SPECIAL ARTICLE FOR THE BUGLE NEWSPAPER

SPECIAL ARTICLE FOR THE BUGLE NEWSPAPER

An Overview of Doña Ana County
By Jess Williams
Director of Public Information/Special Projects for Doña Ana County

The elected officials, management and staff welcome the Doña Ana County Community Bugle to our area. The Bugle's promise to focus on good news is received as a positive step forward in helping build all of Doña Ana County's communities and to help all of us reach our collective potential.

Each day, Doña Ana County fields dozens of calls from residents who have legitimate questions about pressing needs related to roads, law enforcement, water and wastewater services, zoning and a host of other issues.

People want good roads, especially where school buses travel. People in times of crisis want quick responses from fire fighters and law enforcement. People fear that the proliferation of septic systems threatens the region’s precious groundwater, so they want treatment systems and safe wells. People who want their neighborhoods to be clean and safe get rightfully mad when their neighbors ignore zoning laws, thereby threatening property values. The bottom line: People pay taxes, and they want services in return.

In Doña Ana County, the cry for services is loud and relentless, and it does not go unheard by either elected officials or county staff. Unfortunately, growth and demand tend to outpace resources and revenue. Doña Ana County grew 29 percent from 1990 to 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While the growth expands the tax base, the county’s share of the tax pie is minimal, forcing county government to carefully prioritize its activities.

Un-funded mandates from the state play a large role in the county’s financial bind. The county is charged with providing buildings and support for several state agencies and entities, including the District Attorney’s Office, the District Courts, the Juvenile Probation Office and the local division of the Department of Health. The county also must provide ambulance services for the entire county (including the City of Las Cruces), and the county must absorb the cost for housing any state prisoners awaiting sentencing in our detention facility. With rare exceptions, the state offers no reimbursement for any of these services.

Even with these constraints on the budget, Doña Ana County manages to maintain 1,380 miles of roads across the county (Think about it: That’s as many miles as a round-trip from Las Cruces to the Colorado border town of Raton, with a side trip from Las Cruces to Albuquerque thrown in for good measure), of which 335 miles are paved.

In the last five years, Doña Ana County has added more than 30 deputies (and equipment) to bolster law enforcement services over our 3,804 square mile county.

Using primarily grant funding and no-interest loans, the county is involved in an ambitious plan – the largest of its kind ever attempted in the state – to build a $65 million utility that will remove more than 3,500 septic systems from the river valley during the next few years, where groundwater is being contaminated at the rate of (sit down!) 1 million gallons a day of untreated septic-system effluent.

Further, zoning and codes enforcement have been stepped up across the county in an effort to bring developers and private residences into substantial compliance with community-building standards that raise property values and emphasize the value of being a good neighbor.

Simultaneously, we’re working to streamline the zoning and subdivision processed to encourage economic development.

Doña Ana County's 37 colonias are a top priority of county government, as we seek to improve the quality of life for our poorest residents. In addition to better roads and infrastructure, the county is committed to better and more accessible health care in rural areas and colonias, and we're studying ways to make public transportation to rural areas available in the future. It's a long process, but we are committed to progress and forward momentum.

Without raising taxes, the county is undertaking an ambitious program to centralize and modernize access to government services. Using historically low interest rates, the county has borrowed against its financial strength to build a new, state of the art county administrative complex that will open to the public in 2006. The need for a new complex cannot be overstated. The County Manager's Complex -- the Old Amador Hotel -- was built in 1887; the County Courthouse was built in 1937; and the County Annex -- which is also falling apart -- was built in 1970. The new complex will be fully compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and will offer a true one-stop shop for residents seeking government services.

Using a tiny slice of the tax revenue that comes from residents of the county, county government is waging a winning battle to provide meaningful services across a huge geographical area without ignoring our mandates from the state government or undercutting our commitment to the safety, health and well-being of our constituents.

Facing challenges with creativity while maintaining a focus on customer service is what county government is all about. Working with our partners in progress -- including the Doña Ana County Community Bugle -- we are confident that we can continue to meet the many needs of our diverse communities for the foreseeable future.