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By Mary Alice Murphy

County Manager Charlene Webb asked, at the beginning of the budget hearing, held by the Grant County Commission on Thursday, May 10, 2018, that presentations by department heads be brief.

Jason Lockett of the Maintenance Department said he had requested basically a flat budget, with a few changes for needed equipment.

Clerk Marisa Castrillo said her department had a position frozen. "I would like to request that it be reopened, but I understand that won't be possible. I want to make sure we don't lose it and that it be revisited."

Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked Castrillo to refresh her memory.

Castrillo said it was a position in the recording department. "We were in the process of hiring someone and we stopped the process. It would pay $30,845."

Webb noted that, with benefits, it would be closer to $56,000.

Castrillo said the reason why she wants the position is because the county clerk's office will be doing all elections, including municipal ones, which means managing elections every year instead of every two years.

Webb said in this preliminary budget, "we tried to remove personnel requests. We will revisit personnel and travel requests in the final budget."

Assessor Raul Turrieta's presentation took almost half the time allotted for everyone. He and his deputy assessor, Matthew James, presented a group of slides. The first one listed all the staff members and their positions. "What do we do?" Turrieta asked. "We have a five-month backlog because of a frozen position. I would like to have the position back." Slides continued showing an increase in total value, but a decrease in livestock value.

[Editor's Note: Most figures were not readable by the audience or other department heads.]

James noted that staffing of the office is a significant cost, but it is needed to meet customer needs, as well as meeting statutory requirements. He said he looked at other counties classified B-over to compare them to Grant County.

[Editor's Note: According to the Department of Finance and Administration website and DFA Secretary memos, the classification is based on population and net taxable property values.]

James said in total value out of 18 counties in the category in New Mexico, Grant County was marked at 11th. Population ranked 10th and size 11th, real property accounts at 12th and staff at 15th. He said he did a literature review and used national data, also. He noted that Grant County has a small talent pool, and generally lower wages.

He and Turrieta developed a staffing plan to convert part-time positions to full-time, fill an open residential sales appraiser, hire another temporary full-time position, do more training and have more cooperation with Workforce Connections. The office also wants to do a parcel mapping correction, as Grant County is the only county in New Mexico not to have completed the process. The department also requests a vehicle purchase.

Commissioner Harry Browne said he was curious about the livestock decrease. "Was it because of a decline in price and head count?"

James said it was about a 5 percent decline in head count and the price dropped.

Browne also asked about the difference between occurrences and accounts. James explained there were different line items for cows, sheep, goats, llama, alpaca and such.

"You have budgeted a 3 percent increase in property taxes," Browne continued. "You say it's 3 percent for residential and less for commercial. Overall your estimate might be overly optimistic."

Turrieta agreed that it might be. "We're waiting to hear about the state assessed rate and copper production."

County Financial Officer Linda Vasquez said the county has to use Department of Finance and Administration certified rates.

"We requested data from the assessor last year on yield control," Webb said. "We didn't get it last year. I am asking for it again this year."

"Yes, it has been requested," Browne agreed. "I would have more support for a position for your office if you can give me what I have asked for before, and that's an actual estimate of how much new value a new position could bring in. The budget doesn't include the parcel correction, does it?"

Webb said it would also be revisited in the final budget. "He asked for three positions. He's spending more than he's bringing in with re-appraisal. We will be looking at the final budget. It's a very conservative budget. I don't feel comfortable adding anything and having to cut later."

"My preference would be to use actual staff for the parcel correction rather than contracting with someone," Browne said.

"This is a critical project," James said. "It needs to be done. With the current proposal, even with a contractor, we would need internal staff who can monitor and administer this project. We need money for extra bodies. Without additional manpower we cannot do it. The $120,000 for the project and for one full-time employee go together."

Webb asked: "If we fund the $120,000 for parcel mapping and one full-time employee, can you guarantee you can get it done?"

"It would be a stretch," Turrietta said with lots of words and explanations, "but it is doable."

Treasurer Armendariz said going into the budget process, the department heads were given letters saying there would be no extra money and the county was not projecting increases.

