[Editor's Note: This is part 6 and the final one of a multi-series of articles on the Grant County Commission work and regular sessions held Dec. 18 and 20, 2018.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
At the Tuesday work session, commissioners heard presentations, and at the regular session, recognized outgoing officials, held a public hearing and heard public input. These articles can be read at: http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/48245-grant-county-commission-work-session-features-monthly-reports-121818-part-1 , http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/48262-grant-county-commission-hears-another-presentation-121818-part-2, http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/48270-grant-county-commission-work-session-121818-part-3 , http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/48281-grant-county-commission-has-special-recognitions-at-beginning-of-regular-meeting-122018 , and http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/48291-grant-county-commission-holds-public-hearing-and-hears-public-input-at-the-regular-meeting-122018-part-5.
Commissioners heard the financial report from County Financial Officer Linda Vasquez at the work session and approved it at the regular session.
The total expenditures since the November 2018 report totaled $2,089,352.78, including three pay periods for $431,649.46.
This is the chart of expenses for more than $10,000.
Commissioner Harry Browne asked if the check for the energy audit meant that the county had made a decision on renewable energy.
County Manager Charlene Webb said: "We will purchase just the audit. We would be unable to prove cost savings to pay for the project. We will use the audit for prioritizing our projects for bond funding. The solar project was not going to pay for itself."
Commissioner Alicia Edwards clarified that the county can take the audit and fund another project.
Webb said there are other options. "We have contact information for better ways to further our projects."
In new business, the commissioners discussed the removal of two vehicles, a 2005 Ford Ranger and a 2007 Ford F-150, from the Road Department inventory. They are slated for auction on Jan. 26, 2019. Commissioners approved the deletion at the regular meeting.
Commissioners discussed at the work session and approved at the regular session lease agreements with Hidalgo Medical Service for use and operation of the Mimbres Senior Center and the Gila Senior Center, which are owned by the county.
County Attorney Abigail Burgess said at the work session that the state had required revisions to the leases to allow capital outlay to be used for additional equipment. "It raised the standards and brought a slight increase to the rent, with (HMS CEO Dan) Otero was OK with. It's still a trade for services. The Local Government Division approved the changes. There are two levels of approval. One is if the lease is less than five years or less than $25,000 a month. The next level is for more than five years and more than $25,000. These were shorter for less money, so there were less stringent requirements."
The next agenda item involved a maintenance agreement with New Mexico Department of Transportation for recreational off-highway vehicle route signage. County Planner and Economic Developer Michael "Mischa" Larisch said the routes would not be legal until the memorandum of understanding is agreed upon and the signs are installed. The item was approved at the regular meeting.
The agenda item to recommend a replacement for New Mexico Senate Seat for District 28, serving Catron, Grant and Socorro counties was discussed at the work session and can be read at http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/48270-grant-county-commission-work-session-121818-part-3 and at the regular meeting, as follows.
At the regular meeting, Commission Chairman Billy Billings opened the discussion on the process. He asked for input on the process from the commissioners-elect Chris Ponce and Xavier Salas.
"We realize the importance of this decision," Salas said. "One of our concerns is the process. We want to leave it open to you, who are more knowledgeable about the process. We are willing to make the decision, but we want to let you know we will honor and respect your decisions."
Commissioner Brett Kasten asked if the two incoming commissioners were unhappy with the process.
"It is hard for us to make the choice," Salas said. "We don't understand all the implications. Catron and Socorro counties set a precedent."
"Am I hearing that if this Commission would make the decision before Dec. 31, you would be fine with it?" Kasten asked.
Ponce said: "I didn't understand your question. We're talking about process, right?"
Billings confirmed the commissioners wanted the incoming commissioners' input on the process.
"Mr. Salas said he is not shirking his duties," Kasten said. "I understand it's daunting to have such a decision on your plate at your first meeting. How would you feel about moving the decision up to before you are sworn in?"
"When we started the process of campaigning to get elected, we knew we would have to take into consideration constituents' opinions," Ponce said. "But we don't take office until Jan. 1. I've been looking at the best interests of the county. You know the calls you've received. If the commissioner decided to take the earlier route, I would respect it. Am I willing to sit down and make the decision? Yes. You are still elected officials. If you decide to do it earlier, it's OK. If you elect to put it in January, I will accept that. You are the Commission. What you decide is what you decide."
Browne said he didn't hear a compelling reason to change. "One, we should follow through with what we told the public, and two, I respect Ramos' choice to put it in January when he was no longer a commissioner."
"And three, for practical reasons, Ramos would not be able to participate between now and Dec. 31," Edwards said.
Ramos said: "Yes, I am a candidate. I've been telling people the decision will be made on Jan. 3. I felt it should be the new commissioners making the decision but didn't realize you felt it would be a difficult decision. It was easy for me to go to Catron and Socorro counties to learn about their counties. I was reminded of the need to get to Santa Fe as early as possible to get preparation time for being the new senator."
