[Editor's Note: This is part 1 of likely a multi-article series about the Grant County Commission work session on Oct. 25, 2022.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce at the Grant County Commission work session on Oct. 25, 2022, welcomed back former and rehired County Manager Charlene Webb.

The first presentation came from Evangeline Zamora, co-chair of the Grant County Community Health Council. "Since last month, we've been working with the New Mexico Department of Health on a Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), as well as on a statewide CHIP. Each community is to determine its own plan with social determinants. We had two meeting to listen to the data that was gathered by Dr. Josh Whaley. [For a report on the first meeting, visit: https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/74872-gcchc-hosts-grant-county-data-review-session-100622].

She noted that the health council and other participants are "heading toward a plan by June 2023. We will have more discussions to determine our community issues." Grant County has data up to 2020 on things like housing and poverty. "We're rural, so our needs are different from urban needs."

Zamora said on Nov. 3, from 6-7 p.m. the general Health Council meeting will "reintroduce the Health Council as it has changed from years past. We've changed the structure and have new state funding. We're working on Health Council capacity. We are the recipients of HB 2, CDC and Department of Health funding. We plan to address homelessness and are working with the city on how to share resources. The HB 2 Junior money will expire June 2023, so we need to get it expended. We need to continue to build capacity. We are hoping for sustainable funding. The Legislature allocated $125,000 for each health council in the state."

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked about the Community Health Improvement Plan. "How will you get from here to there?"

Zamora said the health council is following guidance from the Department of Health.

Edwards asked to see the document they are using, and Zamora agreed to share it.

Zamora noted that guidance is coming from the southwest region office of the DOH. "We are just looking at Grant County."

Edwards also asked to see the data.

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne, who once served on the GCCHC, asked how many members the council has now.

Zamora said the structure consists of six networks, and the steering committee has slots for 10 members, but not all are filled. "We are hoping to hold a strategic planning meeting before December. The membership of the steering committee is limited, but the networks can have more members."

Ponce noted that the group is working on homelessness and is doing a survey.

"We developed a survey that can be a general discussion with the homeless as well as with groups working on the issue," Zamora said. "We are helping put it into a formal report."

Ponce said he would get the survey to the commissioners.

Zamora said a task force is also under development. "We are trying to join with other organizations, such as the Rural Health Network, for instance. At next week's meetings, we will have someone from the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority. The health council co-chair Valerie Kling will facilitate the meeting."

Edwards asked if each steering committee member facilitates a network.

Zamora said the amended bylaws include four more steering committee members to represent geographical areas to include the Mining District and the Cliff-Gila area.

Edwards said she would like to see the organizational chart once everything is ironed out.

Zamora said she would definitely share it.

The meeting had three discussions on the agenda.

The first, which was requested by District 2 Commissioner Javier "Harvey" Salas addressed Bataan Memorial Park. "I asked for this to entertain using ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding. I know we asked for funding for this project in the Quality of Life grant application, but the wheels are moving slowly on the grant. There are improvements that need to be done, such as heating and cooling in the pavilion and upgrading the bathrooms. I think we could use ARPA funding to do them, so hopefully it can be a center for our trails. There are a lot of people who walk in the area."

Ponce noted that the governor and lieutenant governor allocated $750,000 for the improvements. "And we already have $450,000. We have to decide what we need to do and how much it will cost right now and how much more is needed."

Planning Director Randy Hernandez said the county is waiting to hear on the Quality of Life grant, which was supposed to be allocated by the end of August. "We did receive $60,000 in junior money for general maintenance. We also submitted a request for a maximum of $250,000 from the Land and Water Fund."

Salas asked what the estimates were for the bathrooms and HVAC.

"They are only estimates," Hernandez said. "They will include the pavilion restrooms, the plumbing and propane, but the estimate is about $100,000. The electrical upgrades estimate stands at $149,000, with removal of the old bathrooms at $40,000 and vault bathrooms at $145,000. The roof replacement is estimated at $1.3 million, so the total estimate is $1.7 million, almost $1.8 million."

Edwards asked if ARPA would support specifically these requests.

"There has been a bit of a change in the final rule," Hernandez said. "They loosened the strings. It would be classified as a government service. We do have to be careful on the restrictions, as economic development is restricted. We requested $1.7 million from the Quality of Life grant just for Bataan."

"So theoretically, it would cover the costs, if we get it," Edwards said.

Ponce said they might have to hold off on the turf for the sports fields.

Edwards said the project should be phased if the county doesn't get all the needed funds. "The $450,000 capital outlay would cover some of the problems."

Hernandez agreed.

"I'm in favor of waiting on the Quality of Life grant," Edwards said.

Hernandez said he had no idea when it will be allocated, as it's already nearly two months since it was promised.

