[Editor's Note: This is part 3 of a series of articles that will cover the Grant County Commission work session of Jan. 10, 2023, as well as the regular session of Jan. 12, 2023.)
By Mary Alice Murphy
This article continues with county reports at the Grant County Commission work session on Jan. 10, 2022.
The next report came from the Finance Director Linda Vasquez.
She said her department had released a request for proposal (RFP) for professional services, including engineering, environmental, surveying and archaeological services on Dec. 19, 2022, and the deadline for replies is Jan. 20, 2023.
She noted her future projects include beginning the fiscal year 2024 budget process in February. She would release the schedule after its development. An RFP would be going out for inmate meal services and so would a bid for the Truck By-Pass Road widening and culvert replacement.
District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne asked about the RFP on professional services.
Vasquez said that whatever services the respondents can provide, "we will call on them."
County Manager Charlene Webb explained that the services are on-call services.
District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards clarified that the Truck By-Pass Road widening and culvert repairs were caused by and needed because of the overuse of the road during the construction of the Highway 90 South bridge. "Did we manage to get the Department of Transportation to help pay for that?"
Webb said: "No. We tried multiple times. We gave up."
Road Department Superintendent Joe Grijalva presented his report. "Our blademen are on routine and are handling complaints when possible. Our truck drivers are hauling material to operators, and road crews are addressing complaints as they come in. The major repair on flooded roads is completed for the most part, with some odds and ends lacking."
For future projects, he reported his crews would be installing the School Bus Loading Zone sign and lights in the Tyrone townsite. "We also plan to install flashing warning lights on Airport Road, and we will resume the project on Little Walnut Road."
"I am working with the emergency manager on flood information," Grijalva said. "In 2022, we had 408 work orders come in, and we completed 378 of them. We are working on the rest. And, as of Jan. 6, 2023, the Grant County Road Department has gone 1,005 days without a lost-time accident. As always, we ask for patience and understanding from the public as we work to address work orders."
District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings asked if the delay in installing signs and lights was because of supply chain issues.
Grijalva said the department has received the materials, but "we're trying to find time. We wanted, too, to make sure on the placement for the sign on Airport Road."
Billings explained that the warning sign on Airport Road was to watch out for livestock.
Grijalva said he would get with the Planning Department to find out where placement should be.
"You have gone nearly three years without a lost-time accident," Edwards said. "Congratulations. It is worth highlighting that success."
Emergency Manager Justin Gojkovich reported that at the top of his current projects is the flooding damages done from Aug. 20-22, 2022. "I turned in the road department numbers for the work they have done on the initial damages in September and again a secondary report in January. They have been sent to Homeland Security Recovery Team to let them know we are seeking reimbursement. I have been attending NMAA (New Mexico Acequias Association) meetings on Thursdays to discuss avenues of help. The New Mexico Department of Transportation is trying to assist in removing sediment and debris from the acequias. They are currently waiting on funding, and they can't give us a timeline. That's another hurdle we ran into. We also received the new preliminary disaster assessment (PDA) report from SWCA Consultants with damage totals from the acequias that are dramatically different from what were assessed by FEMA and Homeland Security. We sent the new report to the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Manager in hopes of being able to apply for federal assistance. We have more ditches to assess to get more accurate assessment numbers to show them that the $378,000 they said was all that was needed was way off. This report says between $1.8 million and $2 million, which covers the four Gila ditches, the Grandfather Harper Ditch and a couple of Mimbres ditches, but there are about 14 more that haven't been assessed. I got in touch with them yesterday and asked them to come back out, to see if we could get some more realistic assessment of monetary damages. In 10 ditches they have turned in the paperwork requesting public assistance."
For future projects, Gojkovich said he is applying to FEMA for $70,000 to get a hazard mitigation plan redone and up-to-date. "We will also be asking for radios and grant funding. We continue to assist with the recovery from the floods, and we will monitor the NMDOT sediment and debris removal. We want to develop memoranda of agreement with the local acequias, and we might need legal team assistance."
