Finances and money occupied the Socorro County commissioners at their last regular meeting of the year on Tuesday, Dec. 15.

The county will have to reapply for grant funds from Colonias to complete the San Antonio flood control project. County Manager Michael Hawkes told the commissioners that the county had spent $319,000 of the $420,000 the county already had for the project when the Bureau of Land Management threw them a curve.

Originally, the BLM had agreed to a lease agreement with the county for a key piece of property in the project.

“The BLM decide to remove that lease patent process,” he said. “They want to do a direct purchase.”

That process will take a minimum of two years but BLM currently has no employee to work on it

which puts expected grant funds in jeopardy. . “I am trying to salvage that,” Hawkes said. “I told the Colonias Infrastructure Fund that we could utilize the funds to complete other phases. But it looks like their staff is recommending not to approve it.”

He told commissioners he would know for sure the next day, but had no idea why BLM changed their mind about the exchange.

“I told them it’s not us, it’s BLM that threw the wrench in the project,” he said.

Hawkes said on Monday that indeed, the county will have to reapply for the grant money, but he expressed optimism that the money would be approved.

Hawkes also told the commission that of the county’s annual “wish list” to the state legislature, they all need to push for funding for the courthouse roof.

“I think we want to express to our senators and representatives that it is very important,” Hawes said. Without that $160,000 “we won’t be able to realize the cost savings and we won’t be able to get that project done.”

Hawkes told the commission that they still are working on finalizing numbers at the solid waste department. The county is looking at whether it would be more cost-effective to have a private company haul waste from the county’s convenience centers rather than using county employees. The manager is still researching the weight and cost per drop-off site.

The study is not only about fiscal savings but will consider how it affects employees, he said, and he hopes to have that completed before the end of the year. The committee would first meet to consider options before presenting it to the commission.

In answer to a question from the board, Hawkes said the county had identified three used road graders in good shape. However, since they were used, the county couldn’t use government funds allotted to the road department.

“They were in really good shape, so they got picked up the next day,” Hawkes said, while the county was considering financing options. He added, “then if we get it, who will actually drive it?”

“Every day the coronavirus throws us a curve,” the manager said. “It’s been a challenge.”

The county was able to sell the abandoned La Joya Fire Department building, receiving a bid of $14,000, which was approved by the Department of Finance and Administration. While the fire station wasn’t being used, the county still was paying utilities, and he said vandalism was an increasing problem.

The building will be removed within the next month or so, he told the commission.

The administration also is working to complete an updated inventory. “Between the weather and everything else, we’re still trying to finish it,” Hawkes said. The new inventory will include pictures and VINs of all county vehicles and equipment.

The commission approved a new cell-phone policy for the county. The manager noted that the new policy is more in line with the expected use of personal phones.

“I run out of data by the middle of the month if I’m not careful to use wi-fi,” Hawkes said, and traveling often makes that difficult.

“Nowadays we pretty much expect our officials and deputies to use their phones” like computers, he said.

Gwen Roath | Guest Writer