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By Mary Alice Murphy

During public input at the Grant County Commission regular meeting on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, Santa Clara Mayor Richard Bauch rose to speak.

"I just want to advise you that I will submit a request to speak to you at your January meeting about a potential partnership between the village and the county for ownership of Fort Bayard," Bauch told the commissioners.

"We look forward to working with Planning on such a proposal," Commission Chairman Brett Kasten said.

Bauch said that in a recent meeting with General Services Department Cabinet Secretary Ed Burckle, the secretary had said he might be open to such a partnership.

"That's good," Kasten said. "And I'm glad you came by, because I have a question for you. We are voting today on setting policy for renting the pavilion and concession at Bataan Memorial Park. The park is in your city limits. We wondered if you have an ordinance prohibiting alcohol in the parks."

"We have a similar ordinance for our other parks," Bauch said. Kasten said the county and village would need to talk about it.

Chris DeBolt spoke in public input, although she was also on the agenda to give a report.

She began with "Happy Holidays to everyone. I want to talk about several things. I've been part of the Tu Casa Advisory Committee for 4 ½ years. I'm happy you have the charter for an ongoing Advisory Board on your agenda. It is a dream becoming a reality. Thank you."

DeBolt said she has been encouraged by the hospital presentations at recent Board of Trustees members, especially on the financial front.

"Everything that can be done between you and the hospital with as much transparency as possible is good, so we can get in front of all issues," DeBolt said.

Cissy McAndrew, resident and Realtor, also wished the commissioners Happy Holidays.

"Thank you for what you're doing for the hospital," McAndrew said. "I'm hoping we can have a conversation about it. I'm a Realtor, and I'm starting to get more people asking me about the hospital. They are mentioning that the area may not have a hospital. I ask you to make sure public relations helps us stay informed and that we keep the hospital."

The expenditure report as presented at the work session was approved. To see the report, visit http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/41188-grant-county-commission-set-to-choose-new-website-developer 

Under new business, Linda Nichols, wished the commissioners Merry Christmas.

"I am a concerned citizen and a cancer survivor," Nichols said. "I was pleased to hear the good financial report given at last week's Board of Trustees meeting. I assume that is through the efforts of the Interim Chief Financial Officer. She works about 79 hours a week at $93 per hour. The Board of Trustees thinks she's underpaid. I would love to see her get a contract at the hospital. I have been treated courteously by everyone at the hospital and by most of the board members. Some of the trustees stare and glare at me. They need to know I'm not going away. Someone needs to keep asking the questions. UNM is not living up to its contract. It's only providing one physician a week. I called for an appointment and it was 70 days before I could get one, which means about 90 days before treatment starts. That is not acceptable. We are also asked if we are in remission, and if we are that puts the appointment even farther out. There is confusion on the radiation machine. I would think the Board of Trustees would ask how long until we have radiation services. We can't forget the past. It is the best indicator for the behavior to look for."

DeBolt serves as the Grant County representative on the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging. "I'm also on the advocacy committee for this group."

She said the theme for this year's legislative session Senior Day is New Mexico's aging network programs that enable independence. "The state is seeing senior population growth, especially in Grant County. We know we're an aging population. We don't want to see any resources allocated out of senior programs."

DeBolt said Hidalgo Medical Services, which took over the senior programs from the county, has a lot of work to build things back up. "Anything we can do to support them, we will."

The next item on the agenda was to approve or disapprove the Grant County Water Commission, of which the county is a member, submitting a USDA application for the Grant County Regional Water Project remaining phases.

Kasten said he had asked Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments Executive Director Priscilla Lucero to present at the meeting.

"It will cost $8.1 million for Phase 1A, which will provide water to Hurley" Lucero said. "That funding has been allocated. We have one issue and it's that the USDA says their funding has to be spent last and the Interstate Stream Commission says theirs has to be spent last. We are working on a solution. We expect to go out to bid within about 30 days in order to finish the project for Hurley to get water before the Dec. 31, 2018 deadline."

She said she attended the last Infrastructure Conference and talked about the need for funding the remaining phases.

"The reason we didn't start with all the phases is because we had a short time frame to get it done, and the part to Hurley was partially funded already," Lucero said. "As I reported to the water commission yesterday, the pro of doing all the rest in one go is that it's cheaper for all concerned. USDA's Kathy Pfiffner, Community Programs and Community Facilities Programs director told us she would be willing to put her whole allocation toward the remaining phases. The cons are how to manage it and how to set rates."

