[Editor's Note: This is part six and the final article about almost seven hours of meeting between the Commission work and regular sessions.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
To continue from part 5 of the two Grant County Commission meetings on Jan. 22 and 24, 2019, which can be read at http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/48982-grant-county-commission-work-and-regular-sessions-jan-22-and-24-2019-part-5 , commissioners began with resolutions.
The commissioners had already approved the OMA 2019 resolution at the regular meeting and the resolution on the bond issuance.
They went into appointments for various agencies and entities at the work session.
The first one was a member for the Southwest County Commission Alliance. County Manager Charlene Webb said that the joint-powers agreement for the alliance includes a member from Grant County.
Commissioner Harry Browne asked what the advantages of membership for the county were.
Commission Chairman Billy Billings said because it is a coalition of six counties, it brings more weight to issues they agree to promote. "It's often a shared interest, as when discussion ensued on the closure of roads in the Gila National Forest. It actually helped, because the forest opened some roads back up. More counties have more impact. It's the four southwest counties, plus Socorro and Sierra counties."
Browne said one issue that came up was a "misguided lawsuit on the Travel Management Plan, that we didn't participate in. Membership doesn't cost much, but I haven't seen any advantages."
Webb noted that she had never received any requests for travel reimbursements. Billings said maybe there should be more regular reporting on what happens in the Alliance meetings.
Commission Javier Salas saw the group as a good opportunity to network with officials from the other counties.
At the regular meeting, Billings was chosen as the member and Commissioner Chris Ponce agreed to be the alternate.
During the work session, discussion on the Grant County Water Commission membership had three interested parties. Browne said he was interested. Billings said Salas and Ponce had already expressed interest because the Regional Water Project was in their districts. Salas said it was part of his platform and Ponce said he was interested, too. They were approved with Salas as the member and Ponce the alternate.
For the members of the Southwest Solid Waste Authority, Webb said she would like to remain a member. "We need to replace former Commissioner Brett Kasten and we need two alternates, which right now are General Services Director Randy Villa and Community Development and Planning Director Michael "Mischa" Larisch."
Commissioner Alicia Edwards said she was interested in the position, but at the regular meeting, she ceded to Browne to replace Kasten, because she would have an ongoing conflict. Villa and Larisch remained as alternates.
For the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity, Billings and Salas requested to be member and alternate. They were approved at the regular meeting.
To provide membership on the New Mexico County Insurance Authority Pool Board, Webb said she would like to remain a member and Edwards offered to be the alternate. They were approved at the regular meeting.
For the Workforce Investment Act Elected Officials Board, Edwards said she would like to step away from the position, as the travel was too hard, and she had only managed to attend one. Ponce expressed interest as did Salas. Ponce will be the member and Salas the alternate.
Larisch asked at the work session for approval of the grant agreement for the $37,500 the county had paid up front to develop an Asset Management Plan. The agreement was approved at the regular meeting.
At the work session, Judy O'Loughlin, co-chair of the Grant County Community Health Council, asked the commissioners to consider support for two bills going through the legislative process – one to update the wording of the Health Council Act and another for funding health councils throughout the state and tribal areas.
She presented the history and some accomplishments of the local health council. It held its first meeting in 1999. One of its biggest successes was the establishment of Corre Caminos as a district transportation service. She noted that the Grant County Community Health Council had one of the last full-time coordinators through last September, when funding became an issue. "We are currently parked in Grant County, which is our fiscal agent. I attended a call of the New Mexico Alliance of Health Councils. Chris DeBolt attends the meetings in person from our county. The key is not to duplicate efforts. Our Steering Committee still meets periodically to keep the council going."
Edwards noted that the Health Council Community Assessment is a source of data for just about every organization in town.
O'Loughlin said the assessment was completed last summer, but without a coordinator, a final report had not yet been complied. Mentioning the earlier hearing on low-income property tax rebates and the programs for low-income individuals and veterans, she said the Health Council could hold a forum on the issue.
The bills to keep an eye out for are House Bill 137, the Tribal and Health Councils bill with the verbiage change and HB 67, the funding for health councils bill. They have both received do pass recommendations in their first committees.
"As Alicia said, the community assessment is huge," O'Loughlin said. "Many grants in the area cite the data from the assessment."
