[Editor's Note: This is the seventh of a multi-part series of articles on the Grant County Commission's work session on May 9, 2023 and regular meeting on May 11, 2023. This article continues with a review of the regular meeting agenda at the work session and continues with a report from GRMC and several agenda items at the regular meeting.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

County Manager Charlene Webb continued the work session review of the regular meeting agenda of May 11, 2923. The next item addressed the monthly Gila Regional Medical Center update to the commissioners.

Interim Chief Nursing Officer Cynthia Lewis gave a brief report. She noted that the days of cash on hand for the hospital had risen to 111 in March. The hospital had a loss of $5,000 in March, but that was almost break even, which is the goal of the administration. "We expect a good fourth quarter of the fiscal year."

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce asked if the hospital has begun its 5-year plan on infrastructure.

Lewis said she thought so but could not give any detail, but she would ask Interim Chief Executive Officer Margie Molitor and Chief Financial Officer Patrick Banks to give an update when they return. She also thanked them for the proclamations for the hospital, nurses and EMS.

Nick Dacus, GRMC facilities maintenance director, presented an update on the steam tank sterilization upgrade. "We are having the new tank constructed and hope to have it on site by May 23 and we hope to have it completed that week. I'm working with Materials for vendors for the plumbing side of it to make sure it is installed correctly.

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked Dacus to talk about what the hospital is doing to have sterilized instruments.

"We have provided in the meantime two drivers to transport the surgical equipment back and forth," Dacus said. "We are working with T orC right now, and looking to work with Globe to provide sterilized equipment until this issue is corrected."

Edwards said she wanted to acknowledge the extra effort staff is making to keep the surgical suite going. "I want to thank you and your staff, too, for all the extra things you're doing to make sure we're up and running. I also want to thank the hospitals in T or C and in Globe and Safford for their partnership in helping to keep us going."

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings asked if Dacus could address the infrastructure plan.

"I haven't been able to work with Patrick yet on that, so I have no knowledge right now," Dacus said.

District 2 Commissioner Eloy Medina said he hadn't realized the efforts that were being taken. "You're talking a 12-14 hour round trip. Please thank the drivers who are driving five or six hours, then turning around in the middle of the night. We really appreciate their efforts."

Ponce said he wanted to thank Dacus. "I know you just got here, but we would like to know about the infrastructure plan. We are also hearing you're doing a great job at the hospital. We appreciate that. We would like the plan, because we want to be able to help you. We know the hospital was built in the early 1980s, so we'll start having problems. I'm hoping HealthTech is listening to us, so we can address the issue."

Next came county reports.

Assessor Misty Trujillo said the last day of the property tax protest period ended May 2. "I have assessors out in the field working on that project right now. Next week, I will send one more out and then we should be complete in the field and data entry should take about a week or so. The next big project I'm working on is the state-assessed properties, protested and unprotested values that I will have to enter in, then I can start on the certified value."

With no questions, the next report came from Treasurer Patrick Cohn, who said that the county's collection in April for the 2022 tax roll is $1,620,509.48, which left the county at a collection percentage of 80.96 for 2022. For the total 2022, collected so far is $10,731,235.18, with $2,523,195.68 remaining uncollected. On the 10-year collection, as of April 30, the percentage collected was 94.22 percent, for a total of $114,607,422.76, leaving a total uncollected of $7,024,806.69. "I did a preliminary forecast of taxes collected, as of May 10, yesterday, the last date to pay. As of yesterday, we went up to a 95.06 percent of our projected 10-year collection of taxes." That would increase the 10-year collection to $115 million, leaving a 10-year uncollected amount at $6.01 million.

"Last month, I started my manufactured homes collections," Cohn continued. "Those manufactured homeowners who have taxes due did receive a letter letting them know they were past due. I have seen a lot coming in to pay or make payment arrangements. We have the Property Tax Division here at the county. They have begun working on our delinquent properties. People were notified and they have been coming in and talking to Property Tax to give their promises to pay and getting them finalized not to be delinquent. Property Tax is working on putting in a new program, and we plan on training next week, so we can get our batches and reporting done. I do want to remind everyone they can get their tax bills by eStatement if they wish. They can call the Treasurer's office to set that up for all property owners."

