[This is the second of a series of articles on the Grant County Commission meeting on March 12, 2024.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

The second presentation at the March 12, 2024 Grant County Commissioner work session came from Valerie Zech, the Grant County Community Health Council coordinator.

"I'm here to give you the quarterly update for the Health Council," Zech told the commissioners. " I just want to say what a great opportunity this is to work with the community. I love my job."

She noted the commissioners had the Grant County Community Health Needs and Assets Assessment that was done from July to December 2023, as well as the current Grant County Community Health Council (GCCHC) capacity building scope of work.

Zech said the health council transition group took over the HB 2 contract in March of 2023, and "we completed two years of required work in two months. We sent in the deliverables to NM DOH (Department of Health) on May 25, 2023."

The said the GCCHC has about 12 to 15 people attending the meetings at present. She said about 90 people in total had attended the meetings since July, "so we've had great community participation."

She listed the goals of the capacity building scope of work. Goal No. 1 is to meet with the transition team one more time to solidify the Health Council organizational structure; No. 2, she said is pretty much completed to solidify the membership through membership agreements; No. 3 is to update the Health Council mission and vision, which was last updated March 2016, so she is gathering an ad hoc committee to determine if they need revision; No. 4 is to update the policies and procedures, such as recruitment, timing of meetings, committee structure; No. 5 is to build the council's social media reach. which she said has been going well; and No. 6 is to establish a 12-month action plan for sustainability, including best practices. "It will be a ongoing process, but we're going to use the assessment to guide our work in the action plan."

No commissioner had questions.

The next was a legislative update from Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill. She noted the short 30-day session, with the budget as the priority, saw a total of 777 pieces of legislation introduced, with 354 in the Senate and 423 in the House, plus 111 executive messages."In order to find a piece of legislative germane or relevant, either it has to have a fiscal impact or you can have an executive message." She said 237 were found not to be germane and 107 passed both chambers.

Hemphill served on the committee to determine whether items were germane and heard presentations on every one of the 777 items introduced, as well as serving on the Senate Finance Committee, which sometimes met three times a day. "It was busy and a heavy load during the 30-day session. But it's a wonderful assignment because it gives me resources to be able to advocate for the community."

She thanked District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce and all the commissioners for being so responsive. "He answered right away every time I called him to talk about the priorities for the county. We passed at $10.2 billion budget and were still able to keep our reserves at 30 percent. So we're in a very stable situation right now. To compare with last year, we passed a 9.5 billion budget."

Hemphill said the session focused on addressing the state's most pressing needs, while creating funds to provide some financial stability moving forward. "We all know that the state is very reliant on the oil and gas industry revenues to fund institutions and the state. We 're projecting to see those funds remain at a healthy level until about 2030, when it will start to level off and drop. We have several years to make some good financial decisions to provide further fiscal stability."

She said the session passed a comprehensive tax package that will lower the tax rate for many working families, as well as extending exemptions to veterans and including new exemptions for teachers, heath care and child care providers. "We made some key investments in education, health care, academic and workforce development, housing, construction technology, so we're building a strong financial foundation for the state and really investing in the people of New Mexico. All state employees received a 3 percent raise. We were able to increase investments in the Legacy Fund, another $300 million."

Hemphill said another important piece of legislation, House Bill 177, a Match Fund, which she said she talked to County Manager Charlene Webb about. "Often we have needs in the county, but we don't have the matching funds to go after federal dollars. It will help small communities without a lot of resources to quality for federal funding."

She said there was a increase of $5 million for food banks, which will help create more access to healthy food. SNAP benefits for seniors and people with disabilities increased to $100 a month.

"I carried House Bill 5, which was the workforce development and apprenticeship fund that passed both chambers and was signed into law," Hemphill said. "That provides fiscal support for career exploration, training, and revenue assistance, for those who don't want to go to college to have access to the programs."

One of the really important things, "we could get done was $5.7 million for the hospital. It was a heavy lift, but we were able to accomplish it by getting it added onto Senate Bill 161, which was for acute care facilities, and it wasn't originally included in that bill, but we were able to get it added, thanks to the advocacy of Prospectors and all of you as well."

She said Senate Bill 60 was one of her bills to provide funding for suicide prevention. "I've been working with the Health Council to get money down here to promote training programs."

Hemphill said she also supported and carried SB 41 on behavioral health, but it didn't get through. She said she hopes to bring the legislation back. "We need more mental health support and infrastructure in New Mexico."

On capital outlay, "another huge win with $70 million for Phase 2 highway construction on 180 from just south of Hurley about 14 miles to the county line. Originally, we didn't have that funding included. We worked hard with the chairman of the Finance Committee, the Department of Transportation, and Lt. Gov. Howie Morales to get that money so that we have funds."

"In total, including the highway funding, the hospital funding, we were able to secure right around $83 million for Grant County," Hemphill said. "We got $500,000 for Bataan Memorial Park improvements. $375,000 for the Fairgrounds, $100,000 for the Detention Center, $150,000 for the Gila Community Center. Those are just a few of the highlights. Overall, I think it was a very successful session, especially getting the funding for the hospital and the highway."

Ponce thanked "you guys for what you did. We are fortunate to have gotten as much for Grant County, with your meeting with the governor, the lieutenant governor, Rep. Luis Terrazas and also Sen. Crystal Diamond Brantley. I want to thank you for all you did, and your communication during this whole period. So thank you."

Hemphill ended by thanking them and saying: "We make a great team."

The next article will begin with county reports at the work session.

To read the first article please visit https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/83233-grant-county-commission-holds-work-session-031224-part-1 

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