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County Approaches Budget Hearings With Optimism

on April 4, 2019 - 1:16pm
Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess
Los Alamos Daily Post

After passing a flat budget in FY2019 and preparing to do the same for FY2020, Los Alamos County received a pleasant surprise: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed SB 11, which states prime contractors operating a laboratory facility in New Mexico are indeed subject to gross receipt taxes (GRT).

This means Triad, which operates Los Alamos National Laboratory, will pay GRT to Los Alamos County. It also means County Manager Harry Burgess can present an actual budget for Los Alamos County Council’s consideration during the upcoming budget hearings April 15-16 and April 22-23. All hearings begin at 6 p.m. in Council Chambers inside the Municipal Building and are open to the public.

“It’s exciting; we are actually able to develop a budget … because we have the capacity to do so,” Burgess said.

According to the citizen’s guide to the FY 2020 proposed budget, “based on the current projected revenues and Council’s guidance to maintain a 20 percent reserve, there could be an opportunity for Council to address cuts made in the past two years to meet budget requirements, consider budget option expenditures in addition to the proposed budget as well potential expansion of County services and programs to focus on achieving the Council’s strategic goals…”

The budget guide does note that FY2020 budget includes the 2 percent merit and 2 percent adjustment salary increases for non-collective bargaining County employees, which was awarded at the March 19 Council meeting. The impact to the budget, according to the guide, is a $954,843 increase.

General fund revenues are projected to be $10.5 million, or 17.2 percent higher than the FY19 adopted budget. Although revenue is projected to increase, the total expenditures for the general fund is flat. The new budget has a total of $188 million in expenditures while FY19 had $188.8 million.

While expenditures in the general fund remain unchanged, Burgess said transfers from the general fund to the Health Care Assistance Fund are projected to increase from $317,000 in FY2020 to $650,000 in FY2021 due to required payments to the State of Medicaid and Safety Net Care Pool exceeding GRT for indigent healthcare.

Regarding the fire fund, the budget projects expenditures are $27 million and revenues are $28.5 million. The increase is due to planned amounts in the Cooperative Agreement the Department of Energy and the County have to operate the fire department. The revenue on the County’s side is proposed to be flat. Therefore, the working capital is reduced to $623,503 but Council will be asked to consider a budget option of $1.4 million to match amounts in the Cooperative Agreement and to provide adequate working capital.

“We want to make sure we take care of those funds,” Burgess said.

GRT is projected to grow with higher laboratory budgets, increased hiring and spending as well as the passage of SB11.

“Now that we have a stable source of revenue what should we do to proceed-that’s the big question,” Burgess said.

The hope is to restore operational needs but the “Council is going to have to come up with an idea on how to proceed,” Burgess said.

There also are capital improvement projects for Council to consider:

  • $300,000 for Canyon Rim Trail;
  • $1.07 million for a road project on Barranca Mesa;
  • $3.75 million for improvements to Diamond Drive;
  • $1.7 million for infrastructure on North Mesa;
  • $57,000 for parks small capital projects; and
  • $295,000 for information technology projects.

Burgess noted the budget also includes $18.9 million for previously approved projects that are proposed to be carried over into FY2020 including the $5.85 million kiddie pool.

 There is a long list of budget options for the Council to consider. Burgess explained he ranked them according to their importance.

Many of the high ranked items include supplies, training and overtime pay in different County departments that were cut in order to achieve the flat budget target.

Other budget options include:

  • $80,000 for the Public Health Office;
  • $250,000 for Atomic City Transit to add a weekend bus service that would travel from the White Rock Visitor Center to downtown Los Alamos; and
  • $16,000 to staff Fuller Lodge on weekends.

Although the final budget has not been set and approved, the new fiscal year is being approached with optimism.

“I’d rather be in this position than the one we were in last year,” Burgess said.