Friday, November 13, 2009

County Takes ‘Baby Steps’

By John Severance

VEGUITA -- The citizens of Northern Socorro County came out in full force Tuesday night and safe to say, most of them left pretty happy.
With a standing-room only crowd at the Northern Socorro Senior Center looking on, the Socorro County Commission approved Ordinance 2009-09, which was an abatement ordinance. The vote was close with Daniel Monette, Rumaldo Griego and Phillip Anaya voting for it and Rosalind Tripp and Juan Jose Gutierrez voting against it.
After the vote, almost everybody stood up and cheered.
The ordinance addressed the problem of abandoned and substandard mobile and manufactured homes in Socorro County.
Residents detailed their stories to the commissioners about the abandoned mobile homes. They said drug dealers are moving into the area, children are playing in the abandoned structures and gang members are setting fire to the abandoned homes as well.
“It sounds like a horror story but we live it every day,” resident Gwynanne Walker told the commissioners.
The sticking point, not surprisingly, was funding.
“It’s a much-needed ordinance and I like it,” Tripp said. “But in all good conscience, I can’t vote for it. I look at it as an unmandated ordinance. We don’t have the funding.”
“Where are we going to start?” Gutierrez said. “If you start up here, they are going to jump on me out west. … It’s a good ordinance. I will vote for it as soon as we get the funding.”
County manager Delilah Walsh said: “I have reviewed the ordinance and I do feel it meets a need in Socorro County. It is well written and an excellent process. However, my concern is that we do not have funding available to meet the requirements to implement this ordinance. The Fire Marshall’s office has also reviewed the ordinance and recognizes that they can perform the duties called for in the ordinance, but it would require more staffing. We did not budget for staffing in the fiscal year of 2009-10.”
Walsh said an abatement would cost the county between $5,000 and $7,000 per structure.
The three commissioners, who voted for the ordinance, stressed they would take baby steps in working with the ordinance.
The ordinance will take effect on Dec. 12. Monette said it probably will take six to seven months to come up with the rules and regulations to enforce the ordinance. And in the meantime, he said budget meetings for the next fiscal year will be held in March and Walsh also can work on coming up with the grant money to pay for the project.
“It will be a year before anything happens,” Monette said after the meeting. “It will take six to 12 months to come up with the regulations. But I am hoping they can go out and start to red flag some of these places.
“It’s a mess up here. There are rodents, meth labs, tire dumps, you name it. We have to do something.”
“We need something like this in place,” Anaya said. “These are baby steps for us. But I want to thank you people for coming out because you are truly taking some big steps.”
Griego said: “We have to take baby steps and start with the abandoned trailers and once we get some money, we can take those baby steps. Maybe in seven or eight years, we will have the county that we had 20 to 30 years ago.”
Enforcement will lie with the county fire marshal and the sheriff’s office.
“I have no inspectors in my office,” fire marshal Fred Hollis said. “I think it’s a great ordinance and one of these days, we will get some funding and we can do something about this. It’s good, and it’s needed. We need to find money to support the ordinance and it will be a tough ordinance to enforce.”
Later while giving his department news to the commission and most of the crowd had left, Hollis said, “Thank you for passing this ordinance. People are going to get mad because we can’t enforce this ordinance and they are going to throw rocks at me. I’m a big target.”
Sheriff Philip Montoya also was on hand and he said that he has four openings for deputy positions.
“I think it’s something that is needed. We just have to find a way to fund it,” Montoya said.
After the commission finished with their regular business, it went into executive session for about a minute to discuss the union arbitration decision and a collective bargaining agreement.
The commissioners came back out and immediately went back into general session and passed the collective bargaining agreement with the NMCPSO/CWA Local 7911/SSDA, which is the union representing the sheriff deputies association.
“This was the county’s last offer and the arbitrator accepted the offer in full,” said Walsh.
Negotiations had been going on for the past two or so years.
Among the highlights of the agreement:
• Article 2 B – “If the bargaining unit is below eight (8) employees or fails to have a majority membership, the County will cease fair share deductions.”
• Article Section 20 – overtime calculation has been returned FLSA statndard which is hours worked count for overtime. “Vacation or Compensatory time is not time worked and shall not be counted as time worked for the purpose of overtime calculation.”
• Every bargaining unit employee got at least a dollar per hour raise or more.
In other business, the commission:
* Considered publication of a Community Development Ordinance.
* Approved Resolution 2009-72, which is a timekeeping policy.
* Approved a retail advertising agreement with the El Defensor Chieftain.
* Approved JPA with EMNRD, which involved wildland fire protection and suppression.
* Approved a grant agreement with the NMDHS&EM, which would buy emergency generators for the Alamo,
* Approved a MOA with FEMA and a MOU with the USDA Forest Service Service.
* A motion did not carry that would have considered a sponsorship request for $500 to the Merry-Achi Christmas.
* Appointed Monette to the RPO Policy Committee and Walsh will be the alternate.

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