[Editor's Note: This is part 4 of a multi-part series of articles on the work session on Sept. 24, 2019 and regular meeting on Sept. 26, 2019 and will address primarily the regular meeting.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
The Grant County Commission met in regular session on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019.
In public comment at the regular meeting, Allyson Siwik, Gila Conservation Coalition executive director, gave her perspective on the update on the Gila River diversion, that was presented on Sept. 24, 2019 at the work session.
She agreed that the Bureau of Reclamation was unable to complete the EIS before the deadline of Dec. 31, 2019, as set forth in the Arizona Water Settlements Act.
Siwik cited a May letter from Reclamation, where Leslie Meyers of the bureau said the primary source of delay was that the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity had changed the proposed action eight times. The EIS is expected later this year, probably November. The NM CAP Entity is requesting an extension on the time for a record of decision by September 2020.
"The proposed action does not include storage on the San Francisco, so the price tag for 2,500 acre-feet is $46 million," Siwik said. "To store water on the San Francisco River, a Weedy Canyon reservoir would need to be built, but it is not part of the proposed action."
Siwik said the proposed action will put three diversions together at the Upper Gila Ditch location and would draw four times as much water from the river and aggravate the drying.
She said the river dries up now and a diversion would exacerbate that. "We believe the diversion will cause it to dry up earlier. The proposed action is a low-flow diversion and water will be taken in the spring runoff during ecologically critical times and pose danger to fish. The CAP Entity's calculation for the cost of the water is about $260 per acre-foot. And the water will be used as supplemental to existing water rights. But it takes 3 acre-feet of water to irrigate 1 acre of land, so that looks like $780 per acre irrigated. The funding from the New Mexico Unit Fund, we believe, could be better spent allocated to local projects, such as the regional water project."
Elected Officials reports came next.
"We rely on the Road Department for maintenance on our vehicles," Sheriff Frank Gomez said. "I want to thank the mechanics. I would like to present a certificate of appreciation to Eric Castillo for his valuable and outstanding work on law enforcement vehicles. Every officer has his number on speed dial."
Gomez presented the statistics for Aug. 25-Sept. 25. They include a rise in domestic violence calls this year at 23 compared to 14 last year. The department made 295 traffic stops and answered 33 crashes, three with injuries. The department is also helping the Motor Vehicle Division with giving driving tests. The department made one DWI arrest for the month. "We do continuous patrols at Fort Bayard and Bataan Park. In the Tri-City area, Bayard handles most of its calls as it has 24-hour coverage. We help out Santa Clara and Hurley because they don't have night shifts. We had minimal calls from Hurley, but 26 calls in Santa Clara, including for domestic violence, suspicious vehicles and criminal damage to property. We stand determined to do what we can for Santa Clara."
Commissioner Billy Billings asked about the step plan raise for officers in the Sheriff's Department. "I would like you to verify that this is in progress and will take place soon."
"I want to thank Manager (Charlene) Webb," Gomez said. "She works well with us on the Step Plan. We signed the MOU. Our guys are happy with the transparency between us and the manager's officer. It's outstanding."
Gomez said the department was short five deputies but has made offers to two certified officers.
Commissioner Harry Browne asked about deputies giving driving tests.
"That is more community service," Gomez said. "The students come to our office for the tests. It's going great. We have good rapport with the students."
Commissioner Alicia Edwards said it seemed like the Sheriff's Department was going well. "Thank you for your community service with D.A.R.E and the driving tests. What are you doing about Mr. Lucero and the dogs running loose?"
Gomez said they make reports. They gather the dogs and take them to the shelter. "We contacted him. He was happy with what the deputies are doing."
Commissioner Javier Salas said it was really refreshing to see the most visible group in the county being proactive. "I love D.A.R.E. The kids that go through the program aren't afraid of officers. I think they are building trust, so when they see negative things, they will call. Give them my appreciation and thanks."
Commission Chairman Chris Ponce also thanked the sheriff for what he is doing. "I have a question about the 26 alarms you responded to. Were they false alarms?"
Gomez said they all came through dispatch and all were false alarms.
"When I was with the Silver City Police Department, we had an ordinance that after three calls, we would charge the people," Ponce said. "I don't know if the county can do something like that. Maybe people can fix or evaluate how their alarms go off."
Billings said: "We had a false alarm at our house. They came and I wondered how much it cost. It must cost a great deal. We were hesitant to set the alarm after that. We told the company to fix it, so it doesn't go off falsely. It has to be a cost to the department."
Gomez said the majority are false alarms, but "we will continue to respond because sometimes it is a burglary or a medical emergency. In rural areas, we need alarms."
Deputy Treasurer Veronica Rodriguez said the treasurer is starting to hire temporary workers. "By the end of October, the bills will be sent out."
The financial report and decisions on the rest of the business of the regular meeting and the approvals and tabled items can be read at http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/53646-grant-county-commission-work-session-092419-part-3-with-decisions-made-at-the-regular-meeting-092619
During commissioner reports, the attorney from Holt, Mynatt and Martinez, Brad Springer, said since the firm began working for the county, "we've been pretty busy. Structure-wise, we are attending in person the regular meetings and by phone the work sessions. You might see a spike in costs at first. There have been four or five IPRA requests this month. Depending on the breadth of the request, they are pretty technical, but there are exceptions. Right now, you have a slew of requests and lawsuits, so we have to be on top of it all. We've been working very well with your manager. Long-term, you may see less involvement of our office."
