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[Editor'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 5 and covers the final non-profit organization presentations.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

The Grant County Prospectors held their annual Legislative Communications Forum on Nov. 28, 2017 at Western New Mexico University's Light Hall.

The purpose of the annual Prospectors Communications Forum is for the area legislators to hear from community entities on their needs, not only for capital outlay and appropriations, but on policy.

The area legislators, who listen and ask questions, include District 28 Sen. Howie Morales, District 38 Rep. Rebecca Dow and District 39 Rep. Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez.

The next non-profit organization to present was Life Quest. Chief Executive Officer Deb Frasca made the presentation.

"Life Quest will be 45 years old in 2018," Frasca said. "We provide early childhood intervention for potential developmental disabilities. We have had no increases for many years."

"We will advocate for a 3.5 percent increase," she continued. "We want to support the Due Process bill. Bills and things that come through, one big one is for the sub-minimum wage for the employment of those with disabilities. ADCAP's (Age and Disability Capacity Programme) position is if a person wants to do the work at a sub-minimum wage, they should receive that wage. It's their choice to live where they want and to work if they want to. We will work with you on that issue."

Dow commented: "Such individuals have to go through the federal process, especially if they want to work for minimum wage, right?"

Frasca said it is based on how quickly they can do a task. "Many people cannot work in the community, but some can work in a group situation. Most are happy doing what they are doing."

Dow confirmed they heard testimony from them that the money was supplemental, but they were happy working.

"If the FIT study requires more money, the providers will have to request fewer regulations," Frasca said. "The DD waiver is getting a rate study in the spring. We're hoping the next one is more accurate. We have gotten a $500,000 appropriation, spread across the state. We saw a three or four cent rate increase per service. We continue to face challenges. ADCAP advocates, and has a lobbyist for us."

Frasca said Life Quest presented a "fantastic idea for a $20,000 award for best presentation. The KPCamp, a hub, would be a one stop shop for multi-age, multi-sensory. It has transportation, intergenerational. We didn't get it funded, but the seed was planted and it's still alive and we continue to work on it."

Morales said 45 years is an amazing milestone. "Thirty-five years ago, Rep. Murray Ryan was recognized for funding the program." Morales cautioned that he didn't anticipate calls for cuts, but increases might not be possible.

Martinez said the services Life Quest provides make a significant difference in lives.

Mimbres Region Arts Council Executive Director Kevin Lenkner presented for the non-profit.

"I want to plant a seed," Lenkner said. "The Mimbres Region Arts Council is evolving. We call it MRAC 3.0. Our five-year plan is the creation of an arts center. We are at the early stages, and still looking at opportunities.

"Funding it is our most significant challenge," he said. "Probably more than we can raise locally. We figure half a million to multi-millions. We want something of scale that re-establishes us as an anchor to make Silver City a destination." He said it could be called the Rebecca Dow, Howie Morales, Rudy Martinez Art Center.

"We are looking to attract cultural tourism," Lenkner said. "We want to increase education opportunities. We want to nurture a creative community that innovates.
We're looking at three to five years."

Dow said she liked the idea and that Sierra County was working on something similar.

Morales commended Lenkner for the explanatory brochure. "I like that education has a hand in it. I want no buildings named after me."

"I am always supportive of the arts," Martinez said. "We see a number of pieces at the State Capitol from our local artists. Arts are part of childhood education. It seems education has taken away some of the arts disciplines."

Lenkner said MRAC gets " funding from the New Mexico Arts Commission and we plug it in where we can."

Executive Director Colleen Morton presented for the Silver City Arts and Cultural District.

"I'm brand new," Morton said. "I moved here in September from Maine. I have a lot to learn, but I hope to bring some lessons I learned in Maine. We have the overarching goals of enhancing the creative economy and tourism. We are the first arts and cultural district in the state."

Although the district remains under state MainStreet Program, it isn't funded through MainStreet. According to Morton, some funding comes from the town of Silver City to run the Visitor Center and provide tourism marketing.

"An important role is to convene the artistic community," Morton said. "We make it easier for collaborative marketing with the Tourism Department. We hope to offer more training and support for small businesses, especially in the creative economy to have websites and launch their own online businesses. We are also putting in a plug for much better broadband in the rural areas. We want regional branding and regional place making."

