Torrance County has some extra money to spend, and is looking at giving raises to its employees and adding staff. The county commission also moved away from adding two new seats on its board.

The county commission met May 9 and discussed budget priorities as they approach a budget deadline at the end of the month.

Department heads made arguments for more personnel, new equipment and program support, and explained costs and benefits of their requests.

The commission, county manager Wayne Johnson and county treasurer Tracy Sedillo talked numbers with the cost of detention being an unknown factor, according to Sedillo.

The commission and manager discussed providing salary raises for existing employees. Commissioner Ryan Schwebach said, “I think we need to focus on a raise clear across the board. Minimum wage is going up in the near future and I believe we’re behind the curve on competitive salaries. We’ve had a lot of staff who’ve really stuck with us and I feel we owe a raise.”

Johnson said, “We could start with the approach of trying to maintain and pay for the raise first and then look at the restructures. Try and grant as many of the requests for additional personnel based upon the raise and staying within that framework and then work on the capital side as a separate issue.”

Commissioner Kevin McCall identified a request from dispatch for a backup generator as a community safety issue that should be granted.

Commissioner Javier Sanchez asked about the cost savings of detaining and transporting prisoners if the prison in Estancia reopens, as indicated by CoreCivic currently hiring for positions at the facility.

Torrance County Sheriff Martin Rivera explained that the cost had been about $65,000 per month when the local prison was open and went up to between $90,000 and $100,000 a month when they started sending prisoners to Santa Fe County facilities.

“I don’t think we can support every one of these requests, no matter how we slice this, no matter what happens with our detention situation,” Johnson said.

Sedillo said creating an interim budget and then making changes before the final budget, as was done previously, is no longer an option with “the state’s electronic ‘local government budget management system,’” that was recently implemented.

Now there will be one submission to the state, she said, and since actual expenditures and ending cash balances will not be available until July, the county is “working from projections,” Sedillo said. “It’s kind of a guessing game.”

Details were left to be determined in an upcoming budget meeting May 15.

In other business, the commission will not restructure into a five-member board, Schwebach said, “At this time I’m notwilling to go to a five-commissioner board and devote any funds towards it. This county doesn’t have a commission problem and needs resources for other things.” 

The decision requires a unanimous vote.

Sanchez asked about “under-representation in the southern part of the county.”

Schwebach said, “I don’t feel the[additional]commissioners will balance it, I don’t feel it’s a commission problem.” 

Sanchez said, “In our system of government, power is derived from elections,” adding, “If we were to look at the last five election cycles we would find for example if you look at Moriarty with two commissioners with 1,500, 1,600 people, Estancia which has 1,300 people, Moriarty has 60 percent chance of electing a commissioner in District 2 and a 50 percent chance in District 1. That benefit is not afforded to any other community in Torrance County. The imbalance is quantified right there. The city of Moriarty gets to have two commissioners.”

Commissioners are elected to represent Torrance County, not just Moriarty, Schwebach said.