He said the county has a lot of contracts, which the law firm is reviewing, with about three or four a month. "Four of us have been working on a safety plan for the shooting range. We also do policy reviews, which are fairly simple to do. In contracts, we have to watch for the anti-debt principle in the state constitution, which prohibits unknown debt in the future. Indemnification clauses are unconstitutional in New Mexico. The state prohibits them, so entities are not bankrupted by unknown, unforeseeable debt."
Browne asked for clarification. "So, the contractor can indemnify us, but we cannot indemnify them."
Springer agreed. He also noted the county has two tort claims in their infancy, with low to moderate risk. "It might be wise if we can settle and keep them inhouse. We are watching them. We are happy to report once a month. We can get specific on the number of hours and fees. Your manager will report quarterly. It costs about $10,000 for a 30-day month."
Ponce said he would add the monthly report to the agenda.
Browne asked how the usage should be managed, through the department heads and manager, perhaps.
"Most counties flow the usage through the county manager," Springer said.
Billings pointed out that when the county had an inhouse attorney, "we didn't get monthly or quarterly reports. I think quarterly is sufficient. We hire the manger to manage the county. I'm questioning whether we're getting down in the weeds and might invite more lawsuits."
"We are as transparent as we can be," Springer said.
Billings also noted that when one commissioner speaks like he did, "it is not the voice of all the commissioners."
Salas said his concern is with litigation or tort claims.
"They will be discussed mostly in closed session," Springer said.
Browne said the Open Meetings Act applies to official actions. "I presume privileged discussions with the attorney are not part of the OMA."
"I agree," Springers said, "but sometimes they overlap and must be mentioned in open meetings."
Browne encouraged Springer to let the commissioners know by email whether something is privileged and confidential.
Continuing commissioner reports, Browne said he was pleased that after the Forest Service closure of forest activities, the commissioners would hold a special session to discuss them.
[Editor's Note: Following the announcement from the Forest Service that personal fuelwood cutting would be allowed, the special meeting was canceled.]
Browne said he was looking forward to the Outdoor Economics Conference being held at the Conference Center on Oct. 3 and 4. "The governor and Axie Navas, the new director of the new division of outdoor recreation will be part of the conference. I hope Axie is able to help us take advantage of our assets."
Edwards encouraged everyone to take part in the conference. "I did attend it last year in Las Cruces. It was very worth it. I think ours will be, too, particularly with the presence of the new bureau director. I hear whisperings that a fair amount of money is available. I also hope you come for the 20th anniversary of the acquisition of Boston Hill by Silver City. It's on Saturday, Oct. 5, at 10 a.m. with a couple of hikes and a speaker at noon.
"The formal work is done for the county to donate a small amount of land for the trailhead," Edwards continued. "It's a great demonstration of partnership to benefit city and county residents in developing Boston Hill, which is one of the jewels of our area." She also noted that Pedalista bike festival would take place at Gough Park. It is a cyclovia from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Happy happens around outdoor recreation."
Billings thanked Browne for bringing up the issue of the ban on forest products. "It comes at a bad time of year going into colder weather, with the only other option, expensive propane. A lot of this affects maybe my district the most. The sawmill between here and Riverside depends on forest products. It will put them out of business. They have a significant amount of investment over their lifetimes. It is devastating. He will be bankrupt. Chairman Ponce has asked for $35,000 for the memorial at Bataan Park. I've been approached by veterans and their family about such a memorial. Some are looking at the Lordsburg memorial. We should be looking at something more permanent like Lordsburg's. These folks wondered if we could spend money on an architect and then go for private money."
Ponce said he was open to all ideas. "Our goal is to make it as long-lasting as possible."
Salas said veterans have been a big part of the community for such a long time. He asked if the county had voted on transferring the property at Boston Hill to the town.
"The county manager here and in other places, has had the authority to transfer land," Webb said. "I thought what we were doing was in the purview of what the commissioners wanted."
Salas said: "As we establish a relationship with the law firm, there may be questions. I think we should be told of issues coming up. Corre Caminos is not going to Lordsburg anymore. I've gotten calls. Maybe the chair can be informed of the issues. I don't want to micromanage, but I think we should be made aware of them."
Ponce referred to the forest activity issue. "To me, an owl is an owl. What I do know is that this can devastate residents. We have a lot of people who rely on wood as a fuel source to heat and maybe to cook, too. It also struck me that we can't get a Christmas tree out of the forest this year. And a lot of people make a living off selling cut wood. We need to support the Forest Service. Cold weather is upon us. People with wood may try to sell it at $300 to $400 a cord. We need to take action but not blame anyone."
Although discussion was held on a resolution and a potential change of date to accommodate a commissioner who could not attend on the chosen date, because of the change in policy by the judge to allow personal fuelwood cutting, the discussion was moot.
This article concludes the work session and regular meeting reports.