[Editor’s Note: This is the second of a multi-part series of articles on the extended Commission combined special meeting and work session on May 10, 2022. It will get into the review of the regular meeting on May 12, 2022 and the decisions made there.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

This Grant County Commission combined special meeting and work session of May 10, 2022 got into the review of the regular meeting agenda for May 12, 2022, as well as decisions made at the regular meeting.

Acting County Manager Randy Villa said the first few items following public input in the regular meeting would be proclamations. The first proclaimed the 72nd anniversary of the Empire Zinc Mine Strike where a plaque honoring the women who served as strikers after the men were forbidden to strike would be dedicated to replace the deteriorating plaque. 

The second proclamation named National School Lunch Hero Day.

The third addressed the Mental Health Month.

The last proclaimed Nurses Recognition Month.

[Editor’s Note: All were approved at the regular meeting. Photos and comments will come in a following article, as will the GRMC monthly report and the Sheriff Frank Gomez presentation and commissioner reports.] 

At the work session, Financial Officer Linda Vasquez presented the fiscal year 2021-22 quarterly financial report ending March 31, 2022. The General Fund began the quarter with $4,308,588, with investments of $10,755,877 and revenues of $10,051,874.09 million. Transfers out totaled $2,975,483.56, with expenditures at $7,615,579.42, leaving a balance of $14,525,276.11 with reserves of $1,903,894.85 and an adjusted balance of $12,621,381.26. 

The Road Department had at the beginning of the quarter $509,332 in cash, no investments, no revenues, transfers in of $336,330.13, expenditures of $1.294 million, no adjustments, leaving a balance of $107,999.61, with reserves of $107,866.78, leaving an adjusted balance of $112.83.

The jail/detention fund had cash of $280,604 at the beginning of the quarter, with no investments, revenues of $678,874.43, transfers in of $2,186554.87, expenditures of $2,664,241.13. leaving a balance of $481,792.17, no required reserves and an adjusted balance of $481,792.17. 

Vasquez reported that 74.5 percent of tax revenue had been collected, and that 67.65 of the budgeted amounts had been expended.

She then gave the monthly expenditure report for the month from April 8, 2022 to May 5, 2022. The total was $2,757,520.08, including two pay periods totaling $452,059.41. 

Extraordinary expenditures above $10,000 are listed in the chart below.

At the regular meeting, Commissioners approved the quarterly report and the monthly expenditure report.

Under new business, the first item dealt with solid waste accounts subject to lien, 71 of them. Ted Martinez, solid waste billing and payments accounting specialist, reported that the liens are placed when accounts go over $100 in balance. Some of the letters sent out were undeliverable, he noted.  

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne noted that at least one unpaid balance was on a county employee’s account. “Is there any way to get it through garnishing his paycheck?”

Martinez said: “Not that I know of.”

Villa said the county would look into it.

At the regular meeting, it was noted that two of the 71 had paid, so 69 liens would be placed. Commissioners approved the liens.

The following item of new business discussed possible action directing publication of an ordinance of abatement of dangerous or abandoned buildings, structures, mobile or manufactured housing, wreckage and debris.

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings asked what the timeline was to work on this ordinance.

Planning and Community Development Director Priscilla Shoup said the item would require a 30-day notice of a public hearing.

County Counsel Ben Young of Mynatt, Martinez and Springer law firm said the first step is to direct publication of the ordinance for public viewing, “then you’ll have the public hearing at least two weeks before the meeting in June to hear the public’s comments and concerns. If there are substantive changes, they can be made, but it will delay the final adoption of the ordinance. A copy will be available at the front office. It is fully available for review now.”

Villa said the same process would be done for junked and hazardous vehicles.

Shoup said the hazardous and junked vehicles ordinance follows the same process as the buildings one, “Although this is the first time you’ve seen the draft. Ben and I have worked on it. We’ve also had input from the Sheriff’s Department. They are a little bit concerned on how to enforce the ordinance, especially right now when we have no code enforcement officer. If a person is guilty, it will be a misdemeanor and the punishment will be through Magistrate Court, because it is criminal. It will require the Sheriff’s Department to handle the case.”

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked: “If we had a code enforcement officer, he would have to take action similar to what a deputy would do, because it is a misdemeanor violation. Why is a misdemeanor forcing us into that action?”

Young said it is because it is allowed by statute. “If we kept it as a civil matter, we lose an avenue of compliance through punishment.”

Edwards said the commissioners in their budget discussions had talked about whether a code enforcement officer and animal control officer would be deputized. “The cost to be law enforcement is significant, so we talked about the code enforcement officer not being a law enforcement officer, and the animal control officer being law enforcement. Both would be employed by the Sheriff’s Office, but there would be a difference in status. Having this section in the ordinance makes it moot.”