He noted that in meetings with the NMAA, the only thing "that is keeping me from losing my mind is that none of the counties up north or down here have received any public support for the flooding recovery. All of us are still waiting to get the ditches back into service. We called Lt. Gov. Howie Morales. I asked him to light a fire to get some funding released. He said he will take it to the legislators. I told him that spring is a month and a half away, and if they don't get water to the ditches for agricultural and livestock operations, it will be extremely detrimental to the economy. I will be completing my core training for this position at the end of January in Los Lunas. I will try to have more meetings with Mimbres and Cliff-Gila to let them know what's going on, even though we're still spinning our tires in the mud."
Edwards said: "We appreciate your diligence and following up on all these flooding issues and all your hard work."
Billings said that was exactly what he was going to say, and said he appreciated Gojkovich getting with Morales to follow up, thanks to help from Manager Webb and Priscilla Lucero (Southwest New Mexico Council Governments executive director). "I got the longest voicemail ever this morning. She live in the Gila Valley. She talks really fast and she was reiterating that things need to happen for people to keep their livelihoods. I appreciate what you're doing to get the feds to look at their mistake. It's just a broken system."
Gojkovich said he and Manager Webb pointed out to Morales a lot of mistakes on the Homeland Security preliminary disaster assessment study. Some of the Gila ditch owners pointed out that the numbers on the first PDA didn't add up mathematically, and "they shorted us upwards of $100,000 just in that report."
District 2 Commissioner Eloy Medina also said he appreciated all the work Gojkovich has done in the Mimbres. "Next time you're talking to them, I would appreciate being included or at least given the chance to interact with them."
Webb gave her report and apologized for not getting her report done in time to get into the packet. "We did meet with the Lt. Governor. His intent was to take our questions to Homeland Security and to the cabinet secretary to try to get some answers. He and I will be meeting with Sen. Hemphill, too hopefuly at the end of the week, because she has been active in trying to get some assistance. In our brainstorming with Justin, the SWCA report was only a partial, and once we figure out the cost, I may be coming to the Commission to ask for assistance to complete that report. One of the things the Lt. Governor asked is if we intend to go for funding, we need a figure that is closer to the amount we need. Obviously, the FEMA PDA and the state's report are not worth looking at. The SWCA report is much closer to what actual costs are. We need to have that completed, so whenever we go to ask for money to assist our county, we need to know exactly what that looks like. It's extremely frustrating to run into one closed door after another. When I talk to these residents, I hear the desperation in their voices, with their voices cracking every time you talk with them. It's been one of the most frustrating experiences in my entire career. I would love to find a way, as Billy said, to fix this broken system."
She said that as the legislative session approaches, she has been following early bills. "Nothing has jumped out yet that is extremely scary, but I will continue to monitor that daily. As soon as the session starts, I will be watching closely to see if bills will have a positive or negative impact on the county. We are also working with a new contractor to look at a new compensation and salary study. I would like to start from scratch. I think it will be more beneficial to the commission, as well as to department heads and elected officials. The contract is within my signing authority, so I just want to let you know I am moving forward with it. It is something that needs to be done. Our plan is outdated, and no one seems fond of how that structure is laid out."
Browne asked: "You say it's a different methodology?"
Webb said it is a similar methodology, with surveying the department heads. "They have a different approach to compensation, including what they call an employee calculator, which takes into account all the different things, years of service, experience, training, favorable employee evaluations. They will also be conducting a full benefits survey, including how our health insurance matches up to other entities, accrued time off, all the fringe benefits, so we'll be able to have a more comprehensive picture of how we compare to other employers."
She said she would be attending the New Mexico Counties conference the following week. On Tuesday, it's the insurance authority and on Friday, the county lobbyists, which is mainly the county managers and some commissioners. "NMC just wants to know what are some of the county initiatives that may or may not align with their initiatives. Please let me know if there's something you would like me to share in that Friday morning meeting."
The next article will get into some of the beginning presentations of the regular meeting and the review of the meeting agenda items.
For the preceding articles, please visit https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/76055-grant-county-commission-work-session-011023-part-1 and https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/76085-grant-county-commission-work-session-011023-part-2 .