Martinez asked several questions, which Morton addressed.

Morton said the district is funded only through the Department of Tourism. "We would like to see funding under MainStreet. We get about $100,000 a year in Lodgers' tax, but it all goes to media. We get nothing for salaries, although we do have a professional services contract with the town to run the Visitor Center, which also comes to about $100,000. We have no support for regional projects. We are the leadership group that can do it, with the Coordinating Council. Those include the Clay Arts Trail, which is running on a shoestring, with the $5,000 they got from the New Mexico Arts Commission."

"To build up an active website and way-finding signage for self-driving tours, we are looking for $50,000," Morton said. "We are looking at it from the Pathways in the NM Arts Council. The Clay Festival, which is successful each year, is break even at best. With $100,000, the Clay Trail could reach out to the rest of southwest New Mexico and into Mexico, creating a corridor from Santa Fe into Mexico. What we are trying to work on would require a yearly $100,000 as a minimum."

Dow asked about the co-op for media.

Morton said it works relatively well, although the district is usually locked into a 12-month contract, so it is not very flexible. "We would prefer more freedom to promote Silver City and Grant County. New Mexico True promotes New Mexico, but does not feature the uniqueness of this area. We design the ads within strict parameters."

Dow asked about the use of an out-of-state marketer by Tourism.

"We are doing it ourselves, but we have to comply with parameters and we have to run it through the out-of-state marketing firm," Morton confirmed. "Our own graphic designers ought to be able to have the freedom for how and where we advertise. This community has so much richness in this area. There is too much focus on print. We want it on social media, too."

Dow said she had a concern about the district having less autonomy. "What about the idea of value added products, such as adding New Mexico True products? It's mixing economic development dollars with tourism dollars."

"To me, the more varied rich and diverse state is seen the better, but by putting the same label, it starts to make them look homogenized," Morton said. "We are working on consensus of a regional brand to link communities of the region and emphasis on the culture of this region. We need to reflect on our space in the heart of the Southwest."

Silver City MainStreet Project Executive Director Charmeine Wait and Board President Patrick Hoskins and Treasurer Carmen Stevens presented on behalf of the organization.

"Since 1985, Silver City MainStreet has developed ideas to revitalize downtown Silver City," Wait said. "We were one of the first MainStreet projects in the state and have remained a successful program. The funding of the Main Street Plaza is part of our lots of plans. We want to increase economic development, stimulate outdoor activities, education and events at the location.

"When an event happens, we definitely need ADA-compliant restrooms," she continued. "We also need way-finding signage and a central parking area. For every person who comes to town, we bring in at least $10. A lot is due to the Farmers' Market during the season. The plaza has been in the planning stages for 10 years. We need to find the funding. It will cost $150,000 just for the restroom in Phase I."

Dow said: "I want to comment that I am a big fan of MainStreet revitalizing downtowns."

"Has there been any discussion on a Big Ditch Park?" Morales asked.

"The last remnant of Silver City's Main Street already leads to the Big Ditch," Wait said. "We have had activities down in the Big Ditch, especially this year with the new mural, which recounts the history of how the Big Ditch came to be. The plaza would help lead people there and change the perception of the Big Ditch. The Ditch is part of the Trails system. The town of Silver City, which will be our fiscal agent, is willing to work with us on the sewer line. The mural project helped bring some more recognition to Big Ditch. Overall, the entire project would be $500,000. The next phase for the plaza would be lighting for $200,000. "

Morales asked if it was an appropriation that would require the city to bring forward a bill. He said he is trying to find a vehicle for funding.

Silver City Mayor Pro Tem Cynthia Bettison said: "The town only presented one item, but this one is on our ICIP. Yes, it's the town looking at restrooms and sewer.
The concern addressed with MainStreet is they wanted to make sure it wouldn't affect money we might be able to leverage later. If we are doing it before a grant, we might not have a match for later money."

Morales said: "I hope you and the city can continue conversations to avoid some of those issues. In order to get to funding, we need a clear mechanism for the funding."

Martinez said it is an important piece of the puzzle for downtown. "The challenges are the public restrooms and parking."
"We ask you to retain the $900,000 plus for Frontier Communities and New Mexico MainStreet," Wait concluded.

Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society President Cecilia Bell and Vice President Doug Dinwiddie presented on behalf of the non-profit.

