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County officials keeping tabs on certain bills

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The 2024 New Mexico legislative session was the focus of the Eddy County Commission meeting on Tuesday.

Eddy County Manager Roberta Gonzales shared a legislative update provided by Matt Thompson of Cambiar Consulting. 

“The legislative session just started, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gave the annual state of state address last Tuesday,” said Gonzales. “She highlighted economic development and infrastructure. She wants to dedicate approximately 2 percent, which is about $170 million of the state severance tax permanent fund, to invest in companies developing advanced energy technologies. She talked about housing and homelessness and establishing a state office of housing, a one-stop shop for housing developers and contractors streamlining processes from start to finish. 

“She talked about healthcare, behavioral health and child well-being, as well as establishing a hospital provider tax that will bring in an additional $1.5 to $2 billion federal dollars into the state. On education she is requesting 180 days of instruction at public schools. She also talked about requiring a 14-day waiting period to purchase firearms, banning assault rifles, and raising the purchase age to 21 for all firearms.”

Gonzales continued, “Thompson reported overall New Mexico lawmakers will have 30 days to decide how to spend $10 billion. We are tracking specific bills like the Family and Medical Leave Act, which is House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 3. It will impact counties and cities if passed. This would require employers to pay .4% of wages every single year and employees would pay .5% of wages and the payout would be 100% of minimum wage and 67% beyond that. 

“In Eddy County with our gross annual payroll our contribution will be about $100,000 if this were to pass. Also, House Bill 30 has been filed which requires no use of fresh water in certain oil and gas operations. Additionally, House Bills 31 and 32 require additional penalties for environmental oil spills, oil and gas production, and children’s health production zones protecting school zones. Lastly, we are watching House Bill 54 which proposes to distribute 8 percent of attributed gross receipts to cities and counties.”

Eddy County Sherriff Mark Cage said his office will be closing watching the 24 proposed “anti-gun” legislation proposals. Cage spoke on behalf of Eddy County at a recent lobbyist breakfast in Santa Fe. 

“I said Eddy County will vehemently oppose any attempt to pass laws that violate the second amendment,” said Cage. “We will strongly oppose those that we think aren’t going to be of any use.”

Cage also reported working with congressional members to create a recurring infusion of money for a fentanyl task force that will be headed up by the sheriff’s department. 

“A lot of what we are doing is an attack on drugs,” said Cage. “We will likely get another canine unit as well.”

Cage, who was recently elected president of the New Mexico Sherriff’s Association, reported a favorable response to a presentation at the opening session of the New Mexico Counties legislative conference last week. 

“Chris Swanson from Michigan presented on a presidential initiative program called IGNITE, which stands for Inmate Growth Naturally and Intentionally Through Education,” said Cage. “This could transform our jails and penitentiaries in New Mexico.”

Both Cage and Gonzales reported the recurring theme at the NMC conference was that the detention industry in New Mexico is in trouble. 

“We need to hire people,” said Cage. “We tried and it didn’t get anywhere last year.”

“Detention center issues was the main issue that keeps coming around,” said Gonzales. “The mental health issue was the biggest. The disconnect is at the state level because no one wants to provide the resources. We need the resources for the detention centers.”

Eddy County staff also proudly reported the Eddy County Finance Department earned the Fiscal Year 2022 Audit and Accountability Award for mid-sized counties at the NMC conference.

In other business, staff reported there has been a delay on the program to allow access and purchase of county records online. The new estimated completion date is Feb. 9.

Eddy County Fire and Rescue Chief Joshua Mack reported they had filled the last two firefighter positions, and seven new employees will be starting Monday. They will be opening Station 2 on Tuesday. Mack reported Senate Bill 21 and House Bill 88 are recruitment and retention bills that will match up with what the sheriff got last year for law enforcement and public safety. 

“We are looking forward to receiving it as a one-time allotment for three years,” said Mack.

Gonzales also reported on the health benefit fund. 

“In June 2023 all the counties that were part of the pool received invoices because they were going to be increasing health insurance premiums by 10 percent in January 2024, and they did that,” she said. “In talking to the HR affiliate at the NMC conference, it looks like they want to increase that an additional 15 percent coming up this new fiscal year.”

Elsewhere, the commission approved 10 ordinances that renew 10-year non-exclusive franchise agreements that include using right-of-ways for Eddy County streets, avenues, alleys, highways, sidewalks, bridges and other structures to the following nonprofit corporations and public utilities:

• Artesia Rural Water Co-Operative

• Caprock Water Company

• Central Valley Electric Cooperative

• Cottonwood Rural Water Association

• Dell Telephone Cooperative

• El Paso Natural Gas Company

• Malaga Mutual Domestic Water Consumers and Sewage Works Association

• Morningside Water Users Co-Operative

• Otis Mutual Domestic Water Consumers & Sewage Works Association

• Penasco Valley Telephone Cooperative.

“The only significant changes from prior franchises we’ve had is that we’ve run into snags at times if we need to have the use of our right-of-ways back and asked an identity to move or relocate some lines based on what’s going on for road expansions, those kinds of things,” said Eddy County Attorney Cas Tabor. “We give them a lot of notice. They have to get a permit and provide insurance when they’re in our right-of-way. They have to go through the public works department to gain permission and give notice to the public when they’re going to be in there. Once we approve the agreements, they have 30 days to accept it. If they don’t accept it, they don’t get it.”

The Eddy County Commission recognized the following service awards during Tuesday’s meeting:

• Ernest Carlson, Commissioner, District 1 – 5 Years

• Jay Francis, Probate Judge – 5 Years

• Richard Burks, FR Division Chief of Training – 5 Years

• Ashley Knight, Treasurer Accounting Tech 1 – 5 Years

The commission approved the following agreements:

• A-22-214 Renewal No. 1; Employment related physical services and drug testing services with New Era Physical Therapy (RFP 22-10)

• A-24-12; Equipment Service Agreement with Sparks Office Solutions

• A-24-13; Agreement with County of Roosevelt for housing of adult detainees.

The commission also approved the following travel requests:

• Steven Sarmiento and Wyatt Klein attended County Fire Tactics Officer Development Program 2024 in Pensacola, FL from January 14, 2024, through January 20, 2024.

• Devin Trujillo to attend Command & Control of Fire Department Operations at Target Hazards Training in Emmitsburg, MD from January 27, 2024, through February 3, 2024.

• Justin Hernandez and William Dugas to attend Battalion Chief Boot Camp in Pensacola, FL from February 4, 2024, through February 10, 2024.

• David Watson and Matthew Dawson to attend Fire & Emergency Services Training Program Management Course in Emmitsburg, MD from March 9, 2024, through March 16, 2024.

No action was taken during an executive session to discuss limited personnel matters.

A resident of Eddy County also spoke during the public comment section of the meeting and urged the commission to enact an ordinance to ban abortions in Eddy County.

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