Shoup said she looked at the county ordinance and right in the first paragraph, it states that the code enforcement officer will be law enforcement to enforce the county’s ordinances. 

Edwards because it is a budget issue, perhaps the commissioners would have to change that ordinance, so “we don’t have to deputize the code enforcement officer. “

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce said he wasn’t understanding this. “If we have a code enforcement officer, he will have to take pictures, collect data, just like law enforcement officers do. Once that is done, he could give the information to a deputy who could file the complaint and put it through the courts. I can see concerns about tying up a deputy’s time. But this ordinance has to have some teeth in it to really work.”

Brown asked if there were any difference in where the money goes if it is between a misdemeanor or a civil charge. Would it go to the county or the state?

Ponce said if it goes to Magistrate Court, it will go to state. 

Edwards asked if the ordinance could have civil and criminal penalties.

Young said: “There are a lot of moving parts to your question. Usually, civil relates to damages associated with removing a vehicle, if it’s a nuisance, for instance. The process built in here allows removal, and if the county files. through the Sheriff’s Office, a civil complaint based on this ordinance, to receive an order allowing removal of the vehicle, we are able, as a county to recover the appropriate reimbursement of the charges and the fine as previously approved in the county fine structure. In terms of the criminal side of things, what is discussed in this ordinance is that your code enforcement officer and your animal control officer would work together under the Sheriff’s Office. If something was rising to a more complicated level, then you would have a law enforcement officer helping to prosecute that claim. I think we may be getting into the weeds for what deputizing means. It doesn’t necessarily mean getting a law enforcement certification. It is deputizing to cover county ordinances.”

He said he would look further into the issue, but “I don’t believe your previous ordinance bars a code enforcement officer from prosecuting a misdemeanor in court. Unless I’m misunderstanding, if a county deputized employee brings a criminal charge under this ordinance, those fines should be remitted to the county, as opposed to the state. Some of the operations of the court may be related to the state. If it’s a state offense, then the fines go to the state, but if it’s an offense of a county ordinance, the funds should remit to the county. I will double-check the structure.”

Edwards said there isn’t a fine structure in the ordinance. 

Young said section 7 b, civil fine not to exceed $300. “Maybe it’s appropriate to move it to the penalty section.”

He clarified that even if the nuisance is not on public property, a neighbor has the right to file a complaint in magistrate court. 

At the regular meeting Ponce said the item was only to move toward holding a public hearing. “It can be modified or changed after comments.”

A motion was made to publish the item, acknowledging that the ordinance was not in its final form. Commissioners approved it. They also approved publication of the ordinance addressing junked and hazardous vehicles.

The last item under new business addressed asset deletions and transfers. Procurement Officer Randy Hernandez noted that most assets to be deleted were non-functioning office equipment. Two transfers would include a water truck from the Pinos Altos Volunteer Fire and Rescue department to the Tyrone VFD. The second transfer would be a plotter from the Planning Department to the Assessor’s Office. 

Billings asked if it was an appropriate time to discuss the item. Ponce said discussion should take place at the June 21 work session and at the public hearing on June 23. 

Commissioners approved the deletions and transfers at the regular meeting. 

The first resolution considered at the work session addressed development and production of sources of renewable energy in Grant County.

Shoup said she and Young had worked on the resolution. 

Browne said: “This is great, but I’m still in wonderment why it only addresses one industry, the solar industry. But it does give developers something to see.”

Billings said he keeps reading the county leadership will make the decisions. “They make the recommendations that must come before us.”

At the regular meeting, Billings said, due to a trip to Hawaii some years ago where he saw non-functioning wind turbines, he believes the main thing that needs to be addressed is the removal of old solar panels and wind turbines after their end-of-life. “Will the potential developer agree to clean up the mess 30 or 40 years down the road, perhaps with a removal bond? I believe it should be standard language in every contract, because my biggest concern is the cleanup.”

Edwards agreed, because the deteriorating remains could leak into the groundwater. 

Browne, too, agreed, but it should be for all industries, not just “picking on solar.”

The resolution was approved at the regular meeting.

The next resolution authorizes submission of a completed application for financial assistance and project approval to the New Mexico Finance Authority.  Shoup said the application is to pay for a Pinos Altos VFD sub station at Dos Griegos. “We want to apply for a loan from the NMFA. The property where the proposed substation would be constructed is county-owned.”

She noted that the item had come before commissioners from the PAVFD, which did not receive the funding they sought. “They now are looking at a loan.”

Villa said the payments would come out of the PAVFD fire funds. “This loan is temporary until they get their annual funding. It will improve the area’s ISO rating so the insurance costs are less for the residents. The area is one-way in and one-way out, so they are proceeding with Firewise protections. The community will be policing itself.”

