County manager: Funding 4-H, safe for now

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At Tuesday night's Socorro County Commission meeting at the Magdalena Senior Center, the center's cooks stayed late to prepare and serve delicious posole and molasses cookies, a generous gesture for attendees who had arrived at the 6 p.m. meeting dinnerless and faced a long, hungry drive back home.

The village's generosity didn't stop with the tasty snacks.

County Manager Delilah Walsh reported the village board of trustees and school district have sent in $1,000 each to help fund the county's 4-H coordinator's salary.

Socorro's previous county extension agents, husband and wife team Tom and Theresa Dean, left because the state and New Mexico State University budget cuts had eliminated funding for Theresa's position. The new state-level county extension funding formula supports only one county extension agent, but no 4-H coordinator. Walsh said previously the state and NMSU funded two-thirds of the extension agents' and coordinator's salaries, but now the county is responsible for all of 4-H coordinator Deana Tafoya's pay. Walsh said public response supporting the coordinator's post, especially from the city and Socorro schools, was overwhelming, and she had hoped for a $7,000 contribution from these entities to help the county pay for the $60,000 needed for the county's share of an extension agent's salary and Tafoya's three-quarters contract pay. So far, only Magdalena school district and the village board of trustees have pitched in.

The vacant county extension position has not been filled yet, but the county will be able to fund both its share of the agent's salary and all of the coordinator's salary, although contributions from Socorro schools and the city would be helpful, Walsh said in an interview after the meeting.

In other business:

• 4-H coordinator Deana Tafoya presented a team of Socorro county 4-H members to the commission. The commission approved a resolution proclaiming Oct. 12-19 as 4-H Week. The 4-H flag will be flying at the county offices during that week, Walsh said.

• Bo Beames, Socorro General Hospital's administrator, thanked the county and Magdalena residents for voting to pass the mill levy. The county mill levy payment and matching federal funding together amount to approximately $549,000 in funding for health facilities in the county, including the hospital. Walsh said she and Beames were working on a draft agreement between the hospital and the county. The final draft should be ready for the board to approve by the end of the year.

• County Assessor Henry Jojola and chief deputy assessor Sam Jojola were not present to give the assessor's office progress report. Office manager Julie Griego said that, unofficially, the county added 90 parcels to the tax rolls, about $7,732,00 in valuation, a bit lower than last year's amount because of the lower grazing rate exemption granted to properties in the southern part of the county. The assessor's office had mistakenly eliminated the exemption last year, so this year, when the exemptions were reinstituted, the appraised valuations went down on about 20,000 acres from about $500 to $600 per acre to $6.37 per acre.

• Deputy Treasurer Tina Lujan gave the treasurer's office report. Ninety percent of the property taxes due for 2012 have been collected already, one month ahead of the November deadline. Treasurer Genevie Baca said there will be another meeting at the state level to discuss the state's policy of holding county property tax funds collected from state auctions of properties with delinquent taxes. Baca said all the counties are protesting the state revenue department's practice of holding revenues from delinquent tax auctions for up to 36 months. She and County Attorney Adren Nance have written protests to the state.

"I'm hoping for a collective response from the counties to the state so they see the financial burden on the schools and the counties," she said.

• County Clerk Rebecca Vega said early voting for this fall's general election will start Oct. 9 at the county courthouse and Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Magdalena Senior Center. The courthouse will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and all day Saturday, Nov. 3, when early voting ends. The Magdalena senior center will open for early voting from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays through Nov. 3. Applications for absentee ballots can be picked up now from the county clerk's office. Absentee ballots must be received at the courthouse by election day, Nov. 6.

• The agreement with New Mexico Tech to share the costs of repairs to Water Canyon Road was approved. Walsh said New Mexico Tech's Magdalena Ridge Observatory and Langmuir Labs are major users of the road. The New Mexico Finance Administration sent the county an award letter for the Bosquecito Road project. Work should begin next spring. Walsh will apply in 2013 for grants to fund flood mitigation studies for Luis Lopez and Escondida once the Bosquecito project is done. County Road Department Superintendent Marty Greenwood said crews were cleaning cattle guards on county roads and chip sealing Hop Canyon Road.

• The Sabinal Community Center and the Veguita Health Center construction projects are moving along. Walsh said a request for architectural bids will be completed soon for the Sabinal Center. The bids for contractors for the Veguita project will go out in January, 2013. Walsh said a bid request for vendors to run the clinic has already been issued.

• Senior Centers Director Lewis Auerbach reported the centers have been serving 20 percent more meals this year than last year. Food quality has improved, which may account for the 75 to 80 percent participation rates. Ten people are on the waiting list for home delivered meals, where they will probably remain because of budget constraints.

"It's going to be a rough year, but we'll try to take care of as many seniors as we can," Auerbach said. The DAV has pledged the proceeds of its last casino night to the senior centers. The golf tournament scheduled for Oct. 6 should also bring in some money, he said.

• Because of software changes, all county purchasing transactions have been suspended until Oct. 1, Walsh said. The county's financial system is being converted to Incode, a software system for journal entries and other data management.

• The next county commission meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 9, at the County Annex Building on Neel Street. County offices will be closed on Oct. 8 in observance of Columbus Day, so those wishing to obtain a packet before the meeting should get one from the County Manager's office on Friday, Oct. 5.