Edwards said the project has been a large one for Salas. "We can wait until the December meeting to hear about the grant. But it would be good to know it was going to be done before he leaves office."

Hernandez said, if the bond issue passes in the election [which it did], bonds could also possibly be used for this purpose of renovations to the park pavilion. 'We can commit ARPA funds, but if the other funding comes through, it would replace the ARPA, which could be contingent on receiving the other funding."

Edwards said: "I too want us to do these renovations, although I am reluctant to put ARPA funding toward Bataan before knowing if the county will receive the other potential funding."

Salas noted that the reason for the holdup on the Quality of Life grant allocations is because so many applications were made. "That's why I wanted this discussion. I'm glad we have estimates to help us make the decisions."

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings asked if there has ever been a plan for Bataan Memorial Park.

Hernandez said he had received a proposal from SE Group [which has been working on an Outdoor Recreation and Trails Master Plan for the county] to do a preliminary plan on Bataan Memorial Park.

Billings asked: "Shouldn't we have a plan before we determine estimates? I would like to see a plan."

Salas echoed the plan "and on other ideas and places, too."

Billings said he didn't think the county should put in $1.3 million "if we don't have a plan to protect the work."

Ponce agreed. "It has had lots of vandalism over the years. They had to shut the toilets, because people where throwing rocks into the plumbing, which created a lot of maintenance for the county to clean the vault toilets."

Browne said the key to the improvements to the pavilion were so it could be used as an emergency site for the Mining District. "That discussion influenced a large amount of expenditures. Those doors are a question and what electrical facilities and septic facilities would be needed for an emergency center. I feel like we have a ton of questions. Some things can be done now, but are there savings if done in concert with other projects?"

Salas said the commissioners have been talking about this for such a long time. "I would like to see a decision. We haven't decided a thing."

Ponce said he would throw a wrench into the indecision. "I think all of us were at the rededication of the park for the 80th anniversary of the Bataan March, which is what the park was named for. I saw cars lined up all down the road. I called the Public Land Commissioner to see if she could help us get five more acres for a parking lot across from Bataan Park. I don't know where that will go. It may take a few years for that to happen."

Edwards agreed that more parking is needed, especially if tournaments are held at the fields. "Certain events need other resources, too, such as porta-potties and food trucks. I had to park down the road for the rededication, and it was scary walking along the edge of the road with traffic going by. And on the topic of turf, wasn't there specific maintenance required for the turf?"

Ponce said the issues of ADA and the flooding that happened, the county didn't have the equipment to maintain it.

Edwards said: "We need to have equipment to maintain it before we replace the turf. Also, if it requires regular maintenance, that will add to staffing needs. I also would not like to invest in the pavilion as an emergency center, if there are other options, such as the Santa Clara Armory and Cobre High School. We need to have a plan for housing in case of an emergency on that side of the county. Talking about the toilets, isn't there something we can do right now? Such as more vault toilets? It's amazing how many conversations we've had about outdoor recreation, but nothing about going to the bathroom."

Laura Howell, who served on the committee for the Bataan Rededication, along with Kathy Howell (no relation), Donnie Turner and this author (who were the ones present), among many others, said the committee had 17 plaques ready to go into the concrete structure, the prisoner "boxcar" replica that was added to the park. They will be covered with Plexiglas to protect them. "Another part of the project we worked on was the website. Each part of the actual Bataan memorial part of the park has a QR code, which leads to more information on the different aspects of the memorial. The county owns the URL, bataanmemorial@grantcountynm.org. With everything else that was in the planning for the celebration, the website didn't get done. We have the content. We need a commitment for perpetuity on the website. Grant County gave so much to the Bataan March, with more than 100 Grant Countians involved in it. Almost half did not return."

Edwards asked if the committee were asking for maintenance to install the plaques.

"Yes, we would love for Jason (Lockett, grounds and facilities maintenance supervisor) to do it," Howell said. "We need county permission."

"What about the website?" Edwards asked.

Howell said she purchased the domain name for $100.

Edwards clarified the content is ready. "The website is paid for and will be updated. This has been an amazing project, and the plaques are gorgeous. I would love to have you meet with the county manager on this."

Ponce said he appreciated all the work that went into the rededication of the park. "I'm with Commissioner Edwards that you should work with the county manager."

Salas said it was a "wonderful celebration. I saw so many veterans, a few from World War II, but also from Korea and Vietnam. It was an affirmation for all our veterans. It was a fantastic celebration."

Billings asked about the 17 plaques. "Will there be room for more?"

"We had 17 families step forward for these plaques, but yes, there will be room for more," Howell said.

"I also support your working with the county manager," Billings said. "I would like it appropriately done. I want to avoid 'you did this right, you did this wrong.' It sticks in my craw when that happens, and I don't want it to happen again."

The next article will begin a discussion on a county local option gross receipts tax.

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