[Editor's Note: This is part 8 and the final article of the Grant County Commission first work session of the month held April 9, 2024. This continues the review of the April 11, 2024 regular meeting, with additional reports given and decisions made at that meeting.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

At the regular meeting on April 11, 2024, elected officials presented their reports.

Clerk Marisa Castrillo had no report.

Treasurer Patrick Cohn began his report with the tax schedule maintenance report. Taxes collected for the month of March totaled $291,456.44. Taxes collected to date for fiscal year 2023 totaled $9,451,917.78, at a rate of 67.84 percent. Uncollected taxes to date total $4,479,792.33.

For the total percent of taxes collected for the past 10 years, as of March 31, 2024, stood at 92.86 percent, of which a total of $114,934,431.02 of taxes were collected and $8,840,886.40 remains uncollected.

The second half tax collection began the preceding day, April 10, 2024, with a person required to pay by May 10, 2024 before a penalty and interest are assessed to the tax.

'We are currently working on collecting on 263 property tax accounts, so they are not sent to the Property Tax Division for collection," Cohn said. "They have until the end of June to pay these taxes, which includes the tax years of 2021-2023."

The Solid Waste Department just sent out quarterly bills, as well as 140 lien letters to the residents who have failed to pay their Solid Waste bills. "Next month, we will come before you to seek approval to add liens for those who don't pay."

He thanked the IT staff for all they have done to create the online payment option with GovPro.

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked how the 67.84 percentage paid at this point in the fiscal year compares to past years.

"It's about normal," Cohn replied. "We're about a couple of points higher than last year."

Sheriff Raul Villanueva gave the next report. He said the total calls for March were 1,664, with 1,202 self-initiated and 462 coming through Dispatch. Crash reports totaled 20 and animal complaints 51. Also included in the report were 24 domestic violence reports, five criminal damage to property, four stolen motor vehicles and six mental health complaints.

He said Deputy Jeshua Reaser had attended the DARE instructor course. Villanueva said having an instructor would help with the scheduling for the Grant County school districts. Cpl. John Hiebert had attended the Raid Technique interview and advanced interrogation course. Sgt. Jacob Martinez attended the field training officer course, which will help the FTO program. New officers going through the program train in every division of the sheriff's office. Cpl Jade Benavidez attended DWI Checkpoint training, and Cpl. Brandon Reese attended close quarter tactics certification training.

He also warned that the Sheriff's Office had been dealing with a lot of scams. "People are receiving calls that say it's the sheriff's office and that they have warrants or something dealing with the sheriff's office and that they need to provide either a gift card, by buying one at Walmart or by providing the number on the card. I just want to let the public know that the sheriff's office will never call and tell you any information like that. Other calls ask for you to go buy a gift card or send information online. Don't ever fall for that. It's a big red flag. We've had individuals who have bought the gift card and sent it off, and have lost that money. I would like to tell the public not to send any personal information or money to anyone without verifying it. They are welcome to call the sheriff's office, especially if the caller says it's from the sheriff's office. Please follow up on it."

He welcomed Darryl Borrego to the sheriff's office. He is currently attending the Western New Mexico Police Academy, looking to graduate in June. Villanueva also noted that his office, with U.S. Forest Service funding, will begin doing forest patrols in late April or early May within Grant County. Stonegarden funding allows deputies to continue to be active in the areas of Hachita and on highways 180, 152, 61 and 90.

Villanueva said his officers have conduced multiple operations through the FAU (fugitive apprehension unit) utilizing JAG funding. In March the unit made 27 arrests of individuals with active warrants.

With no commissioner questions, the meeting moved to financial reports.

At the April 9, 2024 work session, Grant County Fiscal Services Director Linda Vasquez presented the financial report dated from March 6,-April 2, 2024. Expenditures totaled $4,663,827.17, which included two payroll periods totaling $525,901.08.

The graph of the expenditures above $10,000 is shown in PDF format below:

Commissioners approved the report at the regular meeting.

