[Editor's Note: This is part 2 of a multi-article report on the work session of the Grant County Commission on March 6, 2018. This article covers three presentations.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
Traci Burnsed of the Grant County Assessor's Office gave a comprehensive report on options for parcel map correction at the Grant County Commission work session on March 6, 2018, in the first of three presentations.
"In our office, we process deeds and adjust parcel maps," Burnsed said. "We have 47,000 tracts in the county. Think of it as a puzzle, where if you change one tract, it takes away from the others neighboring it. I will present the data and the process to correct it. The goal of record is to provide accurate tax value. We've been reviewing the parcel maps, as the Department of Transportation is acquiring rights-of-way along Pinos Altos road. We have to find which data set has the errors. Most are basic based on surveys. There are several ways for potential discrepancies to enter the record. We always have a disclaimer on the use of any parcel map."
She presented the options to correct the errors and their estimated costs to do so.
"One, we can contract with a spatial adjuster for about $147,766," Burnsed said. "It would not address the parcels drawn to fit. It doesn't increase the ability for corrected maps. It is the quickest option but the least accurate."
Option 2, she said, is almost the same, at a cost of $173,966. It would take nine years to transfer the parcel maps to parcel fabric and is a partial fix. The parcel fabric assigns weight to the accuracy. When a property is transferred, it can adjust at the time of transfer. "We have 13,000 parcels in the county."
Option 3 would be corrections utilizing county employees at an extra cost of $330,216 and would take about six years.
Option 4 would cost $336,110 for about four years and would require a parcel map correction employee of the county. "It would have the highest accuracy and increase the capacity of the county to address mapping issues."
"My recommendation is to hire a county parcel correction employee," Burnsed said. "It addresses all errors and increases the capacity of the county to address errors in the future. It creates more confidence in the county record. It is time to have a full correction. The data will be more accurate. We are one of the last counties in the state to do the correction."
Commissioner Gabriel Ramos asked how it ties to the survey points.
"The points are one of the errors," Burnsed replied. "We've been adjusting our data to them."
"If an adjustment is made, will the county be liable?" Ramos asked.
Burnsed said: "No, because we put the disclaimer on every parcel map that it is not to be used as a survey."
Commissioner Harry Browne asked if it could be funded through bonding or if it has to all be done with operational funding.
County Manager Charlene Webb said she was not sure if it could be done with bonding. "Where I came from, it was an investment moving forward."
Commissioner Brett Kasten said he doesn't see it as non-recurring bond funding. "Once we get an employee, he's not going to get fired. If we could do it 100 percent with a contract, we could probably use bonding."
Ramos asked County Assessor Raul Turrieta the difference of hiring a person versus using a contractor.
"We would continue to maintain accuracy of data," Turrieta replied. "If we hire, we keep the accuracy of the data."
Browne noted if the county is not increasing transactions, "it seems to me maintenance can be done within the staff."
Burnsed said it might be possible with the parcel fabric option. It could maybe integrate into another position or a four-year hire.
Turrieta said: "Right now, it's a nightmare. A lot of counties did it in house. Hidalgo County hired a contractor."
Browne said he was thinking longer term might require a new position. Ramos said: "but not at $96,000 a year."
"It would benefit the Assessor's Office to bring in more revenue," Turrieta said. He said he would send the presentation to the commissioners. "I think we owe it to the property owners to have clean data."
Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked how it would increase revenue to have a full-time position.
"With a position, we could use them in sales, or put them in the field for reappraisals," Turrieta said.
Burnsed the correcting position would likely last four years.
Kasten said a position would have to be recurring funding not bonding.
Browne asked if there were any way to combine the forces of the two mappers the county already has.
"Yes, in Option 3," Burnsed said.
"We have one full position frozen for sales," Turrieta said. "This new position would bring in revenue after four years."
The next presentation at the work session addressed the potential for the county to go out for a general obligation bond. Mark Valenzuela of Hilltop Securities presented.
"In answer to an earlier question," Valenzuela said. "If the county chose to go with a general obligation bond election, its useful life would be longer than three years. I suspect equipment could be covered with bond funding, but not staff time."
He said he had previously come to the county as an employee of George K Baum Advisors. "I have joined a new firm, which owns Plains Capital Bank in Texas. The company has quite a presence across the county, and now has a presence in New Mexico. And, by the way, Hilltop also has the ability to do hospital consulting."
"In New Mexico, the state constitution requires general obligation bonds to be approved by the voters," Valenzuela said. "A county can bond up to 4 percent against the assessed valuation of property. You can choose to use the funding for a hospital, an airport, roads and bridges, and open space."
