Grant County to survey and design the phase 3 project on North Hurley Road.

Commissioners approved the resolution.

A resolution adopting and Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan for Grant County was discussed. Shoup said Grant County Dispatch Authority cannot do its own ICIP, "so, we added two items to our ICIP. Dispatch is in dire need of equipment. As long as they are on somebody's list, in this case ours, they can qualify for funding."

Commissioners approved the resolution.

Ponce noted that Dispatch could go to the Legislature and do their own negotiations.

The next to last resolution adopted an ICIP for Mimbres Valley and Gila Senior Centers, which are owned by the county and operated by Hidalgo Medical Services. "Because the county owns the facilities, the county has to approve their ICIPs."

Commissioners approved the resolution.

The final resolution was to support and provide the county's financial commitment to Corre Caminos.

Commissioners approved the resolution.

As the Grant County Health Care Claims Board, the commissioners approved the claims for August 2021 of $112.96, with the comment of how low it was.

Under commissioner reports, Billings said he was pleased that earlier in the meeting Jason Quimby, Western New Mexico University veterans affairs officer, brought up the issue of the applications for a veterans service officer for Grant County. "Hopefully we will get some applicants."

Salas had no report.

Edwards noted that the posting of applications for VSO for Grant County went out the day before.

Browne said the commission had passed the proclamation for 9/11, with the statement of almost 3,000 people having lost their lives that day. "I would like to say that we are seeing every two days about 3,000 people losing their lives to Covid. People are unwilling to make the sacrifice to wear masks and be vaccinated. I am appalled that less than 50 percent of the staff at the Detention Center is vaccinated. We are supposed to provide a safe environment even for our detainees."

He went on to falsely say that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved. [Editor's Note: The Comirnaty vaccine by Pfizer has been approved but is not yet available and is not the same as the Pfizer vaccine being promoted now.]

Zamora said he had made a note of some jail staff not being vaccinated. "I will look into it. We had the same issue in the Army. We will work to improve vaccination rates voluntarily."

Ponce, in his report, thanked Billings for working on the 9/11 proclamation and allowing Ponce to read it at the event at WNMU.

The commissioners recessed to interview a GRMC CEO candidate and set 3 p.m. for reconvening for the executive session to discuss the annual goals for the county manager.

They adjourned after coming out of executive session briefly and specifically to adjourn the meeting.

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