Interagency meeting

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A Socorro County interagency coordination group meeting was held June 11 at the Owl Bar in San Antonio where different agencies updated each other on what was happening in the county from their point of view.
The meeting included staff and elected officials of the city and county of Socorro, New Mexico Tech, Socorro Consolidated Schools and the Socorro County Chamber of Commerce. Officials from Magdalena did not attend due to their water emergency, and those from the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and Alamo Navajo School Board were also unable to attend.
Chamber of Commerce director Terry Tadano said the people around the table represented some of the biggest employers in Socorro County.
County manager Delilah Walsh said the agencies in Curry County hold similar interagency meetings quarterly. District 5 Commissioner Juan Gutierrez said toward the end of the meeting that it was an informative meeting, and it was a good example of the cooperation among local agencies.

County
Walsh said the county general fund will be short this coming fiscal year, the first year the county has seen a big shortage. The county therefore can’t afford to put roofs on some buildings that need them, such as the District Attorney’s office. She noted the county’s road department will also be short.
The county’s big construction project this year is building its new jail, Walsh said. The county has to send excess inmates to other counties’ jails, which is expensive and inconvenient. Inmates are more interested in hard drugs than alcohol, and county staff find holes in the wall of the jail where such contraband can be passed. Plus the jail has no yard and no place to accommodate a medical provider, so the county has to take all the medical emergencies off-site, another costly feature of the old jail.
“The jail is our biggest budget strain,” Walsh said.
Other, smaller construction projects include the Veguita Health Center and the Sabinal Community Center, Walsh said.

City
Socorro City Councilor Donald Monette, who also chairs the city budget committee, said the city is in good shape financially with a balanced budget for the coming fiscal year that will actually grow by about $100,000. The city was also able to shield its employees against the rising cost of medical insurance, and cover most of the increase in Public Employee Retirement Association costs for employees.
Mayor Ravi Bhasker said the city found a way to offset employees’ health insurance increase. He said city employees have a plan with a larger deductible, and the city has a health savings account to help the employees pay the larger deductible. He said the city pays about $1.2 million for the premium.
“If you get a health savings account … it keeps the costs down,” Bhasker said.
He suggested the agencies pool their resources to limit health insurance costs by having a bigger health savings account.
Bhasker said the city’s rodeo arena and soccer complex will probably be finished by October 2014, and the city hopes to host a central New Mexico fair there. He said the levy will also get fixed between the irrigation ditches, which will take Socorro out of the flood plain so residents won’t have to pay for flood insurance.
He said the city is happy to help the county with the new jail any way they can.
Bhasker also said the new cell at the city’s landfill is certified and accepting waste. City clerk Pat Salome added the landfill will generate revenue for the city. He said Elephant Butte and Sierra County are paying the city to dump refuse there, and Bhasker added Catron County is coming on board as well.
Bhasker said the city has also worked out a deal with Dicaperl whereby the perlite mine will purchase gas from the city, which will boost natural gas revenues during the summer.
Bhasker also said the city transportation department now takes patients to their dialysis treatments three times per week. He said Alamo has expressed an interest in having transportation services between their community and Socorro. He said the city of Socorro wants to buy or lease Alamo’s gallery building on California Street, and perhaps they could work out a trade of some sort.

Tech
Dan Walsh, associate vice president of research at New Mexico Tech, said the university is committed to having positive relationships with the city and county. He said enrollments are stable at the university. He said Tech, like the city and county, wants to see planned growth at the university so that available housing, infrastructure and other local resources are not overwhelmed by the student population.
Dan Walsh said Tech’s new dormitory, a $6.6 million project featuring 150 beds, will be open in five weeks and is pretty well filled for the coming school year. However, Presidents Dorm will be offline this next year so the school can make improvements there.
Tech’s new $24 million Bureau of Geology building is coming, and the school is planning a new chemistry building as well. He noted the building is “very much needed” as Tech has become very strong in the chemistry field.
Dan Walsh added he chairs the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium, which gets the funding for first responder programs.
“The chemistry of fire, the chemistry of explosions, is a big deal,” he said. “It’s an increasing threat to the country. The weapon of choice of terrorists — and others — remains explosives. We see that every day, so having this new chemistry facility will be a big plus for us also in sustaining our … predominance in chemistry.”
Dan Walsh added the local first responder program received its federal funding and is in good shape. The NDPC group receives strong legislative support, and the $22 million per year Tech gets is holding, he said.

