RioCog board meets in Alpine, rich in local representation

ALPINE – Officials from the tri-county region made up a significant percentage of both leadership and participation Friday when the Rio Grande Council of Governments Board of Directors met Friday in the Brewster County Courthouse.

Brewster County Judge Eleazar Cano is president of the board this year. First vice president is El Paso District 2 City Rep. Alex Annello, formally of Marfa, and second vice president is Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara of Marfa.

Board members include Marfa Mayor Ann Marie Nafziger and Jeff Davis County Judge Kerith Sproul. Also participating were Mayors Andy Ramos of Alpine and Summer Webb of Valentine. The RioCOG, headquartered in El Paso, is a voluntary association comprised of local governments, school districts, and special political subdivision districts along the border in Presidio, Brewster, Jeff Davis, Hudspeth, Culberson, and El Paso counties in Texas and Doña Ana County in New Mexico. The group’s goal is to serve as a catalyst for this region in designing and identifying regional solutions that promote efficiency in public services and a higher quality of life for its citizens. It’s also a clearing house for state and federal grants, oversees the Area Agency on Aging, runs a regional solid waste initiative, and supports the Far West Texas Regional Water Planning Group.

Cano told the Big Bend Sentinel and Presidio International that the board usually meets on the home turf of its president. The meeting was the first in the recently-renovated District Courtroom on the second floor of the Brewster County Courthouse.

It was upgraded by county crews using about $200,000 from the County Tourism Council with Hotel Occupancy Tax funds under the “historic preservation” category.

Among the presentations was an update on a grant to provide an uninterrupted power supply backup for the Brewster County 911 system.

COG Regional Services Director Marisa Quintanilla said the program cost is $19,352 and the COG has $9,753 “on hand.” She said she will apply to the state commission for an additional $15,511, which would include the shortfall plus $5,912 for professional services.

“Nobody is on the hook for that,” she said. “I’m on the hook for it. I’m going to use that to offset it. The COG will come up with that money because the COG is responsible. We will request these dollars.”

She said the expenditure has been recommended by the COG committee but the state has the final say.

Currently, when Alpine experiences a power outage, 911 calls have to be rerouted through another 911 service.

Other grants being recommended for full funding by COG include $65,000 to the City of Presidio for enhanced communications, $35,000 for a backup generator and $7,500 for tactical emergency care, while $72,445 is earmarked to Brewster County for multi-jurisdictional interoperability communications and $60,010 for critical infrastructure.

Quintanilla stressed these funds are requests and the state has the final say as to how much will be approved.

Executive Director Annette Gutierrez presented a video of a promotion for the 2020 Census in El Paso County in both English and Spanish “to show what locals are doing.” She suggested other jurisdictions can use similar promotions to encourage participation.

Cano said a particular problem locally is South Brewster County “which has seen great growth and there are some who don’t want to be counted. They want to live off the grid.”

Gutierrez suggested local agencies can have Census parties to encourage participation and she said residents now can respond to the questionnaire on line.