[Editor's Note: This article is the fifth of a series of articles on the Grant County Commission work session on June 6, 2023 and the regular meeting on June 8, 2023. This one begins the review of the regular meeting agenda and includes a presentation.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

County Manager Charlene Webb, at the June 6, 2023 Grant County Commission work session, began a review of the regular meeting agenda for June 8, 2023.

The first item of business was a public hearing on Ordinance No. O-23-05 to amend Ordinance No. 12-03. The amendment will repeal the sunset clause from countywide emergency communications and emergency medical and behavioral health services tax increment. "This is what funds those who answer emergency 911 calls at Dispatch. The issue will be decided by an all mail-in ballot for Aug. 22, 2023. I can't emphasize enough how much we need this to pass to continue funding our emergency calls. It is a 1/8 percent gross receipts tax. Without this tax, we might have to get an outside agency or have all the county agencies pay for it. This is the first step. It is critically important to pass this amendment. The ordinance was initially implemented to have a local service for the safety of our citizens."

At the regular meeting, she said the 2002 legislative session had repealed the sunset clause, but "our ordinance already had the sunset clause in it."

To a question from District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards, Webb said the shortfall would be about $600,000 to $675,000. "This funds the majority of the expenses, with all the agencies still funding it partially."

Edwards noted that Dispatch does not have the greatest technology. "So it would not only be a shortfall, but we still would have to fund all the other pieces, like equipment."

A roll call vote by commissioners at the regular meeting unanimously approved Ordinance No. O-23-05.

Public input at the regular meeting was covered in https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/78853-grant-county-commission-060623-work-session-and-regular-meeting-060823-part-4 .

Under presentations at the regular meeting, Destre Shelley gave an update on the Gila Valley Flood Task Force. "On a different topic, I want to express my support for the Sheriff's Department."

"I am representing the Gila Valley Flood Task Force, as other members Autumn Bruton and David Ogilvie were unable to attend," Shelley said. "Thank you, Manager Webb and Emergency Manager Justin Gojkovich, for the emergency funding that you provided for the irrigators. In February [after the floods happened in August 2022], the only funding we had to that point was a generous grant from Freeport McMoRan. We have not yet received any state funding. You creatively created funds that were unrestricted. We managed to do a lot of the repairs on our ditches and headgates ourselves. By April 15, we had them all working. We had no other recovery funding. Thank you for your support and the Freeport generosity. Without them, we couldn't have done it. I also want to thank Commissioner Billy Billings for constantly checking on us, and Commissioner Edwards for helping, too. We are still in jeopardy because of upstream challenges."

Anthony Gutierrez, a resident of Gila, said he has been assisting the three Gila Valley irrigation associations, the Upper Gila, Gila Farms and Fort West, in trying to get funding. "I'm assisting in procurement and record keeping, and hopefully, ultimately in getting state funding."

He showed photos of the damages and some of the repairs that had been made to restore the ditches to working order. "The repairs required a lot of dozer work and materials being brought in. On the Upper Gila, there is still a lot of work to do. On the Gila Farms, the ditch was non-existent after the flood. It was challenging to get it back. We brought in a lot of material. The head gate is still sitting a bit crooked, but they did get it to function."

He said the New Mexico Department of Transportation had come in and cleared a lot of the debris, "but we had to put all the ditches back in. We put in some riprap to stabilize the embankments to make the ditches functional. The Fort West ditch was completely obliterated. We built a berm to get a ponding effect for the ditch system to flow. A lot of sediment was removed. Now the three are fully functional again, and a lot of vegetation is growing back, but there are still some problems. If we have an active monsoon this year, this could all happen again this year and next. In structures like this, we need relief valves to sustain the ditches. I've been advocating for this, and the irrigation associations all have plans for more permanent structures. For the structures, the ditches ask the commissioners to advocate to use funding from the New Mexico Unit Fund. We've put in $120,000 already for these repairs. We need to have structures with vegetative growth that support the ditches better."

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce noted because the damage may happen again, "can we do a proactive approach to prevent the flooding again?"

Webb confirmed that it will happen again. "We will continue to suffer from the results of the Black Fire. I continue to have conversations with our Sen. (Siah) Hemphill, Rep. (Luis) Terrazas and our Lt. Gov. (Howie Morales). We cannot always be reactive. We have to have a more permanent solution. I ask all of you to advocate for more permanent structures."

Ponce said he has seen a lot of debris including trees falling into the ditches. "I'm not an environmentalist, but it seems letting vegetation grow would be better for the habitat."

Shelley said: "There is money at the state. About $5 million, with two pots of funding. One from the Legislature for the Black Fire from the Department of the Finance Authority and more funding from NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Services). We can match the federal dollars with state dollars. We can't seem to get the vehicle on the ground to get access to this funding. Sen. Hemphill is working on setting up emergency funding for any emergency."

Ponce reiterated that the county needs to be proactive. "What can we do now to access this funding?"

Gutierrez said the funding is marked as emergency funding. "When our emergency declaration sunsets it will be difficult to get the funding. If we have to do this every year, we need something permanent."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne said he was glad to hear that the long-term issue is watershed health. "The New Mexico Unit Fund is supposed to address watershed restoration. I don't think there is anything permanent in the works, but I know Priscilla Lucero (Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments executive director) is working hard on a solution. Anthony, are those designs for the ditches still relevant?"

"I think they will be," Gutierrez replied. "Although they are not completely permanent, they will help prevent the level of damage we saw this year. They are major changes, but not structures that go across the river. We will also have structures upstream."

He said that the Upper Gila had started a project, and the Gila Basin Irrigation Commission [a group of Gila River irrigation ditch associations] got to the point where they were told the unit fund was losing money, but now estimates have grown. No work had been started.

Edwards said she thinks it is amazing and incredible the amount of time put into these projects and to "have an extremely frustrating experience with the state. We must appreciate the amazing amount of time put into dealing with the intractable bureaucracy. Both in the Mimbres and on the Gila, there have been so many roadblocks in trying to do business with the state. Everything could be done by now. It unconscionable that the state cannot get its act together. How discouraged I am with the state not helping us move forward with these projects."

The next article will continue with another presentation at the regular meeting and a continuing review of the agenda at the work session, including decisions made at the regular meeting.

To visit the previous articles, go to https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/78763-grant-county-commission-held-work-session-060623-part-1; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/78798-grant-county-commission-held-work-session-060623-part-2 ; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/78852-grant-county-commission-held-work-session-060623-part-3 ; and https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/78852-grant-county-commission-held-work-session-060623-part-4 .

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