"PILT [payment-in-lieu-of-taxes for federal property, such as the Gila National Forest, which cannot be assessed for county property tax] has been funded by Congress," Armendariz said. "The Secure Rural Schools has also been funded. I found myself with a budget in which I requested nothing extra. I met with Linda and told her I had requested earlier a seasonal employee for July-September and November through January. It would cost $18,000, with no benefits. I also had requested $5,000 in non-capital equipment. The assessor earns a 1 percent re-appraisal fee. The clerk's office has fees for services. They have dollars. We don't. We need to update our computers. The state property tax people have been in our office for months now. We need equipment, so they can access our data without having to be on our computers. I see quite a few increases in the budget. When you look at the Grant County Treasurer's Office compared to other classified B-over in the state, other counties' treasurers' offices receive 4.3 percent of the overall budget. In Grant County, we receive 2 percent. I would ask for a part-time seasonal employee in the final budget."

Webb thanked him for clarifying his request. "Once you filled the chief deputy position, I thought your part-time position request was off the table. That was my error. Yes, PILT and secure rural schools have been fully funded, but too many times, it has been pulled back when we counted on it. I believe it when we receive it."

Sheriff Raul Villanueva said his budget was pretty flat. "I met with Linda and she said there can be minimal increasing. I want to expand more in pre-employment because of turnover. I asked for an increase. We would also like new units. The only real request I have is for fleet maintenance. We got $2,000 more for maintenance."

Commissioner Brett Kasten said: "With the current situation in the Middle East, I think the sheriff and the road department need to go up 25 percent in fuel for both of you. You need to keep a close eye on fuel expenditures."

"I also had that marked for the road department and the sheriff," Edwards said.

"I have a frozen position, too," Road Department Superintendent Earl Moore said "I'm not asking for it now, but when funding is available, I would like to have it back. I don't want to lose it."

General Services Director Randy Villa said he made some adjustments on his budget, including paying for the postage lease, which went to the manager's office. "I try to do my part to stay within the budget."

Browne said Villa's budget showed the cost of full-time positions was reduced, with some going to the manager's office. "You're down $38,000 in General Services, but it's up only $8,000 in the manager's office."

The probate judge was not there to present.

Community Development and Planning Director Michael "Mischa" Larisch said the budget he presented was flat, but "I have a wish list, especially for grant match monies."

Webb said she has asked in the budget to raise Larisch up to the same rate as other department heads. "He took less money to start with, but I believe he has proved himself."

Rebekah Wenger, airport manager said her budget is flat.

Commission Chairman Billy Billings asked about Boutique's flight status.

"Last year we had 11,000 passengers," Wenger said. "Earlier this year, Boutique had some fairly serious service issues. We're doing better this month. The Essential Service Account is out. We will review it in June."

Billings said he appreciated Wenger's and Webb's work on the flight issues and the cooperation with Boutique.

Edwards asked if any operator could present ESA bids.

Wenger replied that any could apply, but "we need to make sure it's a good match for the community."

Browne noted that fuel sales year to date have exceeded revenue over expenses by about $220,000 to the benefit of the county.

No one was present to represent the Detention Center.

Webb said the Commission budget was fairly flat, although the cost of liability insurance was increased, as well the amount for professional services due to projects not yet completed.

Browne had a question on Regional Dispatch. "We are potentially looking at a large amount of money for them."

"Dispatch is looking at expanding by two staff members," Webb said. "They are continually dinged on not having enough dispatchers. It would increase the contribution by the entities, about $30,000 in additional funding to what we already contribute. Dispatch has been overlooked over the years. It's public safety. We cannot ignore it. In the current joint powers agreement, it's the city and the county coming up with shortfalls, which isn't fair. The other entities understand and are agreeing to support dispatch according to their percentage of calls."

Edwards asked about the equipment and the money to pay for it. "Do you have a crystal ball on how much money and time it will require to get it done?"

Webb said most of the equipment at Dispatch is at the end of life. "We are talking millions and millions to bring it up to par. There is some federal grant funding, but it gets pulled for fires, hurricanes, tornadoes and other disasters. We're looking to DFA for loans, maybe bonds. We are trying to explore the best options."

Browne had a question about revenues into the county budget.

"This budget is very conservative," Webb said. "I agree, it's probably over conservative, but Linda and I have the same philosophy. It's easier to add than to cut. We will have the exact figures of the revenues when we look at the final budget."

Vasquez noted that PILT funding is not received until the end of June.

"Copper, PILT, SRS, gross receipts, property taxes," Kasten said. "We will know all of them before we look at the final budget."

Edwards said last year, "learning all this was an uphill battle. I suggest we ask for another meeting the first part of July, because the final budget is due August 1."

"We can do that," Webb said.

"It would basically be a work session for us," Edwards said. "We wouldn't need more presentations."

The meeting was adjourned.

Live from Silver City

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