AZTEC — As the school year winds down, youth from throughout San Juan County will gear up for summer jobs with a state program that provides training, skills and experience on outdoors projects.
The state's Youth Conservation Corps program, an independent commission administered through the state's Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, awarded the city of Aztec $91,029 to landscape and irrigate, build fences and erect a sign in Hartman Park this summer.
The work will employ a couple of dozen young people, ages 14 to 25, for the summer work. Aztec High School art students will also paint murals. Seventy percent of the grant money must go toward salaries for youth workers.
Aztec will pay $8.50 an hour for new crew members and 50 cents more for each year of experience working on YCC projects. Crew managers will make more. The program also offers workers high school and college credit.
The city will spend $75,931 from its 2014 and 2015 annual budgets to pay for materials and administrative costs for the summer park projects this year.
"We're moving forward on next year's plans for Florence Park with YCC," said Ed Kotyk, Aztec projects manager. "We'll start up the first week of June with a week of safety training before they get in the field at Hartman Park this year. We interviewed almost 50 kids and hired a total of 24 — one YCC coordinator, four crew chiefs and the rest are crew members and some alternates."
The city of Bloomfield was awarded nearly $30,000 in YCC funding for paving work along the river walk in Verde Del Rio San Juan Park this year, but, because of budget constraints, the city turned down the award this month. The city had planned to commit $50,000 in addition to the grant amount for the project, but those dollars are no longer available.
"We've had five months record low (gross receipts tax), and that's our main source of revenue that keeps our budget and our city afloat," said City Manager David Fuqua. "We're not 100 percent (sure) what's going to happen with the GRT, so we're tightening our belt. We've asked our department heads to cut back on expenditures for at least the next two or three months."
Despite the cancelled work, the city will reapply for funding next year, said Bloomfield Projects Manager Teresa Brevick.
"YCC was last used in 2007, or 2008, to do a stretch of our river trail. Our plan is to reapply for next year," Brevick said. "Nine corps members and two or three crew leaders were going to work on this year's project. Our goal and our vision is to use them again. We're really looking forward to getting it done."
The state program understands Bloomfield's pain, said YCC Executive Director Wendy Kent.
Kent said the YCC commission met April 28 in Santa Fe and approved next year's budget, which will make available $3.8 million for corps projects. This year, 41 YCC projects totaling $4.3 million will be funded throughout the state.
"It is a slight decrease from this year," Kent said, "but it's going to be a fantastic year with the most projects yet in San Juan County. I am so pleased that so many are interested in the program and hope it continues to grow as more people learn about this year and previous year's successes."
State organizations and entities have until July 17 to apply for funding.
From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 7, Kent will help those interested in seeking YCC funding navigate the online application at a workshop at City Hall in Aztec, 201 W. Chaco St. For more information, call 505-334-7640.
Despite the dip in available funding for projects next year, Kent is optimistic the program will continue to help projects get completed and youth find training and employment throughout the state.
Other YCC projects throughout the county include JROTC cadets at Aztec High School working on a demonstration garden, fencing and shade structures at Aztec Ruins National Monument, forestry projects in the Jicarilla Ranger District through the San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District and projects with the Farmington Municipal School District and Capacity Builders of Farmington.
James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.