Torrance County Commissioners Boost Employee Pay and Secure Water Rights in Marathon Session

Torrance County Commissioners Boost Employee Pay and Secure Water Rights in Marathon Session

Prior to the deal worked out by President Biden and House Speaker McCarthy regarding the debt ceiling, the Torrance County Board of County Commissioners met on May 24, 2023.  At the time, There were fears that a failure to resolve the debt ceiling crisis could result in what County Commissioner Sam Schropp referred to as a “clawback” of federal ARPA funds. Specifically, he expressed concern that the federal funds given to the county that had not been earmarked for specific projects could be taken back by the federal government if the debt ceiling dispute was not resolved. In a landmark eleven-and-a-half hour meeting that was as much an endurance event as it was a legislative session, the Torrance County Commissioners addressed these clawback concerns, approved a pay raise for all county employees, secured ARPA funding for projects, and addressed staffing issues on May 24, 2023. In a June 5, 2023 interview, Commissioner Sam Schropp provided an overview of the key resolutions from the meeting.

All employees in Torrance County will now receive a $2 per hour pay raise, a decision made possible by utilizing $811,000.00 from the 2023 budget originally earmarked for payroll that had not been used. This resolution, backed by Board Chairman Ryan Schwebach (R-District 1), Commissioner Kevin McCall (R-District 2), and Schropp (D-District 3), ”shows a commitment to fair pay and staff appreciation without expanding the county budget,” Schropp said.

The second phase of the Estancia Moriarty Willard Torrance County (EMWT) water project, focused on the procurement of water rights and the resolution of McIntosh's water crisis, could progress, albeit without EMWT itself. This move was necessitated by the reported mismanagement and non-compliance of EMWT with state regulations, a situation Schropp alleged was serious enough to endanger their status with the New Mexico Secretary of State.

Commissioner Schropp said that the county will now purchase water rights directly. The county’s move will reduce the percentage of water used in the Estancia Basin for agricultural irrigation and shift that towards domestic water use. Currently, 92% to 94% of all water use in the Estancia Basin is for agricultural irrigation. Schropp said that this move ensures water access for the residents of McIntosh without negative impact on the Land Grant communities. "The purchase also puts to rest any concerns about exporting water from the Estancia Basin since Torrance County now controls these rights," Schropp said.

The meeting also saw the creation of two new positions within the county government, one in the GIS office and the other in the clerk's office. The GIS role will involve road signage and mapping, with a starting salary of $38,000. Meanwhile, an additional role in the County Clerk's office will help manage the increased load of election management and compliance, at a starting salary of $39,000.

Also agreed upon was the addition of another enforcement officer in the Planning and Zoning department, a response to the challenges faced during the Echo Ridge Fire, due in part to a backup of identifying zoning violations.

The board will be on recess until June 28, 2023, allowing commissioners time to engage with their constituents. Commissioner Schropp confirmed that he will be attending a state-run training event for county commissioners in Farmington, NM, from June 11th to 14th, 2023.

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