Rare City/County Meeting Tackles Joint Concerns
By TARIN NIX
Members of the Espanola City Council and Rio Arriba County Commission met Wednesday night for a joint work session to address services concerning senior citizen, 911 emergency, solid waste and possible annexation plans from Santa Fe County to Rio Arriba County.
Tensions ran high as each side came prepared to sort out differences and shortcomings plaguing both entities.
Senior Citizens & Services
Espanola City Manager Kelly Duran addressed the work session and explained the need for the City of Espanola to seek the assistance of Rio Arriba County to provide services to seniors at the Beatrice Martinez Senior Center. The Center serves 18-20 individuals a day but because the City does not take advantage of the AAA grant, they are footing the entire $240,000 cost with no revenue. Duran explained the City of Espanola would like to work with the County to expand the lunch program and adult day care.
Director of Health and Human Services Lauren Reichelt noted that the cost to take over the senior center and expand programs is $149,000-$158,000 and requires the building to be brought up to code to become licensed and able to access medicaid funding. Reichelt suggested the City pay the full $158,000 for the first two years while the County creates a revenue stream to sustain the senior center.
Commissioner Alex Naranjo asked what would happen to the staff at the senior center if the County took over the facility. Mayor Alice Lucero noted that some staff could be rolled into preexisting City positions however she felt some staff might be well fit to roll into the County’s operation. Naranjo followed up by asking Lucero if the City was ready to commit to the $158,000 for the first two years, to which she insisted they were.
All Commissioners agreed that given the needs of the community and potential to improve the senior center, it is common sense to move forward with developing a plan to make Beatrice Martinez Senior Center a joint effort between the City and County. Chairman Barney Trujillo instructed County staff to work with City staff.
911 Emergency Services
Rio Arriba Deputy County Manager David Trujillo addressed the body about E911 and emergency services provided by the County. Trujillo explained that over the last few years Gross Receipts Taxes (GRT) have declined while the day to day activities and calls to E911 have continued to increase. Trujillo noted that although the County just increased the funding to E911 services, they are still operating in a $100,000 deficit.
Commissioner Naranjo expressed concern over the four municipalities in the County that have yet to pay their share of the E911 agreement, including Santa Fe County who owes $45,000 for call center operations.
“What puzzles us is that certain communities don’t put up a single penny making Rio Arriba the only one’s footing the bill,” Commissioner Naranjo said. “Who’s putting up the money and where is it coming from?”
Mayor Lucero countered that the responsibility primarily relied on the County because they were the only entity allowed to collect the GRT.
“In all fairness and all due respect, the county isn’t paying anything out of their general fund and the City is paying $30,000 out of the general fund and now being asked to pay an additional $14,000 and I don’t think it’s fair,” she said.
Trujillo pointed out that there was already a $100,000 deficit that was being covered through the County’s general fund. Trujillo instructed the managers to, “go back and hash out what we can do regarding 911 services.”
Solid Waste Services
North Central Solid Waste Authority (NCSWA) was in the hot seat again during the joint work session. Commissioner Naranjo was quick to begin the discussion by clearing up some of the confusion that has happened since the Rio Arriba County Commission decided to reevaluate and possibly end their contract with NCSWA. Naranjo reiterated that the frustration the County has with NCSWA has nothing to do with the raise General Manager Gino Romero received but with how they are operating as a company.
“If you think you are better off not being with the County, you are mistaken. It will cost you a lot more,” Naranjo said.
Chairman Trujillo pressed Council members about why the City was only paying $100,000 into solid waste services while the County continues to foot the bill for $740,000 to NCSWA. Mayor Lucero was quick to point out that the City not only pays into NCSWA but is responsible for the closing of a landfill and mine in the City with the limited funds they receive to pay for solid waste services. Romero seconded Lucero and echoed that the City was indeed picking up additional costs.
Naranjo pleaded with members, “We need your assistance. Now I prefer to continue to have solid waste but we need to change a lot of things we are doing at the central office. It is not up to one man to decide he is going to put a lien on your property or to charge thousands to our elderly.”
After members called for NCSWA to establish protocol for its board to review actions by Romero, Mayor Pro Tem Pedro Valdez got emotional in his defense of Romeo and the actions taken by the NCSWA Board. Valdez warned if the County dropped NCSWA, “Rio Arriba County won’t make it … the City will.” He went on to explain that when residents don’t pay their bill, it isn’t the County that pays, it is NCSWA and their board that make up the difference.
Trujillo went on the offensive with Valdez stating, “the City had no problem going up and giving Romero a raise” with County money and the very least the City and other entities could have done was bring the raise to the attention of the County.
Romero quickly jumped to defend NCSWA and the trash removal services that occurred over the last four years. According to Romero, “everyone likes door to door but unfortunately everyone at this table isn’t paying what is necessary to make that happen.” He also addressed concerns about the liens being put on people’s homes for lack of payment and noted that he is just following the ordinance put in place by the County. Romero urged the Commission to adjust the language to create a task force to ensure he isn’t judge and jury on the placement of liens.
Commissioner Garcia argued that the County needed to have more authority on the NCSWA Board than other entities that utilize the solid waste service and urged NCSWA to work with the Commission to draft a new ordinance.
Naranjo closed with, “We know there is a solution, but you have to come to the table. We need to update the ordinance and you need to show us an audit and show us where the money is going.”
Councilor Michelle Martinez suggested “making sure that monthly financials and meeting minutes are sent to all entities on a regular basis to alleviate a lot of the confusion and allow these joint sessions to come up with tangible goals to work through,” rather than the chaos that ensued during Wednesday’s meeting.