He said he felt great about getting the nominations from Catron and Socorro, "but I would also like to get it from my own backyard. There are great candidates, with big shoes to fill. (Sen. Howie) Morales got the nomination here in Grant County to fill the shoes of Sen. Benny Altamirano after he died. I feel I am the only one prepared to represent this district because of my experience moving through the schools, municipality and county government."
Salas said he respected whatever the commission's decision is. "We will move on from there."
Ponce said he feels it is the current commissioners' decision, but "if we do it Jan. 3, that's fine. I respect everyone here. This is your decision on the process. I appreciate having input."
Salas noted that it is not a unique situation, as Catron and Socorro counties had set the precedent with their current commissioners making the decision.
Edwards made a motion to meet as planned on Jan. 3 at 9 a.m. and offer five minutes to each candidate. "The Commission will make a decision at that time."
Kasten noted that Armando Arzola in his public input has also asked to be a candidate although he missed the deadline. "That is solely at the discretion of this Commission. There is no rule that a person nominated to fill the vacancy had to be there or apply. The commissioners can recommend someone else. I would move to table item G to after the Health Care Claims Board."
Commissioners asked for a brief recess for themselves and the attendees.
Resolutions during the work session that were approved at the regular session included a resolution declaring the eligibility and intent of the county to submit an application for Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) funding. Larisch said the funding is for Little Walnut Road and will be a joint application with the county and the town of Silver City. "We are making sure Silver City is responsible for its portion of the road and Grant County responsible for ours," Larisch said. "We got our rights-of way done. The deeds will have to reflect minor work to be done."
Edwards said the county's match is $400,000.
"That's our match (out of the recent bonds approved for roads)," Larisch continued. "Silver City has theirs. Combined the project is $7 million to $8 million and we have to come up with a 14 percent match. The right-of-way is there, but we have to work with landowners for survey work to be done. We have to take care of that on our own, but don't think it will require any purchases."
The next resolution addressed the asset management plan. "We have been working on this grant for over a year," Larisch said. "The grant is with the New Mexico Finance Authority, which will pay us back 75 percent of the cost. We had to take longer, but the NMFA is happy with the plan and is expected to approve it. The last presentation by Aaron Sussman (of Bohannon Huston, which developed the plan) was pretty much what we sent in, except for the additional things the state wanted. NMFA expects us to have a reserve policy. We are already doing it, but they wanted it in writing."
Webb said the county is seeing it more and more in applications that "they want in writing our reserve percentage policy. It isn't anything we're not already doing. If we know we're applying for grants, we budget the match ahead of time."
Larisch said NMFA has approved the county's reserve policy and will close the grant out in January.
Edwards asked if, as soon as the grant is closed out, the county can go out for more funding.
Larisch said the county is doing a Colonias Infrastructure Fund application also. "This asset management plan will fit their requirement."
As the Grant County Health Care Claims Board, commissioners approved $23,806.66 for November claims at Gila Regional Medical Center.
Kasten said he was happy with the new process of the county taking over the reporting of claims.
The commissioners, at the regular session, returned to the issue of the process for recommending an applicant to replace Sen. Howie Morales.
Kasten said he had been sitting there thinking about "how in my wildest dreams I would turn down a chance to replace a senator."
Browne said if he were in Kasten's chair, he would agree. "But I don't think we should change the process that we've already told to the public. I think I may have less information because I haven't known the candidates as long. I value the opinions of the incoming commissioners. I would like to stick with what we said we would do."
Billings said he feels like the odd man out. "I think we should represent our constituents and not Santa Fe. The higher ups in Santa Fe got involved on the Congressional Representative side and chose the candidate they wanted for our Congressional District. I don't appreciate people from Santa Fe getting involved in choosing our recommendation for senator. I feel it should be left to us."
"Is there yet a vacancy?" Billings asked. "As far as I know, Morales has not resigned. I appreciate Catron and Socorro counties already making their decision. I understand both sides."
Edwards said: "I'm absolutely in a conundrum. I don't know what to do."
"I said enough," Ramos said. "I never imagined this seat being vacant. I'm really thinking we'll have the same research whether now or Jan. 3. If I'm chosen, I would like more time to be in Santa Fe prior to the session."
"We made a decision to meet in January," Edwards said. "So, we should."
Browne said he thinks the commissioners should ask each candidate what their legislative priorities are and have no additional questions.
"I think the decision will be the same today or Jan. 3," Billings said. "I apologize to Salas and Ponce for taking up their time."
Edwards said: "Everything we do up here is a learning process. I am in favor of waiting until Jan. 3. If I were in Kasten's seat, yes, I, too, would want to be part of the process."
Ramos laughed: "What would you feel if you were in my seat?" No one replied.
Billings said the list of candidates was alphabetized by first name. "I heard from Simon Ortiz that he is dropping out but has endorsed Ramos. We will give each candidate five minutes to speak."
Browne said he thinks public input should be first and then the candidates.
"I think we will leave the options open," Billings said.