Under new business, at the work session, County Manager Charlene Webb said the Cliff-Gila volunteer fire department has elected a new Chief Preston Johnson, with Assistant Chief Robert B.J. Agnew. "Preston has done more in a week than has been done in years."

Commissioners approved the election of a new chief and assistant chief at the regular meeting.

The following item addressed at the work session the donation from the Valencia County Fire Department for a 2016 International Structure Engine to replace the one the County Fire Chief Roger Groves had mentioned had rolled over answering a fire on Groves's first day of work, "so that we can replace the engine that at this time we are unsure if it is repairable, and we are still working through the process with the insurer. We don't know if it will be totaled."

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings, at the regular meeting, said he thought someone should be recognized for getting this donation. "How did we get it?"

Groves said after the accident with the fire engine on his first day of work, Steve Gonzales, who is the fire coordination for this district from the State Fire Marshal's Office, was contacted. "He reached out to us with this possible donation of a fire engine from Valencia County. They recently received a grant to get two new engines and they were either going to put this engine up for auction or donate it if there was a need. It just so happens that we were the first that came to mind after our incident, and they've offered the apparatus to Grant County."

Billings said: "Well, that's the good news to cover the bad news from your first 24 hours on the job."

Groves agreed.

Commissioners, at the regular meeting, approved accepting the donation of the structure fire engine.

The next agenda item at the work session review considered the Bargaining Unit Contract 2024-2026. Webb said the union members would be meeting that afternoon and would be voting on it. "We may be able to approve it on Thursday."

However, at the regular meeting, Webb recommended tabling the issue until the April 23 special meeting. "We have the final draft but we are waiting for them to ratify it."

Commissioners tabled the bargaining unit contract.

Under contracts, the first item considered an MOU (memorandum of understand) with the Sixth Judicial District Attorney's office for usage of the Veteran Van. Planning Director Randy Hernandez said in 2022, the county received funding to purchase the van, and it was purchased in February 2023. "We've been trying to find a home for it by having conversations with the District Attorney's office, the Silver City Veterans clinic and Workforce Solutions. We put our heads together and with the ARPA dollars that you allocated for the veterans and mental health pre-prosecution diversion, they determined they could use the vehicle to transfer veterans to and from their appointments. We have requested that they use the vehicle not just for veterans in the program but to provide transportation to veterans in general, and they were happy to do that."

Commissioners approved the MOU at the regular meeting.

An agenda item considered a property management service agreement amendment No. 3. Webb said it was an annual agreement the county has with the Chamber of Commerce for management of the Grant County Veterans Memorial Business and Conference Center, with the same terms and conditions as for the prior year.

Commissioners approved the agreement at the regular meeting.

The following agreement considered the usage of office space at the Grant County Silver Street Complex by the New Mexico State Fire Marshal for a fire inspector position to be stationed in Grant County. Webb said it is an agreement similar to that of other counties, where the Fire Marshal pays no rent, but the county receive the services by offering suitable space. "There is a vacant office at the complex that will be suitable. It offers office space in lieu of rent. It's something we regularly do as government-to-government entities."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne asked who had been doing the job before. Webb replied that it is a new position that hasn't been in Grant County before. She noted the format of the agreement is appropriate for approval by the General Services Department, which will also have to approve the agreement.

Commissioners, at the regular meeting, approved the office space for a fire inspector.

At the work session, the review of the agenda showed the next item consideration of El Rio Sol Transmission Line Community Benefits agreement. Webb said John Strand who used to work with Sun Zia now works for El Rio Transmission Line, which took over the project. "The agreement is almost the same as the last one you did with Sun Zia."

She explained that the Sun Zia line is under construction, and the El Rio will run parallel to the Sun Zia one. "It's a 500 kilovolt line that will run through about 20 miles of Grant County. I recommend we approve this one, too."

Commissioners approved the agreement at the regular meeting.

