At Tuesday’s Sierra County Commission meeting, commissioners finalized more than a month’s worth of work to identify and rank the county’s most-needed infrastructure capital improvements. Working from a list of 20 projects estimated to cost $6.4 million that had been suggested by the public and by county departments, the commissioners selected five they considered to be most likely to be funded by the legislature and have the most impact on the county.
The five projects in order of priority and the amounts to be requested are the Sierra County Fairgrounds ($1.2 million), road equipment ($400,000), the roof on the complex housing the county sheriff’s and road departments ($400,000), the Arrey baseball complex ($100,000) and the Hillsboro Community Center’s heating and cooling system ($150,000).
Determining ICIP (Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan) requests to be submitted to the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration for the state legislature to consider for funding is an annual exercise for the commission. An initial list must be submitted to the DFA this week, with the finalized list due at the end of the year. Usually the three highest-rated projects will be funded. However, depending on the depth of the state’s pockets and the whims of legislators, any project included on the list might be funded.
This year, the commission hosted informal, open meetings in August in Arrey, Hillsboro, Winston and Truth or Consequences to solicit ICIP recommendations from the public. At a 45-minute workshop this Monday, the commission heard presentations by county department heads. They each had the opportunity to tell the commission about the infrastructure improvements or equipment most needed by their departments. In turn, the commissioners had the opportunity to quiz the department heads about the urgency of their requests and whether they could be deferred for another year.
With less than a day allotted for their individual evaluations of the merits of the suggested projects, the commissioners discussed and rated the projects at the monthly county meeting on Tuesday.
During Monday’s workshop, County Manager Charlene Webb reviewed items on last year’s ICIP and pointed out which of them had been funded. Webb also informed the commission about which of the unfunded projects, as well as other projects discussed during the workshop, might possibly be funded through sources other than the state legislature.
In 2020, funding was received for the commission’s Top 3 projects: a summer shuttle bus program serving Elephant Butte and T or C, the pavement of the parking lot at the new Sierra County administrative headquarters on North Date Street in T or C and Monticello bridge renovation. Last year’s last-ranked project—the purchase of an ambulance for Sierra Vista Hospital—was also funded.
Seven of the projects on this year’s ICIP were for county facilities and totaled $2.4 million. Another six projects involved roads, bridges and drainage projects with an estimated $2 million price tag. Three were safety-related projects totaling $700,000. Vehicles needed by the road and other departments have an estimated cost of $600,000, and improvements to Monticello’s water system are estimated at $800,000.
The commissioners unanimously agreed that the county’s top priority should be renovation of the Sierra County Fairgrounds. Commissioner Travis Day stated that the fairgrounds are a core county facility, but have been neglected for a long time. Because of their rundown condition, the county has missed out on a number of hosting opportunities that would boost the local economy. Commissioner Hank Hopkins agreed, saying that some of the “stuff here in place now are the ones that I showed in years ago.” Commissioner Jim Paxon rounded out the general agreement with a comparison between the Sierra County fairgrounds and those in Socorro County, which he said had benefitted from several million dollars in upgrades and is “busy all the time.”
Likewise, purchase of equipment for the road department met with unanimous support. With around 500 miles of roads to maintain in the county, replacing the road department’s aging machinery and acquiring additional vehicles and equipment would be a “benefit for all of the county,” Hopkins said.
Determining the next three top-priority projects required a bit more discussion. Day favored including the purchase of vehicles for other departments. He wanted to compensate for the fact that “the commissioners have been brutal” in setting departmental budgets over the last year or so in order to maintain a balanced budget while purchasing and renovating the county’s new administrative headquarters.
Paxon favored repairs to the roof of the county’s South Broadway Street building, which was built in the 1980s and has numerous leaks that require frequent maintenance. He also suggested including upgrades to the Hillsboro Community Center’s HVAC system, which is extremely inefficient.
Hopkins pushed for including improvements to the Winston Community Center, which he called the “hub of that community.” He also favored upgrading the community’s playground area, noting that it serves “a lot of kids.”
Webb explained that, because the WCC is not owned by the county, it “ties their hands” in regard to seeking public funding. However, she added, her office should be able to help WCC and other not-for-profit organizations in the county identify possible sources of grants and write applications.
All the commissioners were in favor of including the Arrey baseball complex in their Top 5. Their approval was based on the fact that the complex had already received $200,000 in ICIP funding and a promise from that community’s state Representative Luis Terrazas that he would include the project in the HB-2, or “Junior Bill,” funds that he would have the discretion of allotting in the next legislative session.
One proposed project that did not make it into the Top 5, but which was the subject of much discussion during Monday’s workshop came from Ryan Williams, the county’s new director of emergency services. He requested the commissioners consider upgrading emergency communications throughout the county. With an estimated cost of $300,000, this project, the commissioners concluded, might find alternative funding before the January deadline for submission of the final ICIP list.
View the list of all 20 projects below.