PEditor's Note: This forum took place on Nov. 28, 2017. However, the holidays and other issues prevented this author from writing the forum up for the Beat. This is part 1
By Mary Alice Murphy
The all-day Prospectors Legislative Communication Forum took place at Western New Mexico University's Light Hall on Nov. 28, 2017.
The session began with remarks from those who represent Grant County at the New Mexico Legislative Session, which will begin on Jan. 16, 2018.
The first to speak was District 38 Rep. Rebecca Dow, serving in her first term. "This is my second forum. This year's session will be a 30-day session, with the main purpose being the budget. I am a huge advocate for District 38. Hopefully we will have a bit of capital outlay this year."
District 28 Sen. Howie Morales called the forum the most important meeting of the year. "It educates us to be able to help you. This is my 11th legislative forum. I'll focus on education. It is helpful to work with Rebecca with her knowledge of education. I want to focus this year on higher education, which got cut again last year. I will advocate for no cuts to higher ed."
"I will also be looking at hold harmless," he continued. "State reserves are still dangerously low. This is an election year, so there will be an effort to see local dollars flow into local communities. We should put aside party politics, especially on Colonias."
District 39 Rep. Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez called the notebook created by the Prospectors "our Bible where we have the information we need to advocate for you. Education is also one of my priorities. We are seeing the impact on New Mexico. It's not fair to our children pre-K through higher ed. Higher ed has taken significant cuts. I also support health care and Medicaid for the ones most in need. I will ensure we bring home capital outlay."
The next section featured local government presentations. County Manager Charlene Webb and Community Development and Planning Director Michael "Mischa" Larisch represented Grant County.
"We have three projects we are advocating for," Webb said. "The first is the renovation of the Courthouse roof for $275,000. It's not a full roof replacement. If we address it now, it should buy us 10 to 15 more years.
"Our second request is for public safety vehicles. We need three 4X4 trucks for the Sheriff's department. We will also contribute to the costs.
"Our third request is for Detention Center security upgrades," she concluded. "In the first phase, we upgraded the intercom system. Now we want to go to digital from analog cameras. Digital would allow us to back up to the server and the cloud and be more current."
Dow asked about tax reform and the impact that bringing back the food tax might have. "Where are the gaps at the state level?"
"We have taken advantage of the gross receipts tax to replace hold harmless and have bonded against the receipts," Webb said. "There are 27 different increments of gross receipts tax and some we can't even use. Some need to be gotten rid of or combined with others."
Morales asked how the substance abuse treatment facility Tu Casa was coming along. Webb replied that it has been a little bit ahead of schedule, with Hidalgo Medical Services, which will manage the facility, planning a March-April timeframe for opening.
"In capital outlay, can even $50,000 be leveraged?" Morales asked. "What about grants?"
Webb said the Sheriff's Department uses Stonegarden, usually to buy one vehicle. "We are trying to develop a replacement schedule for vehicles. They cover so many miles and in such rough terrain. But we get money saved up, and an emergency arises, something breaks and we have to use the funds. We have some county funds set aside for the courthouse roof. We have problems with funding for the Detention Center. We would like to have a conversation on the issue."
Martinez asked how much the county gets from the federal Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT).
Webb said the county receives anywhere from $1.1 million to $1.9 million, with the money going into the General Fund. "Last year we lost $700,000 in Secure Rural Schools funding, which goes into bus routes. We supplement the road fund from the general fund each year. The Local Government Road Fund has dwindled."
Martinez said he, too, would like to talk about the Detention Center and the funding issues, as he serves on the Appropriations Committee, where the budget is formulated before going to the Senate.
Silver City Town Manager Alex Brown represented the town.
"Thank you for the help you give us," Brown said. "We have been focusing on the town sidewalks. We need $125,000 to do Cactus Street.
"We have a lot of other projects ongoing, with the downtown sidewalks almost complete," he said. "We have another one across from the hospital that we will start on."
He said the town wants to finish Silver Street from 19th Street to U.S. 180. Brown thanked the legislators for saving the funding for the sewer project, which will serve 186 residentces. "We are trying to keep the state from pre-empting local government authority. For example, small cell towers. The state wants control. They could put them on poles that may interfere with our line-of-sight Wi-Fi in town and at the university."
"Our biggest concern is hold harmless, 18 percent of our gross receipts taxes," Brown said. "We stand to lose $1.7 million. We are losing $330,000 this year and $440,000 next year. We have done as much as possible to cut the budget. This year, we may have to raise either the hold harmless gross receipts tax increments or property tax. We're below 10,000 population, but the official census shows us over the 10,000. We got hit with the largest percentage loss for hold harmless in the state of New Mexico."
Dow asked what the best scenario Brown could propose for hold harmless. Brown replied: " Eliminate the deductions, lower the tax rate, so everybody pays the same lower rate, so it's more stable for communities like ours. The municipal League has looked at income tax."
