City benefits from COG
The Socorro City Council approved its continued membership in the South Central Council of Governments for fiscal year 2013-2014 during its regular meeting May 6.
Councilor Gordon Hicks said the city has belonged to SCCOG many years, and the organization helps the city with a lot of funding through federal and state sources.
The city’s resolution states SCCOG provides assistance, when requested, in grant program planning, economic development, strategic overall planning and more. SCCOG also addresses regional issues, plus serves as a liaison and advocate for local governments at the state and federal level. Yearly membership in SCCOG costs the city $2,663.
City clerk Pat Salome said the SCCOG ties area governments together and provides services that may not otherwise be available at a reasonable cost.
Jay Santillanes, city utilities director, said SCCOG membership is important for Department of Transportation projects that take place within a city’s limits, such as roadwork on California Street or Spring Street, both U.S. highways. He said regional planning organizations like SCCOG prioritize projects for state and federal funding.
Mayor Ravi Bhasker said the SCCOG committee, of which Hicks is a member, votes on which projects to prioritize.
“Actually, Highway 60 has been ranked number one in our district as far as the next project that should be funded for the Highway Department,” Bhasker said. “And the Highway Department looks to that as a guide to funding those projects. If you’re not ranked, then they’re not going to look at you.”
Bhasker said the COGs are a vehicle the state has been using for about the past 10 years to regionally prioritize projects that need attention. He said the city’s membership in the COG ensures the city will be involved in ranking projects for the region.
Santillanes said there are seven COG regions in the state. Salome said the COGs consolidate things for the state; it is simpler to review prioritized requests from seven COGs than from 33 counties or nearly 100 municipalities.
Salome said the SCCOG administers Community Development Block Grants. As a member, he said the city has ability to contract with SCCOG for such services so it doesn’t have to do the services in-house or contract with a private firm.
Councilor Michael Olguin, who asked many questions about the SCCOG, asked if the city could administer its own CDBG. Salome said if the city did it that way, it can’t use CDBG money to cover the expenses. The city can use some of the CDBG money to contract with SCCOG, however.
“They’re the experts at this stuff, and that’s kind of why we go with them,” Councilor Donald Monette said. “They know the process from A to Z.”
Salome added the COG keeps a staff to address CDBG, but the city would not have enough CDBG work to employ one person all year.
Santillanes noted that due to federal requirements, one CDBG project fills at least a whole file store box.
Mable Gonzales, city finance director, said T.I.G.E.R. grants are another example of how SCCOG helps the city. T.I.G.E.R., or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, grants are competitive grants to pay for surface transportation infrastructure, according to the Federal Highway Administration website. The program was created in the 2009 Recovery Act.
Gonzales said it was difficult to determine what T.I.G.E.R. grants would pay for, so the DOT told the city to get in touch with SCCOG since the organization has staff trained to work with T.I.G.E.R.
The council unanimously approved the city’s SCCOG membership for the upcoming fiscal year.
In other discussion, Terry Tadano, Socorro Chamber of Commerce director, reported the state Environment Department took three samples of black goo found at Blue Collar Construction, which is in the city’s industrial park. He said the test results indicated the substance was not hazardous, but the Environment Department has yet to determine whether the company has committed a violation by letting the substance leak on the ground near a waterway.
A television news story aired in early April reported a man’s dog died within days of falling into the black goo.
In other business, the City Council:
- Held a public hearing for its rodeo facility loan ordinance, but no one outside city government offered comments. Bhasker said the city of Santa Fe is proposing a $30 million rodeo facility, but Socorro is building its facility for $1.5 million. Socorro’s loan through the New Mexico Finance Authority will be paid with lodgers’ tax revenues, with its primary backup being gross receipts taxes. However, the mayor expressed confidence GRT revenue would not be needed to pay back the rodeo loan. Hicks said everyone he has spoken to around the state who is connected to rodeo associations has expressed excitement about Socorro’s new rodeo facility.
- Approved a budget resolution for the city’s rodeo facility. Gonzales said the city’s NMFA loan money will be available June 5; in the meantime, the city wants to keep working on the facility. She explained the budget resolution gives the city’s rodeo fund a temporary loan of $180,000 from its general fund so work on the facility can continue without delay. The general fund will be reimbursed when the loan money comes in.
- Approved a budget resolution to transfer $148,000 to the arsenic removal fund. Gonzales said although the project has been completed, some bills remain unpaid.
- Approved amendments to the city’s personnel manual pertaining to workplace harassment and to a rule of procedure for the council, which were submitted by the personnel manual committee. Councilor Peter Romero, chairman of the committee, noted the city’s insurance carrier, Travelers Insurance, recommended some of the changes to the manual. The amendment to the rule of procedure requires two council members to place an item on the city’s agenda when the item pertains to how a city-approved policy is implemented.