Webb said the Department of Health also requires deliverables for the small amount of funding now dispersed to health councils. "Grant County has been fortunate to have a full-time coordinator. It's hard to operate on $4,300 a year. I urge the commissioners to support this resolution."
Assessor Raul Turrieta said he sits on the Native American Policy Committee for New Mexico Counties. "I can help."
At the regular meeting, commissioners approved the resolution of support.
Commissioners also considered support of reform to the low-income property tax rebate to change language from "shall," which requires counties to consider the ordinance every odd-numbered year, to "may" consider. Webb recommended support, and it was approved at the regular meeting.
Larisch asked for permission to apply for funding from the Colonias Infrastructure Fund for the Tyrone ADA compliance project. It was approved at the regular meeting. He said the CIF Board required a resolution allowing him to apply.
A resolution creating an agreement between the county and the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments, plus naming a representative was discussed at the work session and approved at the regular meeting, with Larisch continuing as representative and Browne and Edwards being alternates.
As the Grant County Health Care Claims Board, commissioners approved at the regular meeting the total of $5,376.28 to Gila Regional Medical Center, with $696.25 of it going to GRMC ambulance services. Billings said he was happy to see lower numbers than in the recent past.
"We have a full-time RN at the Detention Center," Webb said. "That is reducing our calls to EMS."
In county reports at the work session, Detention Center Administrator Mike Carillo recognized two new hires, which were selected as the employees of the month. He pointed out a new graph that shows a reduction in numbers of inmates since October. "Traditionally we have a spike around holiday time, but we saw a drop this year. Tu Casa started in October and has seen 537 encounters. When I saw the drop, I talked to Dr. Bowen. He said they have been using the CareLinks and if any inmates are released from the jail, they were going to Tu Casa for treatment. If I provide the names of our persons in custody, Bowen will tell me if they show up for treatment. We hope it will reduce recidivism."
He said the numbers run fairly consistently for male and female inmates, but he has seen the numbers dropping. "I hope the resources we provide are helping decrease our numbers."
Edwards thanked Carillo for his work on getting Tu Casa going.
Browne said he had heard in Santa Fe that they were starting a program, Just Health. "I hope they will reach out to you. It helps detainees connect with after care after they are released from detention."
Carillo said it sounded similar to the Stepping Up program being developed. It will address getting inmates to resource providers upon release.
Webb said a report on the Stepping Up Program would be given in February. "It's why I feel it is critical to the county."
Edwards said the Just Health would be complementary to Stepping Up. "One of the challenges they've had is the software is not compatible with some of the detention centers. They have to have the software connection. They are looking at how to fix it."
"We're looking at new software, too," Webb said.
Road Superintendent Earl Moore said the department was "business as usual, addressing resident complaints and trying to get patching done."
Villa said State Forestry is putting on training classes for the volunteer fire departments. "We had a fire on LS Mesa. It was a struggle getting out there with the muddy roads, but the Pinos Altos Fire Department headed it up and got it out. There was also a small grass fire near Whiskey Creek, which the VFD put out. Corre Caminos has two new buses with wheelchair ramps. We are getting quotes for fencing for the Detention Center."
Larisch said work was continuing on a renovation for Whiskey Creek VFD. "I submitted the application for funding for Little Walnut Road reconstruction. The airport request for proposal for architecture of the terminal building has come out. The federal grant has timelines, which are tight. There may be some meeting requirements for the commission. $32,000 is our match of a $600,000 project. We will be making changes at Bandoni and Cottage San so flooding doesn't damage property. The North Hurley Plan final design is coming. We will apply for funding for that. We have 75 percent of the plan set, which includes drainage and road work. Hachita Fire Department is anticipating a building. It will be fully paid for by fire funds."
Billings asked about FAA funding for the airport, and if it would remain the same if the air service has more than 10,000 enplanements a year. He was told it would remain, because enplanements have exceeded 10,000.
Webb said Browne and Treasurer Steve Armendariz had received awards for the risk awareness program, which brought a 31 percent reduction in multi-line claims. "Hats off the county employees for achieving this."