Schools
Randy Earwood, superintendent of the Socorro Consolidated Schools District, said the district’s budget was in bad shape last year and had to petition the state for emergency supplemental funding. He became superintendent in July and set a three-year goal to get the schools off emergency supplemental, but the schools are off of it after one year thanks to the oversight of Donald Monette.
Earwood said in spite of what one hears in the media, education did not receive extra funding this year — plus retirement costs went up, as well as liability and worker’s compensation insurance. Socorro schools are also seeing a constant decrease in enrollment, which also leads to less funding from the state. Earwood said enrollment has decreased consistently over the last 10 or 12 years.
Earwood said the school district’s budget is healthy now in spite of the increased costs, and they were able to give employees a 1 percent raise.
Earwood also said the district will build a new elementary school in San Antonio, and is working with the Bureau of Land Management to buy a piece of land for it. He estimated it will be about 18 months to two years before the district is able to break ground for the new school.
Earwood said the schools are also bartering with the city to get some resource officers onto the school campuses.
Earwood thanked Tadano and Delilah Walsh for bringing about the interagency meeting. He added if all the agencies could pool their resources, perhaps more major projects can get done. Delilah Walsh suggested the agencies meet again to prioritize some infrastructure capital improvement plan projects to submit to the state Legislature. Earwood agreed if the agencies could approach their legislators as a group, they will have more of an impact on decisions made at the state level.

Veterans park
Bhasker said the city is trying to make progress at the veterans park, and hopes the county will turn the park over to the city.
City Councilor Pete Romero said the city is getting plaques finished for the monuments at Isidro Baca Park, a memorial to veterans that is owned by the county. He said Monte Voepel and his wife, Sedona, Ariz., residents who used to live in Socorro, are working on the plaques.
Commissioners discussed completion of the park during the regular meeting of the Socorro County Commission earlier that day. Delilah Walsh said the city of Socorro offered to complete the park, including completing the empty monuments, building the entry archway and taking care of ongoing maintenance, if the county would deed over the land.
District 4 Commissioner Daniel Monette, who also attended the interagency meeting, asked if the county could table the park until they know what will happen with the jail land. The county wants to build its jail on land the city owns in its industrial park.
Gutierrez, another county commissioner who attended both meetings, said he wouldn’t mind deeding the park to the city.
“It still belongs to the taxpayers,” Gutierrez said.
The county commission took no action on the veterans park, but they did not have to table the item since it was listed just for consideration on the agenda.

Police Oversight Commission
Salome said issues have come up with the Socorro Police Department, and members of the public did not feel they had an avenue to address the issues, so the Socorro City Council created the city’s five-member Police Oversight Commission. An attorney was hired to work for the POC to review all the complaints about SPD, and the attorney gives an opinion as to whether or not an officer followed standard operating procedure.
Salome said the POC is an avenue for the public to air grievances, and it does not discipline officers. That power remains with the chief of police, city administration and the mayor. The POC also maintains files on complaints, and it is a good way to keep a history on individual officers and how they perform their duties.
Salome said the POC was patterned somewhat after Albuquerque’s POC, which examines all officer-involved shootings. Since that doesn’t really happen in Socorro — “knock on wood” — Salome said this POC examines all Tasing incidents.
Delilah Walsh said the county appreciates the fact that SPD officers don’t use lethal force. She said whether or not a shooting is justified, each incident costs a county’s taxpayers about $100,000.

Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District
Tadano explained MRGCD director Johnny Ray Mounyo was unable to attend the interagency meeting, but Mounyo had provided Tadano a report to be conveyed at the meeting.
Tadano said MRGCD has stored water available to farmers until the last week of June. He said the water bank farmers are already turned off, but they are doing some swapping with other farmers. The Jicarilla Apache Reservation in northern New Mexico has water stored at Heron Lake and El Vado Lake, but Tadano said Mounyo did not know if the reservation was willing to turn any of the water loose or how far downstream the water would go if it was released.
Tadano said this year’s water shortage is the worst Mounyo had seen in his 25 years with the MRGCD.unyo had seen in his 25 years with the MRGCD.