Edwards made a motion to hold public input, limited to two minutes each, prior to hearing from the candidates, who will have five minutes each. "We will ask two questions – one from Billings asking why they applied, and one from Browne asking them their legislative priorities. The meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019."
During the work session, commissioners heard from county officials.
Detention Center Administrator Mike Carillo spoke first. He thanked Kasten and Ramos for "allowing me to work with you."
Road Superintendent Earl Moore said in his department it's business as usual, with the usual road complaints. "I, too, appreciate what Kasten and Ramos have done for the county."
General Services Director Randy Villa said they were working on transferring air service at the airport from Boutique Air to Advanced Air to make it as smooth as possible. He said the department was working at being pro-active in safety procedures for the users and the Shooting Range. "I am very impressed with Kurt's job and Jason (Lockett) is working with him. The county has changed vendors for trash. We saved $2,100 and added the shooting range to the service. We will begin reroofing the Courthouse in early March. We have had a few small grass fires, because people are not being careful with ashes. I remind people to be sure the ashes from wood stoves, pellet stoves and fireplaces are totally out before discarding them. On Jan. 4, we will have 25 Blackhawk helicopters, who have ordered fuel from us, fueling up at the airport. I thank Kasten and Ramos in their capacity as commissioners. I've been friends with them for years, but as commissioners they have made sure the county was financially sound."
Edwards asked how the air service transition was going.
Villa said it is ongoing with communications, working with Advanced Air on leases and fuel prices. "Advanced Air has begun sending us stuff that we are storing for them. I don't see any problems. Boutique has showed us their schedule. No hiccups, except for delays because of weather issues. We are working with them and they are working with us. I want to thank Rebekah (Wenger, airport manager), who has made sure everything is going well."
Browne asked about the vandalized vehicles at the airport. "Is there something we should be doing?"
"We're working on it," Villa said. "We are working on security systems. Part of the plan is lighting and security, but we want to get something in now."
Edwards asked if it included video.
"Yes, we will have video to make sure of the security of the vehicles," Villa said. "In talking with law enforcement, they said it's the time of year, when people try to steal stuff to sell and to get gas out of vehicles. We have to make sure we have a secure airport."
Larisch in his report said he was doing the close-out of the Community Development Block grant for Tu Casa. "Jan. 7 is set as the public hearing to close it out. HMS was required to provide at least 19 low- and medium-income jobs. They have created 36, which is 57 percent of the jobs to low- and medium-income folks."
He said Whiskey Creek Airport held its pre-construction meeting. "We have applied for Water Trust funding for North Hurley. At the Shooting Range, we are doing a 30-year permit with the Forest Service. It will allow us to qualify for funding to do upgrades. The Regional Forest Service office will have to sign off on it. I also thank Kasten and Ramos for their service to the county."
Edwards asked how many people use the Shooting Range.
Villa said it is most used from late August into January during hunting season. "That's when we are getting a lot of shooters. Thank you for putting the phone number on the county website."
Larisch said the Forest Service supports the Shooting Range, because they don't like wildcat ranges popping up in the forest.
During the regular session, elected officials gave reports.
Treasurer Steve Armendariz said Stephanie Ramirez from his office had been re-assigned to the front desk in the Manager's Office. "She will do a great job. She will take Kevin's place, who has also been reassigned. We have collected 59.39 percent of 2018 collections. Almost $3 million is for the county. $2.5 million is to the General Fund with the rest for debt service. Since July, we have collected over $12 million for all entities. We look forward to hiring another temporary position. We have the Property Tax Division in our office. They've been here for two weeks. We have collected on five delinquent accounts. We're looking at possibly a late March or early April auction based on the 2015 delinquent accounts. We will be red-tagging, starting Jan. 2."
Frank Gomez, sheriff-elect, said he would have statistics at the January meeting. "In November, we had two lieutenants retire."
Ramos thanked Grant County elected officials and staff. "Thank you for making my job easier. And I thank Bernadette (Coleman, executive assistant) for doing such a good job, sometimes with short notice."
Edwards thanked the newly elected officials. "I also thank everyone who ran for office. We have an amazing county manager. I congratulate Randy Hernandez for being reassigned to procurement and Stephanie Ramirez to the front desk."
Kasten said he was proud of the new fire station in Hanover. "It's taken 71/2 years. I'm proud of getting it done. I thank everyone for being great people, making hard decisions. God Bless everyone, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Remember: Have fun!"
Billings said he made a mistake. "When Ramos asked for the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity second amendment to the joint-powers agreement be put on the agenda, I didn't get it on. We have set a special meeting at 2 p.m., Friday, Dec. 28."
Webb thanked Kasten and Ramos "for the opportunity for me to come home. It is an honor and privilege to work with you. For your guidance and support, I thank you," she said, through tears.
Billings in his report said that the counsel on the Great Divide Wind Farm Project, David Buchholz told him he was really impressed "with the negotiations with our county manager. She did it well. We appreciate what she did. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year."
The commissioners went into executive session and took no action.