l and b nelsonLoren and Barbara Nelson, who brought Imagination Library to Grant County and the state of New Mexico, were recognized at the Commission meeting. Photo Courtesy of Alicia Edwards

By Mary Alice Murphy

With no public input at the Grant County Commission special meeting on April 25, 2023, the commissioners launched directly into new business, which was consideration of the appointment of three members to the County Valuation Protest Board.

Deputy Assessor Raul Turrieta said the appointments are for two-year terms. "The board is just in case someone wants their protest to be heard by the protest board."

Commissioners approved the appointments of Sam Castello, Cassie Carver and Stacy Sollisch to the board. The appointees must be qualified electors of the county, at least one with demonstrated expertise in the field of valuation of property. No member can hold elective office during the term of their appointment or be employed by the state, a political subdivision or a school district during the time of appointment.

The first agreement addressed by the commissioners considered a contract for services between the county of Grant and the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District.

County Manager Charlene Webb said the draft contract had been reviewed and approved by the county attorney and the NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Services). "I am confident we have it ironed out. Justin (Gojkovich, county emergency manager) and I are confident the county can do its part."

Aaron Reynolds of NRCS and Dusty Hunt of the GSWCD attended the meeting.

Hunt gave an overview of the project. "This allocates funding to address the estimated $3 million in flooding damage on the Gila and Mimbres rivers. The NRCS has done the preliminary damage estimate involving 62 entities on the two rivers. They are eligible to have their infrastructure restored."

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked if the money would come directly from NRCS to the Soil and Water Conservation District or to the county.

Webb said it will come to the county. "We are serving as fiscal agent specifically for audit purposes. The Soil and Water Conservation District doesn't have the capacity, and we are already doing a federal audit, so we decided to take it on. We have Veronica (Rodriguez, procurement officer) and Randy (Hernandez, planning director, former procurement officer), both as certified procurement officers."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne asked if the Grant Soil and Water Conservation district was doing the property owner project orientation. "Is this the same as outreach with your letting them know about it?"

"The 62 entities know the money is coming," Hunt said. "We will get access to their property and figure out how they can meet the match. This will help them know what to do for permitting and how to find contractors."

Reynolds said that some of the entities on the two rivers may not have been familiar with the EWP (emergency watershed protection) program. "If there is funding left over, we maybe can get some of them done if more come forward. If, indeed, more who are eligible come forward, there is the opportunity for the sponsor, the county, to request additional dollars. The NRCS provides 75 percent of the cost, and each sponsor must meet the 25 percent match."

Browne asked if under the contract with the SWCD as a contractor to Grant County, "do we indemnify them?"

Webb said the contract has a mutual indemnification clause in the contract, with both having responsibility.

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce said he's not going to let it go, as he has spoken to the emergency manager about it. "In the area of Lake Roberts, Trout Valley, I would like to see if they qualify and not just exclude them. I hope it stays equal. I would appreciate it if you would look at it."

Edwards said it is her understanding that part of the outreach is to hold meetings. "Is that where the technical assistance comes in?"

Hunt agreed that was part of the plan.

Edwards also asked for clarification that the match can be in-kind, too.

Hunt said the entire match can be in-kind using their equipment and labor.

Commissioners approved the agreement.

The second agreement addressed a property management services agreement, amendment 2.

Rodriguez said it was the third year of the Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce managing the Grant County Veterans Memorial Business and Conference Center. "We have increased the amount paid to the chamber from $80,000 to $120,000 annually based on the revenue they are bringing in. They have already, and this is just through February, brought in $106,000, so I'm confident we will be able to do this."

Webb noted that the amount had not been increased since the first agreement in 2016. "This is long overdue."

Ponce said: "They are doing an excellent job, but what if we end up with another shutdown or something like that?"

"We can renegotiate," Webb said.

Browne asked if it made sense to extend the agreement to the fiscal year end in June.

"We have just based it on the original contract," Webb said.

SC-GC Chamber of Commerce Director Romeo Cruz said: "It works for us with this date now."

Commissioners approved the agreement.

During commissioner reports, Edwards said she had tried to get the item on the agenda, but she missed the deadline, "so, I will recognize Loren and Barbara Nelson during my commissioner's report. I was at their farewell party, but I thought the county needs to recognize them for their volunteer work here. We don't have a plaque, but they are downsizing by two-thirds, so they won't have anything extra to pack. They are moving back to Minnesota to be near family. They have spent 21 years in Grant County. They are retired teachers. I have no doubt they are the type that make you say: 'I wouldn't be where I am today without your being my teacher.'"

"After their retirement, kids never left their hearts," Edwards continued. "I met them at The Volunteer Center when I was there. Loren was instrumental in helping the organization mature. He was awesome with spreadsheets and was helpful at the beginning of what is now The Commons. He left the Volunteer Center to bring to the county, along with Barbara, Imagination Library in 2010. Today, the program, thanks to them, is in all 33 counties in New Mexico. They have worked tirelessly to make sure that kids under 5 years of age receive a book monthly. More than 22,000 books are mailed out every month in New Mexico. Here in Grant County more than 1,000 books are mailed out every month. From our hearts to yours, we thank you for what you've done for the community."

"We have always had full support from the community and from you commissioners," Barbara Nelson said.

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings, District 2 Commissioner Eloy Medina, as well as Ponce and Browne had no report.

They went into executive session to discuss items related to strategic and long-range business planning for Gila Regional Medical Center.

The commissioners did not expect any action, but, following the meeting, Edwards, who currently serves as GRMC Governing Board chair told the Beat the intent of the commissioners is to appoint members to the GRMC Board of Trustees at the regular Commission meeting on May 11, 2023.

"But we're still taking applications," Edwards emphasized.

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