Talk Of Arena Upgrades

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At the conclusion of a December 13 joint workshop, members of the Sierra County Commission and Truth or Consequences (T-or-C) City Commission agreed to consider a combined effort to fund the initiation of improvements for the city’s Punk Greer Memorial Rodeo Arena.

EB Council Bids Manager Farewell

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EB Manager Resigns

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Earlier this week, Elephant Butte City Manager Andrew Finzen announced his decision to accept a new post as the city manager for Goodland, Kansas. This move will allow Finzen to advance some of his personal career goals and will also bring him quite a bit closer to family and friends he left back…

PAN Files Restraining Order Against USFS

In an effort to keep the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) from fencing off riparian areas in the Lincoln and Santa Fe National Forests, the Sierra County based non-profit dedicated to pushing back on government overreach, Protect Americans Now (PAN), joined in filing a motion for a temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque earlier this week.
Ranchers were suddenly fenced off from permitted grazing lands by USFS officials after the June endangered species listing of the Meadow Jumping Mouse. The fencing is intended to protect “occupied habitat” for the mouse, but the plaintiffs claim there has been no environmental review as required by the National Environ-mental Policy Act.
The agency claims that under the Endangered Species Act…

Rule Changes Could Effect Marijuana Users

Drastic changes could be in store for the 158 people in Sierra County who have medical conditions that qualify them for a state-issued medical cannabis card. These changes, say some of the 23 state-licensed operators of the dispensaries, will put all but a handful of them out of business, and force extra costs on the people the program is supposed to serve, despite the fact recent surveys by the state Department of Health (DOH) found lack of producers is the biggest problem with the program. These patients suffer from one or more of the 13 debilitating conditions like cancer, chronic pain, HIV/AIDS, etc., that can qualify them to use the plant legally. The DOH notified the licensed producers last Monday, including MJ Expresso, a Sierra County-based dispensary, of proposed new regulations that include drastic fee increases for both patients and producers. Administrators with the DOH’s Medical Cannabis Program are recommending a 50 percent cut in the number of plants licensed patients can grow at home, from four to two plants. The agency is also proposing patients pay $50 for the annual patient registry identification card renewals, maintain ongoing relationships with their primary doctors and to pay for these recurring medical tests (see guest column, page A2). In addition, patients who grow two mature plants will have to pay a $30 application fee. The Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, adopted in 2007, requires producers, or dispensaries, to be non-profit. MJ Expresso was set up shortly after passage to have any profits benefit the Sierra County Seniors Program. After a survey of patients conducted last winter by the DOH found “chronic shortages” in the product, the agency notified the state’s 23 producers they would be allowed to grow more plants, but they would face “reasonable fee increases.” This week DOH officials notified producers it is proposing increasing their license fees from $30,000 to $90,000 — $20,000 for every 50 mature female plant up to 150 plants, as well as $10,000 for every 100 seedlings, up to 300 seedlings. The DOH also plans to limit THC/CBD to 60 percent for edibles and concentrated products, which are available to patients who are unable to smoke cannabis. The new regulations also increase plant-testing requirements, add new regulations on courier services and changes the responsibilities for the state Medical Cannabis Program’s advisory board. “Of the 23 producers statewide, only seven or eight, maybe, will not have to close their doors,…