Billings said he thought there had been discussions about expanding the road.

Browne said he understood the substation was primarily for single home fires, not addressing wildfires.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of fire it is,” Villa said. “Our VFDs often help with wildfires and houses. We will assist. The biggest issue is that it is a high-risk area. Firewise is to give them a fighting chance to tend to a fire. Firewise is mitigate, remitigate and so forth, so that firefighters have a fighting chance to save lives and property.”

Pinos Altos VFD Chief Ed Downard said it offers a chance to fight fires from two sides. “If it’s a large fire, we’ll call for help. If the road gets closed, we can protect structures as a fire moves northward.”

Billings asked what risk the county has on this loan.

“Minimum to none,” Villa said, “because the payments are coming out of the state fire funds. The NMFA looks at the base cost of the station. They want to make sure that the station can do their operating costs in addition to the loan payment.”

Downard said the substation would give the area a station on the north end of the subdivision, so all areas could be covered.

Billings asked how the department was doing for volunteers.

Downward said the numbers are up and down. “We were up to 45, but we are back to recruiting. We already have six people who will be assigned to this station. We are constantly recruiting.”

Villa noted that the VFDs have mutual aid agreements, so “we have more than 250 volunteers that are training together. We have nine fire districts. We are working to become one great fire-fighting source.”

Commissioners approved the resolution at the regular meeting.

The following resolution declared the vacation and abandonment of a portion of Bald Knoll Road. Villa said he wasn’t comfortable recommending approval because the road accesses state and BLM land. “I contacted BLM, and they were not comfortable with a gate being put on the road. The Road Abandonment Advisory Committee recommended abandoning 4.1 miles. People can still access the public land from before the cattle guard.”

Billings noted the owners of the property had had problems with people coming onto their property and have lost cattle. “There is one 40-acre piece of BLM land.”

Edwin Bradberry, who owns the land, said with the BLM the first response is always No.

“It’s a cliff,” Bradberry said. “People do not access the property. If they ask permission, hunters can access the public land before the cattleguard. The road goes right next to my barns and corrals. It’s a liability for me. What if one of my horses kicks a kid? People are wanting to drive their four-wheelers. It’s a safety factor for my family. The county-maintained road is tearing my truck up. When I can maintain my roads better than the county, it’s because they are not maintaining them the way they should. That, too, is my concern. We’re spent a lot of money maintaining a county road.”

Browne asked if it’s a county-maintained road, “you don’t want them to maintain it?”

“Right,” the older Mr. Bradberry said. 

Ponce noted that it’s not good if people are going out there and destroying property. “I like to hunt and fish, and I don’t like cutting access to public land, but I understand where you’re coming from.”

The older man noted that it was easier for people to get to the BLM land from Norris Road, which is before Bald Knoll Road.

Edwin’s daughter said: “The only piece that would not be accessible if we abandoned and closed Bald Knoll Road would be one side of the BLM 40 acres. Nobody in his or my lifetime has stopped on that road. People ask permission if they want to cross our property. I don’t see people wanting to drop off those cliffs. They will still have access to the BLM property from Norris Road. The problem is people getting out there who have no respect for private, state or BLM land. If there were an emergency, no one would get there in time now. I don’t think anyone would want to hunt there at all.”

Edwards asked how people are getting there.

The daughter replied they come in vehicles, like side-by-sides and ATVs. “The closure would only be on our private land, and people would still have access to state and BLM land.” She said where the gate is at Norris Road is where the bulk of hunters access the public land.

Shoup noted that the 4.1 miles to close is from the gate and is on private land.

At the regular meeting, commissioners tabled the item to do more research.

The final resolution on the agenda was to accept and approve the audit for fiscal year 2021-22. Commissioners approved it at the regular meeting. 

[Editor’s Note: The audit was presented in the first article at https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/72234-grant-county-commission-holds-special-meeting-051022-part-1]

Under bids and requests for proposal, Villa said the county recommended the commissioners approve a bid for bulk diesel fuel. Commissioners approved the bid with Fuel Center Plus at the regular meeting.

As the Grant County Health Care Claims Board, commissioners considered the monthly health care claims from GRMC. Hernandez said The hospital had billed for $51,861.40; one claim out of 8 was denied. Hernandez recommended paying for 7 of the claims for a total of $9,595.16. Commissioners approved the claims.

With no commissioner reports, the members went into executive session to discuss matters regarding the county manager’s office. 

[Editor’s Note: The results of the executive session, as approved back in open session, were covered in https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/71877-grant-county-commission-makes-decisions-after-executive-session-051022].

The next article should conclude the regular meeting of May 12, 2022, including public input, presentations and reports, and commissioner reports.  

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