Under resolutions, the first item amended the approved and adopted budget for fiscal year 2024, which commenced on July 1, 2023. Vasquez listed the increases from grants and funding allocations, as well as the transfers and expenditures.

Commissioners approved the amended approved and adopted FY23 budget at the regular meeting.

Webb said the next item considered the New Mexico Department of Transportation TPF (transportation project fund) submittal authorization for Ridge Road Phase 2. Hernandez said the resolution to approve the submittal authorization is similar to the submission for Colonias funding. "This is just to double our chances to get funding. This one does have a 5 percent match, so the resolution is required to authorize the submission of the application and to commit to the 5 percent match."

Commissioners approved the resolution at the regular meeting.

The next resolution addressed the adoption of the Fleet Management Policy. Webb said: "This will give Corey (White, fleet manager) the guidelines for him to effectively and adequately maintain the fleet. I think we've met his needs with some tools that will also give him some accountability measures for those who use the vehicles. "

Commissioners approved the policy resolution at the regular meeting.

The final item considered the resolution and order approving the request of El Rio Sol Transmission LLC to use certain roads in Grant County and other measures. "It's nearly the same as the Sun Zia resolution and it allows them the use of certain county roads, to make improvements as needed for the heavy construction equipment and requires the company to leave the roads in as good or better shape than when they began using them."

Edwards referred to an issue with culvert damage during the NM DOT Bypass Road reconstruction. "Does this cover us better in a way that we were not covered by NMDOT?"

Webb said, as most of the roads that will be used for the transmission line construction are dirt roads, it may not be quite a similar situation, but if El Rio Sol determines they need to improve a culvert, "it is their responsibility to replace it and bring the road up to the standard to accommodate their heavy construction traffic. And then after construction, it is up to our Road Department to examine the roads and determine if they are in acceptable condition before we close the project."

Strand said he noticed one little glitch in the maps. "I would like to authorize a slip page to use any county roads, not just up to the construction. We want to be able to utilize Separ Road, which meets Gage Road which goes into Luna County, so we can approach the site from both directions. It was our fault. That language is in the SunZia agreement, and I should have caught this one."

Webb agreed that it could be changed to their being able to use the road connecting Separ and Gage. She said the maps changes, but the language in the resolution does not change. The language states that El Rio Sol can use the maps as shown in the exhibits.

Commissioners approved the resolution as presented at the regular meeting.

Commissioner reports at the work session included Browne thanking IT Director Adam Baca for the website upgrade. "However I noticed that the ordinances and resolutions need to be updated."

Webb said they are aware of the issue and are working on it.

Browne said he was looking for the abandoned vehicles ordinance and whether it had been approved or tabled.

Billings said he believed they had tabled it.

Browne said he had received several enquiries, but without an ordinance code enforcement can do nothing. "I would be happy to bring it back up."

He also asked where the county is on the trails and open spaces plan.

Webb said she would ask at the Southwest New Mexico Collaboration meeting in May.

Ponce said the Grant County newsletter "is really nice. I enjoyed reading it."

Webb said Amy Lockett worked really hard on it.

The work session adjourned.

Commissioner reports at the regular meeting including Billings thanked the county staff. "I'm continually seeing improvement in supporting us and the community. On multiple levels I appreciate all the hard work especially in recent months."

Browne cautioned the driving public to be careful during the Tour of the Gila bicycle race.

The regular meeting adjourned.

To read the previous articles, please visit https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/84008-grant-county-commission-holds-work-session-040924-part-1; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/84035-grant-county-commission-holds-work-session-040924-part-2  ; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/84075-grant-county-commission-holds-work-session-040924-part-3  ; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/84093-grant-county-commission-holds-work-session-040924-part-4  ; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/84136-grant-county-commission-holds-work-session-040924-part-5  ; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/84221-grant-county-commission-holds-work-session-040924-and-regular-meeting-041124-part-6  ; and https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/84246-grant-county-commission-holds-work-session-040924-and-regular-meeting-041124-part-7 

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