County commissioners back issues, projects list

Noel Lyn Smith
Lead paramedic John Reese, left, and paramedic supervisor Matt Moon, show the equipment used inside one of the ambulances on Monday at the San Juan Regional Medical Center Emergency Medical Services headquarters in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — San Juan County commissioners have stated their support for a list of four priorities for state lawmakers to consider during the upcoming legislative session.

The list was developed by the New Mexico Association of Counties, a non-profit, nonpartisan professional association of county officials and employees from the state's 33 counties, and passed by the association's board of directors in August.

The priorities list includes support for an increase in state funding for the County Detention Facility Reimbursement Act, funding to conduct a statewide assessment for emergency medical services, legislation to allocate funding for the New Mexico 3-D Elevation Program to develop 3D elevation maps used for building infrastructure, and a request that the association be included in any legislative efforts to restructure or reform the gross receipts tax.

The County Detention Facility Reimbursement Act was passed by state lawmakers in 2007 to provide state reimbursements to counties for housing three categories of prisoners in county jails.

Lead paramedic John Reese closes up the ambulance doors on Monday at the San Juan Regional Medical Center Emergency Medical Services headquarters in Farmington.

The categories are parole violators, offenders under supervision for both probation and parole violations, and inmates sentenced to prison and awaiting transport to the state penitentiary.

According to the association's resolution, the New Mexico Sentencing Commission reported the cost to counties to house those offenders is $5.52 million.

Funding for the reimbursement act was $3.3 million for fiscal year 2015 and decreased to $2.96 million for fiscal year 2016, according to the association's resolution.

The association supports increasing the funding to a “level sufficient to reimburse counties for the actual cost of holding the three categories or prisoners."

As for the EMS assessment, the association is supporting an appropriation from the state legislature to the Department of Health EMS Bureau to complete the statewide assessment, Steve Kopelman, the association's executive director, said Monday.

The association also supports allocating money to be combined with federal, local and tribal funds that will be used to match federal funding from the National 3-D Elevation Program, which is developing topographic data and 3-D representations of natural and infrastructure of the United States.

Among the uses of these maps is planning for responding to wildfires and for water and watershed management, Kopelman said.

Paramedic supervisor Matt Moon looks through the medical kit inside the ambulance on Monday at the San Juan Regional Medical Center Emergency Medical Services headquarters in Farmington.

"A lot of state maps are upwards to 40 years old," he said.

County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said on Monday the amount owed by the state to counties is "enormous" under the County Detention Facility Reimbursement Act.

The reimbursement to county jails is warranted because it is costing local taxpayers millions of dollars to operate these facilities, he added.

In regards to the EMS assessment, Carpenter said the county has completed its own evaluation and received approval from the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to set rates for ambulance service.

The county also has 3-D mapping which is valuable when studying oil and gas sites or for detecting areas used for illegal dumping, he added.

The state legislature will start its session at noon on Jan. 19 and will meet for 30 days.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.