Interagency meeting

By Laura London
El Defensor Chieftain Reporter
llondon@dchieftain.com

Socorro
A Socorro County interagency coordination group meeting was held June 11 at the Owl Bar in San Antonio where different agencies updated each other on what was happening in the county from their point of view.
The meeting included staff and elected officials of the city and county of Socorro, New Mexico Tech, Socorro Consolidated Schools and the Socorro County Chamber of Commerce. Officials from Magdalena did not attend due to their water emergency, and those from the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and Alamo Navajo School Board were also unable to attend.
Chamber of Commerce director Terry Tadano said the people around the table represented some of the biggest employers in Socorro County.
County manager Delilah Walsh said the agencies in Curry County hold similar interagency meetings quarterly. District 5 Commissioner Juan Gutierrez said toward the end of the meeting that it was an informative meeting, and it was a good example of the cooperation among local agencies.

County
Walsh said the county general fund will be short this coming fiscal year, the first year the county has seen a big shortage. The county therefore can’t afford to put roofs on some buildings that need them, such as the District Attorney’s office. She noted the county’s road department will also be short.
The county’s big construction project this year is building its new jail, Walsh said. The county has to send excess inmates to other counties’ jails, which is expensive and inconvenient. Inmates are more interested in hard drugs than alcohol, and county staff find holes in the wall of the jail where such contraband can be passed. Plus the jail has no yard and no place to accommodate a medical provider, so the county has to take all the medical emergencies off-site, another costly feature of the old jail.
“The jail is our biggest budget strain,” Walsh said.
Other, smaller construction projects include the Veguita Health Center and the Sabinal Community Center, Walsh said.

City
Socorro City Councilor Donald Monette, who also chairs the city budget committee, said the city is in good shape financially with a balanced budget for the coming fiscal year that will actually grow by about $100,000. The city was also able to shield its employees against the rising cost of medical insurance, and cover most of the increase in Public Employee Retirement Association costs for employees.
Mayor Ravi Bhasker said the city found a way to offset employees’ health insurance increase. He said city employees have a plan with a larger deductible, and the city has a health savings account to help the employees pay the larger deductible. He said the city pays about $1.2 million for the premium.
“If you get a health savings account … it keeps the costs down,” Bhasker said.
He suggested the agencies pool their resources to limit health insurance costs by having a bigger health savings account.
Bhasker said the city’s rodeo arena and soccer complex will probably be finished by October 2014, and the city hopes to host a central New Mexico fair there. He said the levy will also get fixed between the irrigation ditches, which will take Socorro out of the flood plain so residents won’t have to pay for flood insurance.
He said the city is happy to help the county with the new jail any way they can.
Bhasker also said the new cell at the city’s landfill is certified and accepting waste. City clerk Pat Salome added the landfill will generate revenue for the city. He said Elephant Butte and Sierra County are paying the city to dump refuse there, and Bhasker added Catron County is coming on board as well.
Bhasker said the city has also worked out a deal with Dicaperl whereby the perlite mine will purchase gas from the city, which will boost natural gas revenues during the summer.
Bhasker also said the city transportation department now takes patients to their dialysis treatments three times per week. He said Alamo has expressed an interest in having transportation services between their community and Socorro. He said the city of Socorro wants to buy or lease Alamo’s gallery building on California Street, and perhaps they could work out a trade of some sort.

Tech
Dan Walsh, associate vice president of research at New Mexico Tech, said the university is committed to having positive relationships with the city and county. He said enrollments are stable at the university. He said Tech, like the city and county, wants to see planned growth at the university so that available housing, infrastructure and other local resources are not overwhelmed by the student population.
Dan Walsh said Tech’s new dormitory, a $6.6 million project featuring 150 beds, will be open in five weeks and is pretty well filled for the coming school year. However, Presidents Dorm will be offline this next year so the school can make improvements there.
Tech’s new $24 million Bureau of Geology building is coming, and the school is planning a new chemistry building as well. He noted the building is “very much needed” as Tech has become very strong in the chemistry field.
Dan Walsh added he chairs the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium, which gets the funding for first responder programs.
“The chemistry of fire, the chemistry of explosions, is a big deal,” he said. “It’s an increasing threat to the country. The weapon of choice of terrorists — and others — remains explosives. We see that every day, so having this new chemistry facility will be a big plus for us also in sustaining our … predominance in chemistry.”
Dan Walsh added the local first responder program received its federal funding and is in good shape. The NDPC group receives strong legislative support, and the $22 million per year Tech gets is holding, he said.

