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Historical Society (L-R)- Joe Sawyer, County Deputy Atty, Jim Crowley, Margaret McDaniel, Marilu Waybourn, John Beckstead, Mary Brooks, Wallace Charley, Jack Fortner-PHOTO-D.ALBRIGHT-TALON.

County Bans Open Burning

by David Edward Albright, Special to TALON

Seven new business items were addressed at the May 22, 2018 San Juan County Commission Meeting, The extreme drought situation here was discussed at length by County Fire Chief, Craig Daugherty. He said, "Based on the drought monitor, each fire index shows... the drought has actually increased around us".

Liza Gomez, San Juan Regional Medical Center, gave a report on "Uncompensated Care Funding and Safety Net Care Pool Funding' stating the first quarter funding received is a 49% reduction from the previous year...so we are diligently working to adjust our cost structure...so our operations can continue in the absence of these supplemental care payments". Allocation is based on hospital size and high-deductible health plans and "Changes in the market have occurred that smaller hospitals have consumed the bulk of the funds that are available". County CEO Kim Carpenter said, "I just want to say, for the record---it's almost borderline criminal that the hospitals getting the most cases and giving the majority of the care---are getting way less money than what it's costing these institutions". Karen Miller, CFO of SJCRMC said, "Just to put it into perspective...the County's obligation is just under $3 million...so the County (hospital) is not getting anywhere close to the total federal match...plus our match. It goes into a big pool in the state and the state reallocates it from there...it used to be a three-to-one match".

Next item under the 'Indigent Hospital Claims Board' was 'Request for Funding for Replacement of Sewer Line at Masada House', presented by Liza Gomez and Jessica Stopani, Executive Director, Masada House. They've experienced major expenses dealing with roots penetrating sewer lines over the last few months. Funding was approved.

The 'Regular Meeting' began with approval of both the 'Approval of Agenda' and the 'Consent Agenda'. First item of 'New Business' was the 'Consideration of Resolution , Congratulating the San Juan County Historical Society on its 30th Anniversary', presented by Board Member, Mary Brooks. She thanked this and past County Commissioners for "helping us to get to this milestone...it's really, really exciting".

In his detailed 'Review of Drought Status and Fireworks Proclamation', Chief Daugherty said conditions have "gotten worse" and the U.S. Drought Monitor has added more areas to the "exceptional drought" status. Commissioners were supplied with paperwork with charts and data from the Energy Release Component, which included supporting dialogue. Daugherty said that the 90 percentile mark used to be a standard to consider extreme fire hazard---now we're hitting the 97 percentile, which was virtually "unheard of" in the past 25 years of using the ERC data. "It's very concerning to see those numbers this early in the year", the Fire Chief said. Chairman McDaniels asked and he confirmed that we are in "extreme drought".

The discussion moved to Daugherty's request for a resolution to ban open burning. He referenced the challenge of insuring adequate resources from multiple agencies. "We tried to wait until the agricultural burners were finished...and we were the last county to go into any kind of burn restrictions." Farmington BLM, Chaco National Park Carson National Forest, Santa Fe and San Juan are all now in some stage of restriction status. He said by talking to and getting the pulse of his firefighters---"they're telling me they're tired". So his goal is to give them "a little relief" from human-started fires, understanding that there will still be some accidental and lightening induced fires to handle. Another fire danger is posed by the cotton from trees flying and its extreme flammability.

McDaniel asked for questions on the ten items on the Resolution. Commissioner Fortner asked about Item 8, dealing with the operation of a chainsaw without a spark arrester. Daugherty clarified that all chainsaws come with them, but some people remove them for higher performance. Regarding Item 10, the Chief said, "It does not completely shutdown the firing of natural gas operations, but what it does is---open up the conversation with our office". He and his staff work closely with the operators to determine hazard levels...and currently there is only one "firing operation on County land...the majority are on Federal land", he stated. The flares on these sites must be higher during extreme fire danger. He said, "Our goal is not to shut them down, but to work with them". During windy days one person from his department will be on site during 'flare firing'.

A discussion of Item 10 ensued, with Fortner stating that he would not vote in favor of the Resolution, unless it was deleted or amended. After more input from Daugherty---just before a vote---Commissioner Beckstead initiated more discussion about the intent and wording of that Item. With the motion nearly dead, Beckstead moved to strike Item 10---until it was studied and amended. All voted in favor of that---and the Resolution passed.

Kim Martin, Deputy Finance Officer for the County, reported on the 'Proposed FY2019 Interim Budget. "The budgeted revenues are $99,814,735; the general funds revenue total $42, 387,834---and that represents 42.47% of the total revenues", she said. She said gross receipts tax revenues are budgeted at a 8.34% increase over FY2018 final budget, residential property tax is budgeted for a 2.39% increase and oil/gas is budgeted for a 19% boost, due to increased valuation. Total expenditures are $121,507,945. Her report included all areas of County operation for their budgeted income and expenses. Commissioner Crowley brought up the topic of elected officials being budgeted for pay increases and this option not being included in the budget. CEO Carpenter said that would be addressed in the final budget---if approved by resolution. He also raised questions about budgeted salaries and expenditures for the Communications Center, which were addressed by both Martin and Carpenter. He advised Crowley, "If you want to pursue the scrutinization of their line items...we could certainly do that...and I've made it clear that the potential of doing that---is looming...so this is totally up to the five of you as to how you want to pursue this---with regard to the budget process". Crowley said, "If we are responsible as Commissioners for what that budget is---then I guess we need to see that in greater detail."

Crowley also addressed the topic of 'helicopters', stating, "They're nearing their economic life...and we need a plan...to develop how to handle---if we're not going to have them or what to do about them". The issue is parts availability for them---and newer models from government surplus being an option. Under Sheriff Ferrari spoke to the issue, stating, that the two helicopters they have are "mechanically in very good shape, but are structurally old". They are classified as a "regional asset" and must be shared with other agencies at no cost. He said they are looking at newer models which have the capacity to haul up to 500 gallons of water for firefighting, but the "price tag would upwards of 3-5 million dollars. Crowley led a discussion of ambulances and fleet management, saying, "I want to see us making sure---that management gets better...my strong message is---show us your management plan of your fleet".

Crowley's final concern was 'mental health'. He asked that the Commission establish a Task Force to do so and that the issue be included in the current budget. With lively input from Commissioners Beckstead, Fortner and CEO Carpenter, the decision was made to include a broad range of entities in the process. The Interim Budget was approved.

Item 5, 'Cooperative Price Agreement for Fuel: Cardlock Facilities and Bulk Fuel Purchases', a cooperative agreement between the County and other agencies for the purchase of fuel was awarded to Western Refining Wholesale, LLC. It was the only company that responded to the request for bid. It was quickly approved.

Dr. Carpenter presented Item 6, 'Resolution in Support of Creation of a New Mexico Office of Outdoor Recreation'. He said, "We've been talking about outdoor rec for over a year... and we believe the County should be a point...where we take the lead---in stepping up our game---for New Mexico creating such an office". The motion was readily approved.

The last, Item 7, was to move the next Commission Meeting from June 5th to June 7th and the November 6th meeting to November 8th, due to the Primary and General Elections. Both were approved. No input from elected officials, department heads or the general public.


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