Bell gave some history and said, long ago, "we came to Prospectors and got $500,000 for the theater. But when you can't get in and out of the doors or repair the doors where they can be locked securely, what good did it do?"

Dinwiddie said he is a local kid who went away for 30 years and came home to find the condition of Fort Bayard appalling. "I remember it as a vital place. It's gratifying to hear about your support for Santa Clara's efforts."

"We operate the museum, which is the finest remaining building at Fort Bayard," Dinwiddie continued. "It was built in 1911. It is our most precious artifact. It has no electricity, no heat or running water. We could use some help getting these working again."

Morales asked what the group is requesting. Bell said: "$10,000 for the doors."

Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments Executive Director Priscilla Lucero said she did not have a capital outlay form because Santa Clara has agreed to be the fiscal agent. "But usually, small requests are not looked upon favorably."

Bell said they could add updating the restrooms, and Morales said that would be his recommendation. She said the organization plans to hold Fort Bayard Days in September this year on the third weekend of the month.

Dinwiddie said the former director of the national cemeteries in New Mexico had approached them about becoming part of the VA Legacy Project. "We are very interested in participating in it."

Martinez suggested the group add the heating system to their request. Bell said she had an estimate for how much it would cost.

"When you have the Fort Bayard ceremonies, members of the Buffalo Soldiers group in Albuquerque would be interested in participating," Martinez said. "The NAACP in Las Cruces is also interested in a tour, as is Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert in Albuquerque."

The last group to present was Imagination Library of Grant County, represented by founders Barbara and Loren Nelson.

Barbara Nelson said the organization has two projects.

A study produced by Ann Harvey of Western New Mexico University compared two groups of students on the comprehensive reading skills of those who were read to before entering school and those who received no Imagination Library books. "The pattern of higher scores showed those who had the benefits of Imagination Library books and those who had not. In first grade, those who had been recipients of Imagination Library books up to age five, had a 75 percent reading comprehension, compared to non-Imagination Library book recipients at 55 percent compared to the state overall average of 59.6 percent." In second grade Imagination Library book recipients had an 80 percent comprehension rate compared to non-recipients at 60 percent. By third grade recipients stood at a 94 percent reading comprehension, with non-recipients at 88 percent.

Loren Nelson said the second project was at the request of the Dollywood Foundation, which began and supports Imagination Library. "We were asked to take it statewide."

"Two years ago, we had seven counties fully covered," he continued. "Now, we have doubled the number of counties. And our chart is out-of-date already, because we have a new affiliate in the South Valley in Albuquerque having a registration effort and another in Quemado in Catron County waiting for printing of the registration forms."

In 2017 alone, more than 80,000 books were mailed to New Mexico pre-schoolers, he said. "Thanks to CYFD funding, local affiliates can receive up to 50 percent reimbursement for the mailing of books." Loren Nelson said other grants cover start-up costs for new affiliates. The CYFD funding sunsets at the end of the 2018 fiscal year. "Continued funding is needed to continue the current affiliates and to expand to other counties to make this program available to all New Mexico children."

Morales said: "I take a great deal of pride in being from Grant County and when so many people show up at Grant County Day. I look at the impact Grant County has made across the state—First Born, the Grant County Community Health Council, our Imagination Library. So many things that we can go on and on about that originated right here in Grant County. We have people that have the vision to make things happen."

Loren Nelson said the funding was for four years, with Lucero clarifying that the program is in its third year with one more to go.

"We have to make sure this funding continues," Morales said. "Is there any communication with CYFD on this?"

Loren Nelson said they thought they should have a conversation with the senator on what the best strategy would be.

Morales said Secretary Jacobsen is supportive. "I would rather get the commitment now to get a renewal or even an increase in dollars. I don't want to wait. I would like to see the whole state covered."

Martinez thanked the Nelsons for their advocacy for "our children."

Dow echoed the comment. "Reading to your children is one of the least expensive things to do to create strong parent-child relationships. It's a small investment for a large impact."

Prospectors President Evangeline Zamora thanked the legislators for giving the groups an opportunity to present.

"Grant County Day is Jan. 24, 2018," she said. Lucero said Colonias Day is Jan. 23, and any Prospectors' presence would help get more funding for the county.

Live from Silver City

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