He thanked his staff for all their hard work. "They work hard on collecting the property tax. I am working with the County Manager and Finance Director to make sure our audit comes through clean. We are working on reconciliation of the accounts. I love what I'm doing for the betterment of Grant County and our taxpayers."

Edwards asked if a property owner could go somewhere on the Grant County website to determine if they are current on their taxes.

"Yes, they can go on the website, the TreasurerWeb (?), put in their account number and do a search just like at the Assessor's Office and Clerk's Office," Cohn replied. "I personally don't think it's user friendly. I hope the website upgrade will help. But just call the office and we'll help you."

Finance Director Linda Vasquez, at the work session, had given her financial report, which included several requests for proposal and several bids, as well as the expenditure report from April 6, through May 3, 2023.

The expenditures totaled $1,960,454.49, including one pay period totaling $285,901.01. Below is the extraordinary expenses report.

Commissioners at the regular meeting approved the expenditure report.

They also approved the fiscal year quarterly financial report ending March 31, 2023, which showed the details including the fund statements. The General Fund at the end of the third quarter had a balance of $15,367,791.65, with a reserve of $1,991,857.57, leaving an adjusted balance of $13,275,934.28.

The other financial item approved at the regular meeting concerned the Lodgers' Tax Quarterly Report also ending March 31, 2023, which showed a total of $184,663 to be used to promote the county as a destination.

During the discussion of the 2024 preliminary budget, Vasquez said one of the biggest changes from the previous draft addressed the earmarking of the fire excise tax. "It changed three years ago, so the funding can be used for more things. It would generate $600,000 to the General Fund and give 10 percent more in fire funds to every fire department."

Vasquez noted at the work session that 70 percent of budgeted revenue had been received into the General Fund and expenditures had so far totaled 64 percent of the budgeted items in the General Fund. She said that 94 percent of gross receipts taxes had been collected of the amount budgeted, and in the property tax portion, 81 percent of the budgeted amount had been collected into the General Fund. "In the Road Fund, we have collected 64 percent, but our expenditures are 69.1 percent. In the Detention Center Fund, we have received 100 percent and have expended 66 percent. We're doing pretty well."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne noted at the regular meeting that there was no increase for elected officials. Webb replied that they are all within their terms and not eligible for an increase. "I got it verified by our attorney."

Webb, to a question about a budget workshop, said she hoped commissioners would approve it at the special meeting later in May. It is due to the state on June 1, 2023.

She noted that the commissioners should receive the step plan in June to bring everyone up to minimum. "We will have to be creative in how we do this. There are 58 employees under the minimum."

Vasquez said the budget shows a 10 percent increase for insurance in the county. "We adjusted the salaries to the proposed salary study. We approved all department requests, and we anticipate an ending balance of about $3 million."

Webb confirmed that the budget reflects all requests. "It's a little bit of relief that we didn't have to go back and tell the departments they would have to cut something."

She talked about the county receiving LATCF (Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund) federal funding, which went to all counties receiving PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) through allocations from ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act). "We have struggled trying to provide infrastructure and equipment needs. I talked to the directors about their needs. We will use these funds to do what we haven't been able to do. I want to address all capital requests to get us caught up a little bit. I started with equipment for the Road Department. It's terrible to have to drive backhoes that are falling to pieces. They had a request for blade trucks which are at the point of being embarrassing. We have funded six Ford Rangers and some new blades. The copy machine in the manager's office is dying a slow death. Code enforcement needs a vehicle. She goes all over the county. I added a vehicle for the assessor's office. Jason (Gojkovich, emergency manager) asked for a heavy-duty truck and trailer and similar backhoes to help the flood recovery. The last two items are a tractor for the Shooting Range and a new chipper. The one we have is very well used around the county. It will help in achieving part of the wildfire protection plan."

