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County Council Approves Four Recreation Projects

on August 10, 2017 - 10:50am

Lisa Shin, president of the PAC 'A Better Way For LA' makes her feelings known at Tuesday's County Council meeting. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com

Community members pack Council Chambers for Tuesday's County Council meeting. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com

 

By KIRSTEN LASKEY

Los Alamos Daily Post 

kirsten@ladailypost.com 

 

Council Chambers was packed with community members eager to share their opinion Tuesday evening about Council’s proposal to spend Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funds on several recreation projects. The line of people waiting to speak during the public comment section grew long.

 

After hearing public comments, Council attempted to appease both supporters and opposers of the proposal by approving staff to return to Council no later than Dec. 5 with a plan to use up to $11.4 million of CIP funds toward the following projects:

  • constructing a splash pad in White Rock;
  • improving the Los Alamos Golf course;
  • improving the outdoor ice rink; and
  • constructing a kiddie pool at the Aquatic Center.

 

The vote was 5-2 with Council Vice Chair Susan O’Leary and Councilor James Chrobocinski voting against the motion. Of the $11.4 million approved, $720,000 was budgeted for the splash pad, $4.5 million was given to improving the golf course, $1.2 million was provided to the outdoor ice rink and Council approved that no more than $5 million should be spent on the kiddie pool.

 

The original motion that O’Leary presented to Council proposed spending $13.9 million for the splash pad, golf course and a multi-generational pool. The original motion also directed that softball field improvements be assigned to the Parks and Recreation Board for further evaluation and to gather more public input. Furthermore, the Parks and Recreation Board would have returned to Council with a recommendation on the softball field project by February 2018.

 

It was proposed in the original motion that Council defer discussion of funding of a recreation center until the laboratory contract is awarded and it also suggested that County staff explore ways to increase gym space in the community, including evaluating with the Los Alamos Public School District about possible gyms located on school campuses.

 

While O’Leary and Chrobocinski were in agreement with most of the substitute motion that was ultimately approved, they disagreed with some of the details. O’Leary expressed some concerns about the kiddie pool; she said she worried it would turn out to be a concrete hole. She also wondered if the motion could include direction to the Parks and Recreation Board to pursue the evaluation of the softball fields. Chrobocinski said he felt County staff should be directed to work with different user groups at the ice rink on the design and vetting on an indoor ice rink.

 

Although they differed over the details, the County Council was in agreement that recreation should supported.

 

“It’s time to invest in our kids,” Chrobocinski said, adding that recreation facilities are multi-generational but with the laboratory hiring more employees, families with young children are coming into town.

 

Councilor Pete Sheehey said CIP funds are meant to meet the community’s needs. While CIP funds have been spent on other things besides recreation, Sheehey said recreation is equally valuable.

 

“We can afford some projects that meet desires for better recreation amenities,” Sheehey said. “There are many ways to meet these desires ... some projects we can afford and keep capital improvement funds ready for whatever arises and certainly we can afford some of these projects.”  

 

In a written statement, Councilor Chris Chandler said, “I believe that many, maybe even a majority of people support moving forward in some way. I have a responsibility to discern to the best of my ability, a sense of public support and to make decisions that are in the public’s interest. Sometimes these goals are in conflict. In this context, I am convinced that we need to look to projects that will economically address the need to ensure existing facilities remain useful and maintained (the golf course and the outdoor rink) and the lack of play facilities for small children (the splash pad and a scaled back kiddie pool).”  

 

Chandler added, “I believe that the path that we are proposing support these goals and strikes a fair compromise balancing the desire of some who support all the projects and those who believe that what we have presently is adequate.”

 

O’Leary told the Los Alamos Daily Post, “The County Council made the right decision for the people of Los Alamos when it approved funding for a Splash Pad and Golf Course irrigation system. This is a very appropriate use of Capital Improvement Funds and frankly, it’s long overdue for the County to use CIP Funds for improved recreation facilities. While I’m glad to see some funding earmarked for improved public swimming for children, I’m confused about what is meant by a “kiddie” pool and I imagine many others are as well. There were a lot of senior citizens looking forward to the Multi-Generational Pool that are probably wondering how a “kiddie” pool will benefit them.

 

O'Leary added, “It’s disappointing to see the years of evaluation and public input for this project put aside for a new, vague idea that many of us heard for the first time as the vote was in progress. The same could be said for the addition of funding for improvements to the outdoor ice rink – something the Los Alamos Hockey Association publicly said they did not want but a majority of Councilors insisted they have. It’s unusual to me that a group of Councilors think they know more about what hockey players and skaters need than community volunteers that have been running these programs for decades.”

 

O’Leary said, “While I voted against this motion because of these last minute changes, I hope the swimming pool can offer at least some of the benefits that were provided in the original proposal and that we can find a better option for skaters in the future. I'm delighted that years of effort and public participation will result in these recreation improvements that benefit everyone in our community. I can't wait to see children playing in the White Rock Splash Pad and watch Golf Course conditions improve. This is an achievement earned by the hundreds of people that worked for years to realize these projects. You know who you are. You made it happen. Thank you.”

 

Public comment on this issue ranged from people reminding the County Council that voters failed to pass the $20 million bond for five recreation projects in May so honor the election results to others saying they would like to see all five projects be funded.

 

Tony Fox said, “CIP funds really support families. This one fund we always targeted to improve the lives of families.” He pointed out there is no correlation between the bond election and CIP funds. “It’s time to act. I implore you to take action this evening.”

 

However, Brady Burke said, during the election, the public voted down the bond and said it was not an intention to carry over the recreation items proposed in the bond. He added even with the public speaking in support of the recreation projects, public comment is not a vote. He further pointed out during at a previous Council meeting, the Los Alamos Public School officials made a presentation about possibly getting funds from the County to improve several of their leased facilities. He urged the Council not to over-obligate itself.

 

A Better Way For LA PAC President Lisa Shin, who also spoke during public comment, told the Los Alamos Daily Post that she was pleased with Council’s decision and commended Chandler for making the motion. “I really like what she had to say,” Shin said. “I think it was a fair compromise … I’m very thankful to Chris Chandler.”

 

The County has been grappling with the issue of recreation projects for the past two years. According to agenda documents, during these two years there has been extensive public input, project scoping and cost analyses given toward recreational facilities. In December 2016, the Council voted to prioritize the five projects for funding consideration. These projects were: a splash pad, improvements to the golf course, improvements to the softball fields, a multi-use recreation center and a multi-generational pool. In February, Council voted to forward these projects into a $20 million general obligation bond, which went before voters in May. The general obligation bond failed; 53 percent to 47 percent.


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