County trades Isidoro Baca Park for jail site

........................................................................................................................................................................................

The Socorro County Commission started the ball rolling on a land trade with the city that will secure a location to build the county's new jail.

The land trade comprised two items on the county's agenda for the regular meeting Aug. 27: an agreement to accept the city's donation of land located in its industrial park, and an agreement to donate Isidro Baca Park to the city.

County Manager Delilah Walsh said the commission's approval of the two items is the first step in the process. The Socorro City Council also has to approve the city's side of the deal.

Socorro County voters approved a bond measure last year to fund the construction of a new jail for the county, which is necessary since the old facility is outdated and too small for the county's detention needs. The county needs a location for the new detention facility, however, and prefers a site in the city's industrial park.

The city, meanwhile, has expressed an interest in taking over the county's Isidro Baca Park, just north of the Socorro County Courthouse and south of the plaza. The city wants to finish the park's memorials to veterans; Socorro County hasn't finished the memorials due to a lack of funding.

The city has already worked out an agreement with an artist in Sedona, Ariz., a former Socorro resident, to fashion plaques for the memorials. A Marine Corps plaque, the first to be completed because Isidro Baca was a Marine, was on display at City Hall during the City Council's regular meeting Aug. 19.

Walsh noted a condition of the land trade is that the county must improve the roads surrounding the jail. The agreement also includes a reversion clause, meaning the property will revert back to the city if the county does not build a jail there.

The agreement, included in the County Commission's agenda packet, states the county is to improve the length of Enterprise Road from Grefco Road north to the paved area on the Enterprise junction, including clearing the drainage gutters and chip sealing the road. The county must also chip seal Grefco Road from U.S. Highway 60 to the end of the jail property.

Walsh said the agreement also includes the county's right of first refusal for an adjoining tract of land in the city's industrial park, should the county ever develop its full justice center. Walsh previously mentioned the county's long-term plans include a corrections complex with new facilities for the 7th Judicial District Attorney's office, the sheriff's department and more, all in one location right by the jail.

The commission approved each land trade item unanimously except for District IV Commissioner Daniel Monette, who was absent from the meeting.

During her manager's department report later in the meeting, Walsh said county staff recently conducted interviews with architects to design the new jail. She said the commission should have a jail architect to approve on its agenda within the next month or so. She estimated the county will break ground on its new jail by next summer.

During other department reports, county clerk's office staff noted the Doña Ana County clerk's office recently started issuing same-sex marriage licenses without being compelled by a court order. Santa Fe County was next, after being issued a court order. Bernalillo County was also issued a court order to do so. In San Miguel County, the county attorney directed the clerk to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Valencia County is doing it without a court order.

Staff reported that after discussing the matter with county attorney Adren Nance, who indicated the clerk's office may be sued either way, Clerk Rebecca Vega has directed staff not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the office receives a court order directing them to do so. The announcement elicited one "boo" from the direction of the commission and some light-hearted remarks from all over the chamber.

In other county business, the commission:

• Approved the county's annual agreement with Cibola National Forest and Grasslands to maintain roads in the Cibola. Walsh explained the county maintains some U.S. Forest Service roads there, and the Forest Service reimburses the county for it. County road Superintendent Marty Greenwood said the agreement is generally the same every year, although last year some road mileage was added to the agreement. He said the agreement has to be approved each year because the Forest Service has to approve the agreement as part of its budget every year.

• Acknowledged budgeted versus actual finances for July. Walsh said this is the beginning of the fiscal year and finances are mostly in line. She said the county received a response regarding federal RAC funding; the funding will come in for the road department.

• Acknowledged the finance report and July journal entries. Walsh said the state Department of Finance and Administration approved the county's budget for the current fiscal year. Auditors came and the county will shoot for a restatement of its assets, which Walsh said staff have been working toward for over four years. She said for well over a decade there has been a disclaimer on the county's audit every year, meaning the auditor said there was not enough control and not enough statement of value in property taxes and capital assets to definitely state what the county's assets were. Last year the county finally got a qualified opinion from the auditor. This year the county is shooting for a correct statement of capital assets, a "really big step for the county." She said the issue has been present a long time, and nobody has ever addressed it.

• Approved vendor checks.

• Approved payroll.

• Struck two items from the agenda — the county's emergency operations plan and hazard communication program, which Walsh explained were in draft form. She anticipated the final versions will be ready for the commission's approval by next month.