Commission OKs resolution supporting agenda forwarded by county government group

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — San Juan County commissioners have thrown their support behind a list of requests put together for state lawmakers by a coalition of county governments across the state.

The commission voted during its Nov. 15 meeting in Aztec in favor of a resolution supporting the agenda forwarded by the New Mexico Association of Counties, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Santa Fe that is designed to serve as a statewide voice for all 33 counties. The NMAC seeks to identify and put together a list of legislative priorities each year that can be supported by representatives of every county in the state, regardless of their political leaning.

This year’s list of priorities, which was presented by County Manager Mike Stark, included several items related to public safety. Topping the list was a request for a legislative appropriation creating funding for recruitment and retention efforts for county detention center employees.

Stark said the measure would be aimed at creating a funding mechanism that would provide financial incentives that would allow detention centers to hire and keep more employees.

Mike Stark

“That’s something we obviously would support,” he said, noting the issues San Juan County has had with keeping its own adult detention center adequately staffed.

That facility is understaffed by approximately 30 people, he said. That situation exists despite aggressive efforts by officials to bring aboard more staff members through several hiring fairs that have taken place throughout the year.

A similar request related to firefighting and emergency medical services was included in the list. The funding would support volunteers and paid staff who respond to fires and other emergency situations.

Stark explained that many fire departments across the state are comprised of volunteers or a combination of volunteers and paid firefighters, and many of those entities have struggled to maintain proper staffing in recent years.

“As you all know, volunteerism is on the decline, and that’s been a struggle for our department, as well,” he said.

The list also included a request for funding for district courthouse construction and renovation. Stark said San Juan County is in good shape in that department, having addressed the state of its courthouses a few years ago, but he said other counties across the state — especially those in rural areas — are not in the same position and are facing considerable costs in bringing their facilities up to par.

Also included was a request that state lawmakers provide more guidance on how counties are expected to provide access to election records and data. Stark said many counties across the state have experienced a surge in public records requests related to such materials, and they have not been prepared to meet that increase, in many cases.

“I know the big concern there, quite frankly, is just the volume of requests that come forward and the time it takes for staff to be able to (comply with) those requests,” he said. “It becomes quite a task.”

Stark noted the request is not specific to any one county, but he indicated his personal support for the request on a statewide basis.

Discussion on the resolution was brief. Commission chairwoman Terri Fortner, who serves as San Juan County’s representative to the NMAC, pointed out that some of the items on the list have been repeated from years past after they were not acted upon by lawmakers. She emphasized the power the organization wields when it enlists the full support of its members for its agenda.

“When you see representatives of all 33 counties come together and collaborate … that strengthens what our voice is,” she said.

The commission voted unanimously to approve the resolution.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 ormeasterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.