Schools
Randy Earwood, superintendent of the Socorro Consolidated Schools District, said the district’s budget was in bad shape last year and had to petition the state for emergency supplemental funding. He became superintendent in July and set a three-year goal to get the schools off emergency supplemental, but the schools are off of it after one year thanks to the oversight of Donald Monette.
Earwood said in spite of what one hears in the media, education did not receive extra funding this year — plus retirement costs went up, as well as liability and worker’s compensation insurance. Socorro schools are also seeing a constant decrease in enrollment, which also leads to less funding from the state. Earwood said enrollment has decreased consistently over the last 10 or 12 years.
Earwood said the school district’s budget is healthy now in spite of the increased costs, and they were able to give employees a 1 percent raise.
Earwood also said the district will build a new elementary school in San Antonio, and is working with the Bureau of Land Management to buy a piece of land for it. He estimated it will be about 18 months to two years before the district is able to break ground for the new school.
Earwood said the schools are also bartering with the city to get some resource officers onto the school campuses.
Earwood thanked Tadano and Delilah Walsh for bringing about the interagency meeting. He added if all the agencies could pool their resources, perhaps more major projects can get done. Delilah Walsh suggested the agencies meet again to prioritize some infrastructure capital improvement plan projects to submit to the state Legislature. Earwood agreed if the agencies could approach their legislators as a group, they will have more of an impact on decisions made at the state level.

Veterans park
Bhasker said the city is trying to make progress at the veterans park, and hopes the county will turn the park over to the city.
City Councilor Pete Romero said the city is getting plaques finished for the monuments at Isidro Baca Park, a memorial to veterans that is owned by the county. He said Monte Voepel and his wife, Sedona, Ariz., residents who used to live in Socorro, are working on the plaques.
Commissioners discussed completion of the park during the regular meeting of the Socorro County Commission earlier that day. Delilah Walsh said the city of Socorro offered to complete the park, including completing the empty monuments, building the entry archway and taking care of ongoing maintenance, if the county would deed over the land.
District 4 Commissioner Daniel Monette, who also attended the interagency meeting, asked if the county could table the park until they know what will happen with the jail land. The county wants to build its jail on land the city owns in its industrial park.
Gutierrez, another county commissioner who attended both meetings, said he wouldn’t mind deeding the park to the city.
“It still belongs to the taxpayers,” Gutierrez said.
The county commission took no action on the veterans park, but they did not have to table the item since it was listed just for consideration on the agenda.

Police Oversight Commission
Salome said issues have come up with the Socorro Police Department, and members of the public did not feel they had an avenue to address the issues, so the Socorro City Council created the city’s five-member Police Oversight Commission. An attorney was hired to work for the POC to review all the complaints about SPD, and the attorney gives an opinion as to whether or not an officer followed standard operating procedure.
Salome said the POC is an avenue for the public to air grievances, and it does not discipline officers. That power remains with the chief of police, city administration and the mayor. The POC also maintains files on complaints, and it is a good way to keep a history on individual officers and how they perform their duties.
Salome said the POC was patterned somewhat after Albuquerque’s POC, which examines all officer-involved shootings. Since that doesn’t really happen in Socorro — “knock on wood” — Salome said this POC examines all Tasing incidents.
Delilah Walsh said the county appreciates the fact that SPD officers don’t use lethal force. She said whether or not a shooting is justified, each incident costs a county’s taxpayers about $100,000.

Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District
Tadano explained MRGCD director Johnny Ray Mounyo was unable to attend the interagency meeting, but Mounyo had provided Tadano a report to be conveyed at the meeting.
Tadano said MRGCD has stored water available to farmers until the last week of June. He said the water bank farmers are already turned off, but they are doing some swapping with other farmers. The Jicarilla Apache Reservation in northern New Mexico has water stored at Heron Lake and El Vado Lake, but Tadano said Mounyo did not know if the reservation was willing to turn any of the water loose or how far downstream the water would go if it was released.
Tadano said this year’s water shortage is the worst Mounyo had seen in his 25 years with the MRGCD.