Opinion: County governments are here to serve their communities

Terri Fortner
San Juan County Commission

It seems like every day, week, and month is another celebration, or spotlight on a profession, food, or activity that some of us would have never heard of otherwise. April is no different. However, April is a very special month for the more than 3,000 individual county governments in our nation, celebrated as National County Government Month. 

In the 32nd year of celebration, the National Association of Counties has selected “Thrive” as the theme for the month- a goal of counties across the country, to help residents thrive.

The history of county government for San Juan County even pre-dates New Mexico’s statehood. Yes, San Juan County as a political subdivision was established to serve the people 25 years before statehood. Since then, the role of county government has grown to better serve the people who live in the area.  

Today, San Juan County maintains almost 750 miles of roads, facilitates local, state, and federal elections, provides law enforcement, fire protection, detention, and solid waste services- but those are some of the more visible ways San Juan County “Builds A Stronger Community.”

Terri Fortner

In both highly visible and less-visible ways, San Juan County is providing services of high value to the residents. Did you know that San Juan County facilitates a housing program to promote adequate and affordable housing for all, provides for a high quality of life in the county through Riverview Golf Course and the San Juan County Fairgrounds, and provides a jail-based DWI and substance abuse treatment program that is twice as effective as the national average? All this, and much more, with the second-lowest county imposed property tax rate in the state! 

One newer service from San Juan County provides navigation of mental health services through the Mental Wellness Resource Center. It was identified in 2019 in an analysis of the gaps in mental health support that there needed to be a central coordination center for agencies and a place for residents to find the services that they need. 

Commissioners at the time prioritized filling that ‘gap’ and hired a Behavioral Health Director, and shortly thereafter opened the Mental Wellness Resource Center. Opening just nine months into a global pandemic was not easy, but it was very clear from the start how important that service is for our community. 

In the first two years, thousands of people have found resources through the Mental Wellness Resource Center. Whether it is just searching for mental health resources, or breaking down the barriers to receiving services, the staff is already reporting success stories of individuals who can now thrive in our community.

From arranging transportation or childcare so a parent can seek mental health support to making sure that people can pay for services through insurance, it is a one-stop shop for people to start down the path of improved mental health.

The last two years haven’t been easy for anyone. I am so proud of the people at the Mental Wellness Resource Center who are supporting those who have been affected most exceptionally. Additionally, every day, the employees of San Juan County show up to serve the community.

From the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management to the senior centers that continued to provide meals, PPE, and test kits for the most vulnerable in our community, it has been a team effort and the whole team has been engaged the whole time. 

The County’s Mission Statement is “Building A Stronger Community” and the employees do that every single day. In every capacity, it’s the common goal for all county employees.

What they are doing is providing for their friends, family, and neighbors in a common area — home. Home to many generations of New Mexicans, and our indigenous ancestors before that, and home to the future generations of people who will continue the legacy of service forward. I’m very proud of our team and proud to be elected to serve the residents alongside them. 

Commissioner Terri Fortner is chair of the San Juan County Commission.