Lucero said one of the suggestions for submitting the application is that "we won't know what the rates will be until we know how much we will need to pay. Her suggestion was to apply to USDA and then the local governments will have to do some research to apply for the allocation. We want the application in by June. What if USDA says it will fund at $10 million and loan at $2 million? The water commission and its members can say: 'We can't do that. The rates are already too high for our residents We suggest $11 million grant and $1 million loan.' Everyone needs to be aware that when an entity takes a USDA grant, it always includes part loan. The USDA has to figure out how it's feasible. And there is no option to get other funds to pay the loan."

She said one option that is available is that after the application is accepted, the entities can change items. "This is an opportunity I've never heard of in my career," Lucero said. "Pfiffner said the other smaller projects can be funded with reverted funds from other states."

Phase 1B is the second well for Hurley and energy efficiency with solar power. The other phases are to Bayard, Santa Clara and Arenas Valley. "There has already been $19 million invested for area mutual domestics and municipalities in the area. We've made great strides on a project of this size, in my opinion."

Commissioner Harry Brown said he appreciated the time she has spent on it.

"We're a ways away, but the JPA might give the water commission the right to bill," Brown said. "Every local government would retain its own water system, and project water would be secondary. The commission would bill the municipalities and they would pass the costs on to the residents."

Lucero said if the application goes through and the proposal comes back and doesn't fit the needs, the water commission can pull out.

The submittal of an application was approved.

Webb said the Grant County Substance Abuse and Addiction Treatment Center Advisory Board Charter changes from what was presented at the Tuesday work session include that the Grant County Commission will have the sole authority to review it and the charter will have one commissioner as a member. It was approved.

In the agreement with SkyWest Media to design and develop a website, Webb said the language was changed from creative control to creative judgement. The agreement was approved.

In resolutions, the policy for renting and the use of Bataan Memorial Park Pavilion and concession facilities was approved, with the stipulation that no alcohol be allowed in the park, pavilion or concession facilities. Kasten requested that a letter be sent to Santa Clara asking for the village to create an ordinance, so the issue can be enforced. Brown agreed and said the ordinance should be included with any applications for rental.

Commissioners accepted the donation of a used fire truck from Doña Ana County to be used at the LS Mesa fire station.

A resolution required by the Clerk's office was approved as a statement of vacation of Turnerville Subdivision plat, which lies in property completely owned by Freeport-McMoran. No houses remain in the subdivision.

An application to the New Mexico Finance Authority for financial assistance and project approval was approved for an addition to the Whiskey Creek Volunteer Fire Department for an expansion of the facility to improve ISO rates.

Commissioners approved a resolution amending the purchase card program.

Also approved was a request for proposal for strategic communications and engagement consulting services with Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock to assist with communicating with the community on the Juniper Advisory Services results from a study of the hospital.

"Management has asked us to disapprove two bids for hauling and delivery of pit run and other road materials because of an error," Kasten said. They were disapproved.

Commissioners as the Health Care Claims Board approved claims from Gila Regional and GRMC ambulance for a total of $14,965.35. Also approved was an item from October for $665.84.

For elected officials' reports, Sheriff Raul Villanueva said his department in November had 521 calls for service and dealt with 28 motor vehicle collisions. Eleven burglaries occurred. "We are running a little short on staff, but everyone has chipped in to keep up with the work. We have three new hires going through FTO training and they will go to the academy in February. We had no issues through Thanksgiving and are preparing for Christmas and New Year's. We ask the community to be observant of their surroundings. People have been getting hit with burglaries."

On the issue of Bataan Memorial Park, Villanueva said he knows Santa Clara may be doing an ordinance. "If Santa Clara can't cover it and we are called, we will not be able to enforce without a county ordinance."

Webb asked if the department is doing cross-commissioning. "If not, is there a state statute we can look at?"

Villanueva said the Sheriff's Department cannot enforce a city ordinance.

Kasten gave his commissioner's report first in order to elicit comments.

