City talks school safety

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The Socorro City Council meeting Monday began with discussion of last Friday’s shooting at the school in Connecticut as councilors and city staff mulled whether Socorro would be prepared to keep such an event from becoming such a tragedy.

Mayor Ravi Bhasker said they take measures at the schools to prevent things like that, but the unexpected can always occur.

City Clerk Pat Salome said the local school system is interested in getting school resource officers back in the schools. School resource officers are school-based law enforcement officers who police the campus, work to prevent delinquency through positive relationships with students, and maintain a close partnership between the school and law enforcement to provide for a safe student environment.

“I understand there was a threat on 12/12/12 at the high school,” Bhasker said. “And I hope everybody takes it seriously.”

Socorro Police Department Chief George Van Winkle said city police and the county sheriff’s department were at the high school Dec. 12 in response to the threat, which had been scribbled on a restroom wall. According to a letter sent home to parents Dec. 10 from Superintendent Randall Earwood, the threat read: “I’m going to blow up the school on 12/12/12.”

Van Winkle said law enforcement did a search of the building, but there was nothing to find. He said SPD will meet with New Mexico State Police District 11 Capt. Adrian Armijo within the next week or so to develop a basic plan for dealing with a situation like a bomb or a shooter. He said they will probably obtain floor plans of school buildings from school administration.

“So we’ll know exactly what we’re looking at if we have to enter that school,” Van Winkle said.

In other discussion, the City Council:

  • Received an update about the arsenic treatment plant. During his department report, city water superintendent Lloyd Martinez said the plant will be completed in about another two weeks. He explained they are having problems with some of the booster pumps and there are some other items that need to be addressed. He said the final report has been sent to the state and they should get approval in January to get the plant online. Martinez said the arsenic plant is doing what it is supposed to do as far as removing arsenic from the water, it just has some engineering problems.
  • Heard the Socorro Police Department’s report for November; Van Winkle explained the report is always a month behind in order to provide complete data. For the month of November, there were 70 arrests, 318 citations issued, 17 traffic accidents and 233 police reports. DWIs, at 10, are up from a few months ago. Van Winkle provided several more statistics as well. Bhasker requested the department visit with the schools about getting school resource officers in place.
  • Heard from Jay Santillanes, utilities division director, who said paving was finished at the airport so workers are just doing general cleanup there now. He said the next airport project is PAPI lights, which need to be replaced. PAPI, or precision approach path indicator, lights are the approach lights that provide pilots visual guidance during landing. He added the apron that was installed only about four years ago is already getting a lot of cracking, so that may get an overlay if the budget allows.
  • Heard from Josh Kerns, the city’s recreation consultant, who updated the council on fixing up Finley Gym, conducting local youth sports activities and more. Councilor Michael Olguin Jr. thanked the rest of the council for their patience with the city’s recreation department. “I think you will be surprised and pleased with what’s to come in the recreation department,” Olguin said.
  • Heard the landfill and sanitation department report from Michael Lucero, who said construction of a new cell is complete at the landfill. He said once the city starts dumping refuse in the new cell, they will have 180 days from that date to close the old cell. He said garbage trucks will be running on Christmas and New Year’s — which both fall on Tuesday this year — so the department doesn’t get behind on garbage collection. Olguin asked how long Marvin McGee will be on the payroll. Bhasker said he will stay on as a consultant, for the Environment Department requires the city to keep a consultant “forever.”
  • Heard the fire department report from Chief Joe Gonzales, who said the department’s new hire from Arizona, who started about a month ago, is working out well. He added there is one more new hire before the council that night, and once that is approved, the department will be fully staffed. He said he received notification that his department was denied the state fire grant because their application was late, but he had already received an email stating the application was received before the deadline. He put in a call to see what it was all about but hasn’t heard back; Bhasker advised him to email the state about the matter.
  • Bobbi Gonzales, accounting department, said they have been very busy at City Hall. She said her department has been preparing the documentation for the state Finance Authority loan the city is getting for water meter replacement; the NMFA wants a list of meters to be replaced and a map, so the work her department must do to secure the funding is pretty detailed. She said her office is also working with Martinez to get everything the city needs for the rodeo arena. She said the city will put its surplus garbage truck out for bid one more time since there were no bids last time. The truck was appraised at $28,000. She said they also submitted a request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to de-obligate the funds the city got for the Hope Farm Evergreen area wastewater project. In turn, she said the city will resubmit a downsized application for a portion of the Hope Farm area. Salome added the city never received money for the Hope Farm project, so the ordinance previously passed is null and staff will find out if the city must take any further action to deactivate the ordinance.
  • Heard from Judith Gorman, a private citizen, during the public forum portion of the meeting. She asked the city to consider placing a four-way stop at Otero Avenue and Sixth Street. Bhasker agreed the intersection is dangerous, but city staff said the closeness of the grocery store to the intersection could cause traffic to stack in that area if a four-way stop is installed.

In other business, the City Council:

  • Approved a budget adjustment request for the Socorro County Juvenile Justice Board. Salome explained this adjustment only moves the money so the program can access it after the end of December, and doesn’t change the city’s overall budget.
  • Approved a change order for the J.O. Gallegos Road reconstruction project. Santillanes explained the change order essentially adds the co-op funds the city received from the New Mexico Department of Transportation in the amount of $61,613 and a small amount of contingency with that. He said his department was asking the city to add about $11,000 of local funds so they don’t end the project with a bad connection. Bhasker said the city is still about $135,000 short of what is needed to complete the road.
  • Approved a task order for the grading plan and sewer collection line at the city’s rodeo facility. Santillanes said the project is not ready to grade but the city needs to start the paperwork for funding. Salome explained the city will have the opportunity to be reimbursed with state funds for the project if the council approved the item that night, even though the grading plan may not be executed for a few months.
  • Approved personnel changes, including new hires at the library and fire department.
  • Approved business registrations.
  • Approved vouchers to be paid as represented in the agenda packet. Checks from Nov. 16 to Dec. 13 totaled just under $1.09 million, and payroll transfer was $309,169.11.
  • Announced the next council meeting, which takes place Jan. 7, 2013, at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

The council held no executive session.