Sheriff Frank Gomez was the first to give an elected official's report at the regular meeting. "We are developing plans and visions for the future. We are doing interviews to fill vacancies. Many are already certified. We hope they will continue to serve Grant County." He said he wants the department to improve in transparency and accountability. "I have a list of goals. One is to expand the D.A.R.E. program. If we reach just one child, it's worth it. I intend to provide enhanced training through working with Western New Mexico University. I encourage my staff to pursue higher education. We are tracking 106 categories of crime. In domestic violence, we had nine in December, and so far, 10 in January. We're not just about arresting. We want compassion in the department. For instance, a dog was lost in Turkey Creek. Someone found it and brought it to the sheriff's deputy who reunited the dog with an elderly couple, who were so appreciative. They offered us a $100 reward, but we couldn't take it. We suggested they donate it to the High Desert Humane Society, and they agreed."
He introduced his Deputy Sheriff Capt. Jess Watkins.
Gomez continued by saying his department has five vacancies with two more on the books for retirement.
Salas asked how the department would meet its in-service training requirements with taking people from the line.
"We are running three to four on a shift," Gomez said. "We have three on leave, and we are short 10. We have skilled training officers here who can do the training. We have steps. We have changed the process completely. We do a nine-week program for training new officers. Manager Webb has been very supportive of our changes and has helped me a lot."
Salas said he hears a lot about a potential narcotics division. "People don't feel safe in their homes. It's crime that derives from drug use."
"We are restructuring the office, because of the shortage," Gomez said. "We would like to get two more officers. Patrol is our bread and butter. We are in communication with the HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas) program. As soon as we are fully staffed, you will see narcotics officers. We want the public to know we will be pro-active other than patrol stops and drug interdictions."
Edwards said she was pleased to hear about the changes and the goals. "What is your relationship with State Police? It seems to me that State Police could help more on the state roads."
"In the past state police used to attend all crashes on state roads," Gomez said. "Now we are. I would like to share the burden with state police on state roads and have the sheriff's department attending crashes on county roads. We are meeting to make it better for both of us."
Edwards said in her opinion, the sheriff's department should be handling residential issues.
"I called a deputy," Billings said. "There was what I thought was a baby deer dead in the road. I stopped and it was far from dead. When the deputy came out and put it out of its misery, I asked him about the new sheriff. He told me: 'I would follow him anywhere.'"
Turrieta said Mike Burns the new sheriff's department public information officer, had asked him about grants, as well as questions on taxes and assessments.
"I'm so glad to have my employees," Turrieta continued. "I appreciate them." He said Andra would be handling the 65 and older campaign to let them know about valuation freezes and head-of-household programs for which they might be eligible. It's time to render livestock numbers, which include cattle and horses. "You have to apply for any programs." He noted that his office is getting more business valuations. For manufactured homes, owners have to call his office sometime in January through the end of February to say they are still in the county. He said that the veteran exemption is $4,000 off or if they are fully disabled, they pay zero tax.
"I am losing an employee who does field work" Turrieta said. "I need someone who is good with statistics and numbers. We will begin parcel mapping with Bohannon Huston for the parcel fabric. Taxation and Revenue wants us to network with other such projects. We have rescanned more than 200 subdivision plats. We will have weekly meetings."
He said he was elected to the board of New Mexico Counties. "We have a lot of issues to address. We will meet next on Feb. 16 to address legislative items. I am running for the executive committee. I will keep everyone updated."
Armendariz said his office has collected 61.21 percent of 2018 property tax. For the county portion, the office has collected since Dec. 20, $114,152.03 of the county portion. "We are a little under $2 million for all entities. Tax and Revenue is still in our office. We have one representative who is doing better than three people. This man had 180 accounts, and he's down to 40 left. Just yesterday, we collected $17,000. I don't know how he tracks them down, but he does. We continue to get returned mail, but he's good at tracking down the extra-long-term delinquent taxpayers. We're looking at the end of March or first of April for a tax sale."
In Commissioner reports, Edwards said she had a brief comment. "Last July, we decided to have the hospital remain local. We said, if the community wanted the hospital to remain open, it would have to step up and support it. They have a shortage of volunteers at the hospital. They are the first ones people see. They are friendly and helpful. The hospital would be a great place to volunteer."
The commissioners went into executive session and adjourned from there without taking action.