To read the entire open letter to the community, please visit http://www.grantcountybeat.com/community/legals/41176-the-future-of-grant-county-healthcare-an-open-letter-to-the-community 

"Last spring, we announced an RFP for help on the hospital," Kasten said. "We signed on with Juniper Services and have had one organizational meeting and one educational meeting. We have appointed a task force, with the single goal to do what's best for the hospital.

"In December, we began exploring whether the hospital should remain independent or be in partnership with another organization," he continued. "This did not come easily. In the past few meetings, the trend line has been good, but we are still in the lower left-hand quadrant of finances. Gila Regional is not alone in this dilemma. The community counts on us to continue to provide quality health care. This Commission's commitment is to provide, as our top priority, quality health care. We want Gila Regional to provide quality, affordable and accessible health care. We are all aware the community is sensitive to changes regarding the future of their health care."

Kasten promised the Commission would keep the community informed as the task force progresses. "We are at the beginning of the process and will share when it is updated. No decisions have been made; only to explore the options, which will take months. It will probably be summer before the task force will make a recommendation."

Ramos said the commissioners have been questioned about the hospital. "I thank you for your time and dedication to doing the right thing."

Billings said he sees the Commission as a back-up protection to the Board of Trustees. "The Commission does not get into the day-to-day operations, but has the responsibility to make sure the hospital is running well. I commend the hospital on its positive trend. I'm optimistic."

"Chairman Kasten talked about Juniper Services," Billings continued. "It's really Juniper Advisory Services. Close to half of their advisory services have not led to the selling of a hospital. Mr. Kasten has said partnership, not selling. Dr. (John) Stanley (one of the task force members) said the topic of sale has not come up."

On another hospital topic, Billings said Gila Regional Chief Executive Officer Taffy Arias has met with the Gila Regional Medical Center Foundation.

"The Foundation in the past has raised $2.4 million for the hospital," Billings continued. "I was sorry, several years ago, to see the hospital cut ties with the foundation and try to go after their remaining money. I'm glad to see Arias saw the mistake and has restored ties with the foundation."

Kasten said: "How proud I am of your resolve to do the best for patients. Gila Regional is the last county-owned hospital in the state. We will do the hard work to keep the hospital independent, if that's the direction we want to go. We want to make sure we don't come back in a couple of years and see the hospital being sold in a fire sale."

Brown thanked Kasten and the task force for taking on the project. "I'm not as pessimistic as you about the potential wave of criticism." He commended the promise of transparency to keep the community informed and provide understanding.

Kasten noted not to expect any new information before February, because of the legislative session.

Brown said he attended an opioid conference by the state attorney general. "I learned things I didn't know. Apparently there will be a settlement on opioids. The AG's office would like all the counties to back the settlement so they can get the funding straight to the counties. The counties made it clear to him that they were not happy at not getting their fair share of the previous tobacco and opioid settlements, with the money going to the state."

He said the option was for the county to file lawsuits in federal court, but the risk is that if they lose, they could be taken out of the settlement. On the other hand, they may be in better position on a federal settlement. The costs to cities and the state government will be due to the dependency and crime rates related to opioids. The costs probably are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, potentially billions nationwide. The costs have been estimated to be $870 million just in New Mexico. Manufacturers have said they didn't create for dependence.

Brown complimented Ramos for the potential redrafting of the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity JPA to provide funding for other water projects.

Billings wished Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone.

Ramos said he had attended the forest planning meeting. He said the Southwest County Commissioners Alliance has discussed the local economies and the impact by the Forest Service and how to work with the agency. Through the SWCCA, "we also asked for representation in the planning process."

"The Grant County Water Commission is busy," Ramos said. "I got elected chairman when I missed a meeting. The New Mexico CAP Entity members think that the entity should explore options in addition to a diversion. Bohannon and Huston recently gave a report to Bayard and their and Santa Clara's water project for the use of effluent."

He said he learned quite a bit at the Forest Service Technical meeting. "Through the SWCCA, we have asked the Forest Service to have an open house about the potential proposals for wilderness areas. We invite them to have it here. I have maps and the Planning Department has copies of the maps for anyone who wishes to look at them."

The commissioners went into executive session to discuss pending opioid litigation.

Kasten said they would come out of the session and adjourn without making any decisions.

Live from Silver City

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The Grant County Beat continues to bring you new columnists. New this past week are the Christian Corner, for those who are already Christians or are exploring the beliefs.

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