The Torrance County Commission approved standard operating guidelines for its fire department, and set a date to make a decision on a proposed contract for disposal of solid waste.

The commission also heard from former commissioner Lonnie Freyburger, who warned the county he thinks it is in violation of the federal Hatch Act.

Standard operating guidelines for the fire department and a stipend to defray the cost to volunteers of responding to calls were among recommendations made by a consultant the county brought in last year. The guidelines were passed unanimously by the county commission, which will now pay a small amount to emergency responders who meet certain conditions when they respond to a call.

The guidelines also mean that volunteers will be reimbursed for training, with payments made for licensure or certifications they receive, much of which is required of them.

Emergency responders include firefighters and emergency medical technicians. Firefighters will get $10 per call and EMS will get $5. Station chiefs will get a lump sum based on the station’s current ISO rating, of $250, $500 or $750.

The county is transferring $100,000 to cover the projected cost.

“I know it’s expensive, but this is the future,” said commission chairman LeRoy Candelaria, who noted that many of the training courses are required for volunteers.

The commission then turned to a proposed contract with the Estancia Valley Solid Waste Authority.

Representing Torrance County—along with county manager Joy Ansley and former commissioner Leanne Tapia, the proposed contract was presented by David Saline—now chairman of the EVSWA board.

Saline told the commission again that EVSWA’s contract with the county for solid waste disposal—which EVSWA fulfills through its operation of eight disposal stations located around the county—is running in the red.

The issue that the Solid Waste Authority has been bringing to Torrance County since last fall, Saline said, is that EVSWA is losing about $120,000 a year on the county contract.

The county commission voted to issue a Request For Proposals, or RFP, for those services, with much disagreement about what the RFP should say on a split commission.

While commissioner Julia DuCharme has been an outspoken advocate for the county to issue a “flexible” RFP, then see what private businesses offer up, both Frost and Candelaria have argued that the RFP has to yield an apples to apples comparison to be meaningful. Part of the issue with that for the county in issuing an RFP is that if the Solid Waste Authority provides a current scope of service as a template, it would not be able to bid on the RFP.

Saline said that the Solid Waste Authority has to put the dollars in the shortfall into building the next cell for the landfill.

Saline said that EVSWA’s contract with the county allows for either party to pull out of it with certain conditions, including running at a loss.

“If we’re happy with the current contract, why would we do that?” DuCharme asked.

Saline said the current contract was based on projected numbers, but now the actual costs are known.

He suggested that the county could partner with Encino to apply for CDBG, or community development block grants. Both the county and the Solid Waste Authority have applied for and received those federal funds in the past, but Encino never has, Saline said. He suggested using those funds to offset the cost of the contract.

Both commissioner Jim Frost and Candelaria hailed the idea as good news. “That’s progress in the right direction,” Candelaria said.

“This has gone on and on and on,” Frost said. “David [Saline] suggested we vote on it today, but I’m not for that.”

Frost made a motion that within two weeks the proposed contract be reviewed by the county attorney and county manager, with the intention of the commission to vote on it at its next meeting April 13.

Former county commissioner Lonnie Freyburger made a presentation to the commission, stating his belief that the county may be in violation of the federal Hatch Act because its county manager is running for the county commission.

The Hatch Act is a federal law first passed in 1939 designed to prevent “pernicious political activities,” it has been amended a few times.

Freyburger said he was told by the state secretary of state’s office to bring his concerns to the county. He later said he had been advised by the Office of Special Counsel to bring his concerns to the county. He also said that while the worst thing that would happen to the candidate is that he would not be able to run for office, that the county could face a fine of $250,000.

Asked by county attorney Dennis Wallin whether he had any of that in writing, Freyburger said he did not.

Wallin said that Sanchez “was very diligent before filing for candidacy.”

“I’m doing what they advised me to do, so I’ll go ahead and send up the complaint,” Freyburger said. “Let the chips fall where they may.”

For his part, Sanchez provided a letter to the county from the Office of Special Counsel, dated Feb. 19. That letter says, “Specifically, you ask whether the Hatch Act prohibits you from being a candidate in a partisan election for county commissioner while employed as the Torrance County Emergency Manager. For the reasons explained below, the Hatch Act does not prohibit you from being a candidate for partisan political office.”

Wallin said he would follow up with the Office of Special Counsel to make sure that the county is not in violation of the Act.

Leota Harriman
Leota Harriman

Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at news.ind.editor@gmail.com.