No Relief From Drought In Sight

April streamflow forecasts show a decline in parts of every Western state and most basins, according to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) water and climate experts.
NRCS hydrologists predict reduced spring and summer water supply for much of the West. This month’s forecast is especially important because there probably won’t be significant snow accumulation after April 1, according to hydrologist Tom Perkins. “April is usually the endgame. We’re not likely to make up this deficit. Snowpack is not good. Reservoir carryover is not good,” said Perkins. Although other parts of the country got more snow, it didn’t have impact in the western mountains, he said.
“What fell in the West didn’t really amount to much,” Perkins said. “New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado are especially vulnerable because their reservoirs are at low levels due to sustained drought conditions.” Water resource managers face difficult decisions due to this shortage, he said. Western states should prepare for potentially increased vulnerability to forest and rangeland fires and mandatory water restrictions. In addition, wildlife that depends on surface water is going to suffer.
There are a few exceptions to the dry forecasts. The North Cascades—including Washington and Western Oregon—and the headwaters of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers are near normal. “For the rest of the West,” Perkins said, “there is no silver lining. I think it’s going to be a long, hot, dry summer.”
According to NRCS Meteorologist Jan Curtis, most Western snowpacks peaked two to three weeks early this season and are now in decline. The best scenario would be for those snowpacks to melt slowly, providing a steady water supply through the spring and summer. This seems unlikely, given the above-average temperatures forecasted for the spring and summer. “Although NRCS’ streamflow forecasts do not predict drought, they provide valuable information about future water supply in states where snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal runoff,” according to Perkins.
In addition to precipitation, streamflow in the West consists largely of accumulated mountain snow that melts and flows into streams as temperatures warm into spring and summer. The April forecast is the fourth of six monthly forecasts issued each year between January and June by the national center. The forecast compares the current level of water content in snowpack in the 13 Western states with historical data to help the region’s farmers, ranchers, water managers, communities and other stakeholders make informed decisions about water use and future availability. The snowfall, air temperature and numerous other factors taken from remote climate sites ultimately contribute to water supply.
Now that Western snowpacks have peaked, the Governor’s Drought Task Force of each Western state will begin meeting to discuss drought preparations. NRCS will continue to monitor levels across the Western states to provide the most up-to-date water supply information each month. The next two forecasts will measure rate of snowmelt and refine streamflow predictions.
“USDA streamflow forecasts play a vital role in the livelihood of many Americans,” said Jason Weller, NRCS acting chief. “With much of this region greatly affected by drought, our experts will continue to monitor snowpack data and ensure that NRCS is ready to help landowners plan and prepare for water supply conditions.”
Since 1935, NRCS has conducted snow surveys and issued regular water supply forecasts. NRCS installs, operates and maintains an extensive, automated system called Snow Telemetry, or SNOTEL, designed to collect snowpack and related climatic data in the Western United States and Alaska. View April’s Snow Survey Water Supply Forecast map or view information by state. Other resources on drought include the U.S. Drought Monitor and U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook map, which forecast drought conditions through March 31.
For information on USDA’s drought efforts, visit www.usda.gov/drought. To learn more about how NRCS is helping private landowners deal with drought, visit the NRCS site.

Ongoing Concern

As Sierra County residents and recent visitors have no doubt observed, the water level at Elephant Butte Lake is extremely low. This view of the Dam Site Marina on Saturday, November 3 not only confirms the low water, but would also seem to imply that not much of a lake will be left if levels drop any further.

Elephant Butte Lake is not alone, however, as other reservoirs throughout the state are experiencing similar conditions. The past year’s limited snowpack and somewhat meager monsoon rains seem to have reasserted the region’s trend toward long-term drought conditions.

While not uncommon at this time of the year, the low water levels have raised some concerns and have many Sierra County residents anxiously looking for more beneficial precipitation in the months ahead.

EB Tax Hike Reminder

During his report at the October 17 city council meeting, Elephant Butte City Manager Alan Briley issued a brief statement reminding property owners within the city to expect to see a significant increase on the new property tax bills now being issued by Sierra County.

Briley reminded councilors of the board’s past decision to impose an available 2-mil increase in community property taxes for the expressed purpose of funding future infrastructure improvements.

The city manger explained that the 2-mil increase would amount to approximately $110,000 in annual revenue and bring the city’s share of property taxes to approximately 4.5-mils in total. Briley also estimated the new measure would be likely to add $66 to the annual taxes due on a house/property valued at $100,000 in Elephant Butte.

For more information about the property tax increase for Elephant Butte citizens, contact the city’s administrative offices, 103 Water Street, or call 744-4892.

Fire Department Closure Reaffirmed

By Chuck Wentworth  | SENTINEL

Following their August 9 decision to close the community’s volunteer fire department, trustees with the Village of Williamsburg were informed that the manner in which the issue was addressed posed a possible violation of established open meetings regulations.

It was noted that because this unanticipated action (the vote to close the facility) was not included on the August 9 agenda, the trustees’ decision to move forward on the closure may have been inappropriate.

In order to address the possible error, and to assure the board’s intentions were properly advertised and documented, trustees convened for a special session Thursday morning, August 16.

After opening the session and hearing public comments, trustee Ron Hoskins entered a motion to formally close the village’s volunteer fire department for restructuring. The motion was duly seconded and approved by a unanimous vote.

Members then moved on to discussion about the available options, which would allow the village fire department to resume operations…..

Trustees Close Village FD

By Chuck Wentworth | SENTINEL

The move came as members were considering the appointment of a new fire chief. When trustees asked current assistant fire chief Gary Freeborn if he was interested in the position, they were interrupted and told that department members had elected former mayor Gorden Mishler to serve as the new fire chief during a meeting held the previous evening.

After receiving the information, Trustee Ron Hoskins entered a motion to disapprove of Mishler’s appointment, which was duly seconded and approved. Hoskins then entered a motion to close the village’s fire department effective immediately, which was endorsed by the entire board….

