Taos County

Taos County briefs

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Every two weeks, Taos County commissioners meet to discuss and vote on county business, policies and projects. Citizens are invited to speak at the beginning of meetings, which take place at 105 Albright St. Video of the meetings are streamed live and posted on taos22.com. Here's a rundown of some of the items discussed at Tuesday's (July 11) meeting. All commissioners were present.

Data transparency - When it comes to the openness of Taos County's data, there's room for improvement.

That was the message of Peter St. Cyr, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. "Everything is public, except for a few very rare exceptions. ... The data that's collected by the government is the people's data," he said.

His recommendation to the county was to join the trend of governments adopting "open data" policies, where the county would make whole databases (such as annual budgets, salaries and revenues) available on its website in an easy-to-use format.

As it is, county staff must spend valuable time responding to public records requests for even routine data and information. Beyond the advantages for the public, the first beneficiaries of an open data policy are the county's own employees, St. Cyr said.

Making more data available would require the county to collect all of its major databases, though a third-party vendor usually handles the actual posting of that information online.

Commissioner Tom Blankenhorn was skeptical the county could afford the costs of actually rolling out such a major project. "The system is most likely beyond our reach," he said.

But county leaders acknowledge their online presence needs an upgrade. Brent Jaramillo, deputy county manager, told The Taos News the county has "been waiting to upgrade our website," which was built in-house by the county's information technology staff.

The county recently ended its relationship with one third-party vendor that publishes the agenda and supplemental information for commission meetings. However, a new contract hasn't been finalized and no new meeting agendas or information have been available online since early June. Jaramillo estimated the new system wouldn't go into effect until August.

While the new contract for meeting agendas will cost about slightly less than $8,000 a year (almost double the previous contract), Jaramillo lauded the system's flexibility and added features, such as minutes that are not currently available online.

Still, other online shortcomings are glaringly obvious. For example, the staff directory currently posted on its website is an unreadable PDF with no discernible names or numbers.

E911 tax - Voters who approved a gross receipts tax last year expecting major improvements to the 911 dispatch center may have to temper those dreams because of a shortfall of funding at the state level.

Taos County Manager Leandro Cordova told The Taos News the state government is cutting back on funds that have previously been used for moderate 911 upgrades, training and mapping software.

Revenues from the three-sixteenths-of-1-cent sales tax, which went into effect July 1, won't be available until around September, Cordova said. That money will make up for the loss of funding from the state and leave some revenues for planned upgrades, he said.

The county plans to make more use of the bells and whistles of its dispatch software, such as the plug-ins that will create more comprehensive reports on crimes, emergencies and response times.

The county also entered into a contract with a firm for year-round maintenance to the 911 system's repeaters, thus avoiding wintertime emergency rates.

Questa mine - Susan Baker, Taos County attorney, is recommending the county work with the Trust for Land Restoration in order to have a more active and informed "seat at the table" when it comes to the decadeslong cleanup of the shuttered Chevron molybdenum mine, a Superfund site.

Baker suggested the county commit between $10,000 and $15,000 to contract with the Trust for Land Restoration, a Colorado-based nonprofit, for legal and technical review of major cleanup documents. The contract would give the county a "formal opinion about the best approaches ... in negotiations," Baker said.

Baker noted Taos County has a major stake in helping shape the next 50 to 100 years it will take to clean up the mine simply because it lies within the county's jurisdiction. "This isn't about litigation ... it's about collaboration and discussion," she said.

County Manager Cordova said he wasn't "completely opposed to the idea." Baker will bring a recommendation back to commissioners.

State of the courts - Chief Judge Jeff McElroy gave his yearly update on the caseload and state of New Mexico's Eighth Judicial District Court, which covers Taos, Colfax and Union counties.

Among the cases processed in fiscal year 2015 were 396 domestic violence petitions, or "more than one a day," he said. (McElroy noted the number of cases doesn't change much year to year.) There were 649 divorce cases and 43 child abuse and neglect cases.

After about 15 years, the Eighth Judicial District closed its juvenile drug court because of less state funding, he said. The youth drug court was the most costly program with the smallest number of participants, he said. However, it had a higher success rate than its adult counterpart; since 2001, the juvenile drug court graduated 126 of its 276 clients.

Solid waste - Commissioners approved two changes to the county's solid waste ordinance. The first change allows nonresidents to buy a punch card for the dump and transfer stations, while the second lets the solid waste department bill more frequently. Cordova said the latter change was needed to "better understand our revenue." The solid waste department has suffered from some county residents ignoring their bills, thus pushing the costs of the department to other customers.

The department is helping put on the 11th annual Taos River and Land Cleanup July 29 from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Lunch will be provided at the event. For more information, call Amigos Bravos at (575) 758-3874.

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