Webb said for the county clerk, who is "required to keep all sorts of records, we will provide funding to digitize the records. She reached out to a vendor, and it will cost $10,000. I feel strongly about the need for this. The next item, content management, will allow us to get close to the times, with help from IT. Right now, we can't access our ordinances or forms. Having it online saves staff hours, as well as not having to pay staff to do the work. We are upgrading the website. It's old and outdated. Adam (Baca, IT director) has been gracious about it. We have some good ideas about websites that we can use to connect to our ordinances."

Webb also said fleet maintenance has a new manager, who "is very knowledgeable and eager. It will tie into software to keep maintenance up to date. We are hoping it will extend the life of our vehicles."

She said the Solid Waste Authority would be getting a software update. "They are way behind the times. The software company couldn't even use it."

Infrastructure needs include at the courthouse and in the administration center, as well as fire suppression at the conference center. "It's not up to code. We need it immediately. The conference center needs an upgrade. We are getting a Connex container for the Sheriff's Department to store its ATVs. We will use the vacant lot behind the Silver Street Complex. Jason is looking for a maintenance building, after our equipment was vandalized at Bataan Park. The Detention Center needs new shower stall installation and upgrading the laundry areas. We are using one-time funding for a match on other funding. We are hoping to get new furniture for this administration building, especially a spruce up for the manager's office furniture and in this Commissioners' room and the Sheriff's Department. We got a quote for a needs assessment and traffic study at the Courthouse at $58,000. We need $2.2 million just to pay attention to our own needs. I asked department heads for their needs, not wants. Jason asked for instruction for his staff. He has staff that can do things that we have always had to bid out. I thought it was a great idea. It will save the county money."

Webb said IT had requested an additional employee. "Adam and Robert have done so much. Robert goes non-stop all day and never slows down. I reiterate that all of this would be a good use of taxpayer dollars. We are looking at doing all of these things and still looking at having a higher ending balance. I think it's a solid budget. We can make later adjustments."

Ponce said he appreciated what Webb and staff had done. "I think it's time to go back to basics. We need the equipment, which serves the community well and serves the employees well. I don't think we've done things like this since I've been here. I can stand behind this."

Edwards said she would echo what the chair said. "And I want to clarify that content management would make documents available, and I know a better website will help. What amount of LATCF will we receive?"

Webb said it will come in two allocations of about $4.6 million each. "We will allocate $600,000 that we promised for the acequias."

Ponce said he totally agreed on the allocations. "But be careful about building a maintenance building at Bataan. Make sure that it doesn't interfere with expansion in the future."

Browne asked for clarification on the LATCF. "It's coming from the same source as ARPA?"

"They are calling it enhanced PILT, with the source as ARPA," Webb said. "We will get $4.6 million this year and are promised another $4.6 million. The original ARPA could only be used for specific things. This money, the only restriction is that it cannot be used for lobbying. This is a once-in-a-lifetime receipt."

Browne said he wondered if it might not be a change to get ahead of the regular PILT. "If we can use it for those with PTSD, I would highly support it. I would also encourage doing content management fast."

Ponce suggested it might require a person to do the content management.

Browne also suggested some of the funding could be used to design the changes at the Shooting Range. "We also have bond money for infrastructure and fire suppression at the conference center."

Webb said she considered the fire suppression at the conference center as an emergency. "I don't want to wait for when we can sell the bonds."

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings thanked Webb and staff for all their hard work.

Commissioners approved the preliminary budget.


The next article will continue the work session review of the regular meeting agenda, as well as decisions made.

For the previous articles, visit https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/78186-grant-county-commissioners-choose-new-grmc-board-of-trustees-members-051123; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/78245-grant-county-commission-holds-work-session-050923-part-2; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/78277-grant-county-commission-holds-work-session-050923-part-3; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/78350-grant-county-commission-holds-work-session-050923-part-4; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/78369-grant-county-commission-holds-work-session-050923-part-5; and https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/78377-grant-county-commission-holds-work-session-050923-part-6 .

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