Village Audit Reveals Significant Problems

By Chuck Wentworth | SENTINEL

In a special meeting Tuesday, August 7, the Village of Williamsburg board of trustees voted to accept a recently completed audit for the 2009/2010 fiscal year, which ended on June 30, 2010. In compiling the detailed review, contracted auditor Charles L. Henry, CPA uncovered a number of concerning issues that resulted in 16 formal findings.

Following standard procedures, Henry brought his report before the village trustees, who then agreed to take specific actions or implement changes to address each of the identified findings. The steps were then compiled into a final report that was submitted to the Office of the State Auditor, where the audit was subsequently reviewed and approved.

The 16 findings detailed in the audit outline numerous bookkeeping and accounting errors, the improper maintenance of fund balances and franchise fees, as well as unrecorded cash receipts and reimbursements, underreported outstanding checks, problems with reconciling bank statements and improper quarterly tax reports.

The audit also revealed numerous issues pertaining to the village volunteer fire department. Included in the findings were the improper use of fire fund proceeds, improperly documented fire allotment distribution reimbursement requests and deficiencies in the maintenance of capital asset inventory lists.

Further problems cited included procurement code violations, the violation of terms in a Joint Powers Agreement regarding law enforcement services, the presence of an inadequate filing system and a general lack of internal controls.

Perhaps the most significant finding were apparent violations associated with a Department of Transportation grant agreement, which were noted as constituting a misuse of public funds and possible fraud.

As previously noted, each of the specified findings was accompanied with defined actions or procedural changes that village authorities have since…….

EB Animal Ordinance Revisions Looked At

By Chuck Wentworth | SENTINEL

Following up on their June 13 meeting, which brought national attention to the community’s debate over Blue, the community dog, members of the Elephant Butte City Council examined a number of proposed revisions to the city’s animal control ordinance during a workshop session Wednesday, June 27.

Utilizing prepared suggestions from the community’s contracted attorney, Chez Rennick, and the legal representative of local Blue supporters, Hilary A. Noskin, council members considered how they might best alter the city’s codes to address similar concerns in the future.
City attorney Rennick said with the exception of canines designated as dangerous or potentially dangerous, his primary efforts focused on removing specific requirements for the physical enclosure of all dogs and shifting responsibility to the animals’ owners as to how they will ensure control.

During the hour-long session, councilors considered aspects of the city’s ordinance regarding animals-at-large, proper enclosures and restraint, the definition of animal control officers, electronic fences and breed specific provisions, among others.

In almost every instance council members agreed with recommendations to eliminate what was deemed to be cumbersome language in favor of more simplified statements that fell in line with existing state regulations.

At the conclusion of the workshop, board members agreed that the proposed changes appeared to be sufficient and directed city manager Alan Briley to proceed with publication of the suggested ordinance revisions. Briley said that the measure would be properly published and otherwise made available for public review, and told the council a formal public hearing would likely be included on the agenda of their regular meeting currently scheduled for July 25.

During her report, Mayor Pro-tem Kim Skinner shared some of the latest efforts aimed at bolstering tourism for Elephant Butte. She outlined her recent attendance at the Governor’s tourism conference and noted that Elephant Butte Lake was currently ranked as the state’s number four attraction, superceded only by …

Amid Blue Uproar, Wording Change Endorsed

By Chuck Wentworth | SENTINEL

The escalating debate concerning Blue, the “community dog,” that has fostered stark divisions among the City of Elephant Butte’s residents, dominated the attention of the city council during their scheduled meeting Wednesday afternoon, June 13.

A crowd of more than a hundred local residents, as well as interested parties from across the state and nation, gathered at the city’s administrative offices. Anticipating the extraordinary turnout that easily exceeded capacity of the commission chambers, city staff provided additional seating in the adjacent court chambers and outside the building, as well as arranging for a loudspeaker system to ensure all on hand would be able to stay abreast of the proceedings.

The point of contention centered upon whether city authorities would permit the well known and much-beloved canine to continue his long-standing lifestyle of roaming freely throughout the community, in clear violation of existing state and community animal control regulations.
Blue, an Australian-Shepherd cross, was reportedly abandoned by its owner years ago and has since become a well-recognized fixture in the…….

Publicity for Area

During her report at the city council’s regular meeting May 2, Elephant Butte Mayor Pro-Tem Kim Skinner noted New Mexico magazine’s front-page focus on Sir Richard Branson and Spaceport America. Skinner emphasized how this and similar media attention is placing an associated spotlight on the community and providing an unsolicited…..