"We, as a town, haven't looked at expanding our boundaries," Brown said. "We have requests to annex Indian Hills, but for the town there would be more expenses for services, but little revenue. Diversifying the income tax base, because the area has a higher income base, would be more beneficial."
Dow asked if local permitting ordinances would be a way to preserve line of sight. Brown said the town doesn't have permitting ordinances in the town.
Morales commented that it may be the first time that local governments are getting reimbursements in a timely manner from the Department of Finance and Administration.
"I ask you to invite Rick Lopez of the DFA to Grant County Day to thank him for doing what he said he would do," Morales said. He said that funding that should be done by the state is being pushed down to local governments. He asked if the cell towers were a state or federal issue.
Town Councilor Cynthia Bettison said they are a state issue, and the state will try to bypass local governments and put new poles where they want.
Morales also asked about sidewalk funding. Brown said the money would be spent within a couple of months.
Morales also asked about the Regional Water Project. Brown said the project has won a national award, and Phase 1 is funded.
Martinez thanked Brown for working with other entities. He noted a piece of legislation would help Silver City, Espanola and four other communities who are losing eligibility for programs because their populations are slightly over 10,000.
The city of Bayard was represented by Mayor Charles Kelly and Clerk/Treasurer Kristina Ortiz.
Ortiz listed the four projects in the Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan that depend on the availability of funding. They include Maple Street and M Street for improvements and drainage. No. 2 is an upgrade to the water distribution system. No. 3 is for a concession stand for Little League games, and No. 4 for the regional wastewater plant to provide a screw press for dewatering.
Martinez said he is always glad to see streets be a priority. He asked about the emergency water contract with Hanover.
Ortiz said Hanover is still using about 200,000 gallons a month on an emergency basis, but Bayard has no water shortage.
Martinez asked about use of effluent from the treatment plant. Ortiz said the effluent is being expanded to use at the schools, as well as watering the sports fields.
Morales asked about audits, and Ortiz said: "We have pretty clean audits."
Ortiz noted that eight cemetery plots at their newly complete cemetery have been secured and two filled.
Hurley Mayor Fernando Martinez and Councilor Freddie Rodriguez were on hand to present and answer questions.
Fernando Martinez said the town needs a backhoe, as the one they have is 27 years old and is used a lot. Hurley also needs funding for its cemetery for a structure and concrete pad.
Morales asked about the swimming pool heating project. Fernando Martinez said the kids think it's perfect and the seniors want warmer water
Rudy Martinez asked about the user fees for the residents to pay for the water project, which is nearing completion.
Lucero said the USDA has suggested funding the final phases of the Regional Water Project through one application and receipt of the state's full allocation.
Martinez asked how many water districts it would impact. Lucero said there are nine municipal and mutual domestic water districts.
Santa Clara Mayor Richard Bauch and Clerk Sheila Hudman presented for the village.
Hudman listed the village's requests, with the first for $100,000 for new maintenance vehicles, because the newest is 15 years old, with one vehicle having 600,000 miles on it.
The second request was for the cemetery, as after a new survey, new acreage was found. Thirteen acres need fencing, with some people buried outside the present fence.
Third, the village would like to purchase the first county courthouse. "It's Grant County history," Hudman said.
Dow commended the village on its efforts for Fort Bayard.
Hudman said the Youth Conservation Corps did not receive funding for Fort Bayard this year, but has done other projects.
Morales said he would move legislation again to try to get the state to let Santa Clara be able to do more work at Fort Bayard.
He said the Splash Park has brought in a lot of people. "Utilize us to help knock down your barriers."
Martinez commended the village for its efforts, including forming a group to bring musicians and movies to the village. "I understand your need for vehicles. It's a safety issue."
He also asked about whether the wells are computerized. "We have SCADA and are finishing up with capital outlay to pay for solar panels."
Bauch noted the village has two main wells and the infiltration system. Two wells have been closed because the water was so hard it was difficult to utilize it,
The final local government presentation was by Lucero and SWNMCOG Economic Development Planner Emily Schilling.
Lucero touted the group's national award for energy efficiency. "It has all been expended saving 770 kilowatt hours." She noted local governments have brought in 32 Colonias Investment Fund awards totaling $14.5 million, which does not include leveraging of the funds.
"We also support Imagination Library, which is in its third year of a four-year funding contract to expand throughout the state. Eddy County has already met its projected numbers," Lucero said.
Morales asked what the COG, "which is the best in the state," receives in annual allocation.
"About $86,000 a year," Lucero said. "We were at $125,000. It's been a while since we've seen an increase."
She said the COG is fiscal agent for 25 entities.
Martinez commended Lucero for "what you do to impact our quality of life."
Dow asked if more could be done with more staff.
"We can always do more," Lucero said. "We became a 501c3 and have been able to bring in more money from private foundations."
She noted the state continues to hand down more requirements, which are a burden.
The next article will cover education presentations.