With a county assessed valuation of $847 million, Grant County has the capacity to bond for almost $34 million. The county has about $2.4 million remaining in debt principal. "The last bond election in Grant County was in 2005 to build the Detention Center. That one for $6 million is now paid off. The county tries to keep at the same mill rate of property tax, so the state does not come in and lower it, reducing revenue. From growth in the assessed value, you have collected $1.2 million, so you have some excess cash. That allows the county to repay the debt at about $410,000 a year. You are in the last three payments totaling $1.35 million."
"The proposal I'm recommending is you pay off your bond, shorten it by three years," Valenzuela said. "Then you will have excess capacity, so you have a bond election for capital projects. I would not use your full $31 million capacity, which you have after debt. I would recommend a $6 million bond election this year and every two years for $6 million. What it does is it provides a stable source of revenue to use on road projects, for example, and leaves the tax levy exactly the same for property owners. It would be $3 million of continuing revenue a year without a tax rate increase. Federal tax reform lowered taxes, so there is an incentive for buyers to come into the market. Yes, rates are rising on tax exempt bonds, and I expect three more rate rises over this year. The new normal is 4, 5 or 6 percent rates."
"The crux of the question," Kasten said, "is do we want to lower the tax rates or build needed projects, such as our hospital that is flailing. I'm thinking of other things, too."
"Roads," Commission Chairman Billy Billings said.
Valenzuela said the commission would need to make the decision at least three months prior to the November election. "We recommend the continuing election every two years, so communication continues with the community. Tie your capital improvement plan to the GO bond."
The next item on the work session agenda was a discussion of the Holloman Air Force Base proposal regarding the timing of a potential county resolution, fire risk and economic impacts, as requested by Browne. He had invited three people to speak to the issue-Gerry Engel, Jesse Franklin-Owens and Cissy McAndrew.
Engel addressed the timing on the environmental impact statement. "There are three levels of analysis. 1) categorical exclusion, which means no significant impacts. 2) significant impacts and 3) the EIS, which is the most intensive. The Air Force is saying it is a big deal and is likely to cause significant impact and is controversial."
He said the first step is the scoping to determine public issues. "They have specifically focused on issues as covered by law. If the county government has concerns how it will affect the county, you need to bring them to the attention of the Air Force. The county says the Air Force did not seek to get local input. It is therefore more important to let the Air Force know the issues. The Air Force has said it will continue to accept comments, so they are addressed. If you don't comment, you may not be included. In my experience, they seldom change the alternatives. If the county has substantial reason to pick a particular alternative, it is important to make comment."
Franklin-Owens said he is part of the Whiskey Creek Volunteer Fire Department and has been a contractor with the Forest Service since 1993 working on large incidents. "One of my duties at Whiskey Creek is to update the Smokey Bear signs of fire danger." He noted they vary by the day. For example, in the western part of the region, on March 4, the threat of fire was high and very high in the eastern part. March 5 was moderate in both and on March 5, moderate in the western part and high in the eastern part. "We will still find islands of extreme or extremely high danger."
He noted the Air Force report admits that sometimes flares can reach the ground when still burning, and sometimes they start a wildfire, but no records are kept. Franklin-Owens said residents of Mule Creek had noted that fires had begun away from roads, but the source was not proven. "The concern is altitude. Here the flights can be at 2,000 feet, most are at 5,000 feet with general aviation at 8,000 feet."
"Sometimes the flares fall as duds," Franklin-Owens said. "In eastern Arizona a woman picked up a dud, and it exploded and burned her over 49 percent of her body surface. It has been reported that other duds have been found. The concern with the flyovers is fire, with the concern being public safety."
Cissy McAndrew reported on economic impacts of the flyovers. She was wearing large earphones to show that people may have to wear earphones if the flyovers begin in the area.
"I can't remember the last time I heard an airplane," McAndrew said. "The way I market the county is about its ranching, its mining, its heritage. We have blue skies, a vast landscape, small town values and the greatest diversity of wildlife. The Continental Divide Trail has become a refuge for wounded warriors. People move here for the quality of life, the climate, the natural surroundings and the friendly people. They want to get away from crowds."
She, as a Realtor, talked about the economic impacts. "In 2017, we sold $58.58 million worth of real estate, with $136,000 the median price. The economy impacts 60 Realtors, inspectors, surveyors, title fees, gross receipts tax. How will the flyovers impact us? Sellers will have to disclose the flyovers. That can often kill the deal. It's harder to obtain home insurance in Indian Hills now, because of the requirement for 100 feet of defensible space around houses. The decibel level reduces by 1 percent by altitude." She cited statistics of people needing ear protection and sleeping with ear plugs. "This is an assault on Grant County as we lose the wilderness, the wildlife and the residents."
Browne thanked the presenters.
A subsequent article will cover the work session review of the regular meeting agenda, as well as county officials' reports and whether agenda items were approved at the regular session.