Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess presented the annual “State of the County” address at the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfast Thursday at UNM-Los Alamos.
His talk comes in conjunction with the release of the County’s 2018 Annual Report.
Burgess called 2018 “an eventful year”. Nervousness over the fate of gross receipts taxes from Los Alamos National Laboratory if Triad, the company that took over managing the Lab this year, should apply for nonprofit status put capital projects, such as a kiddie pool on hold. The County stands to lose more than a third of its budget if gross receipts taxes from LANL were to disappear, Burgess said.
Audience members listen Thursday as County Manager Harry Burgess delivers his annual ‘State of the County’ address at UNM-LA. Photo by Bonnie J.Gordon/ladailypost.com
LANL’s gross receipts taxes account for around $20 million annually. The County budget is around $50 million, he said.
Legislation passed last year and vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez would have paved the way to tax national laboratories in the state, whatever their status. That bill is back in the current session and was just passed out of committee, Burgess said.
“We have a flat budget this year,” Burgess said. “We’re playing a wait and see game.”
On a happier note, Burgess pointed to progress on housing needs in the County.
“Housing has been a big focus,” he said. “Council has a goal to increase our population to 20,000.”
Burgess explained that 20,000 is a “magic number” for businesses looking to locate in a town. Population in Los Alamos has been held back by lack of housing, especially affordable housing, he said.
In addition to the Mirador Project in White Rock, which will add 160 homes and 61 apartments, a new affordable housing project on DP Road will add 70 units by January 2020.
In addition, the County has created a loan program to remodel existing dwellings. There also is a home buyers program for low income individuals, Burgess said.
The town’s economic outlook is good, he said. Retail tax receipts increased by 9 percent in 2018 and by 40 percent over the past five years. Burgess pointed to a number of new businesses that opened in 2018.
“Commercial growth is expanding and that’s good news,” Burgess said.
Though budget uncertainties are blocking some projects, the County is working on improved signage on both trails and streets.
“The new airport fence is a great way to upgrade the entrance to town and improve airport safety,” Burgess said.
The long awaited State Highway Department roundabout project at Trinity Drive and DP Road is scheduled to get underway March 4.
“We’re meeting with the State to make sure there are two lanes of traffic at peak times,” Burgess said. “We will be a conduit between the State and the community when issues arise.”
Decisions are still to be made on what to do with the County’s property on DP Road, which was part of a land transfer with LANL. There’s a need for cleanup because of the site’s former use by the Laboratory, Burgess said.
Burgess said the County continues to work on improving its transit system. This year, the bus system began the “Buzz Bus” program to serve customers who may have over-indulged at special events, he said.
The County’s Environmental Sustainability Board and the Environmental Sustainability Division came up with and implemented a new yard waste plan in 2018, which has diverted 15 percent of the waste stream to compost manufacture, Burgess said. Since the County trucks its trash to Sandoval County, “anything we don’t have to haul saves us money.”
The County continues to promote its branding efforts.
“We’re not worrying about copyrights,” Burgess said. “We want to get the word out.”
Another new amenity added in 2018 is the columbarium at Guaje Pines Cemetery. The vault can hold up to 160 “cremains” (cremated remains of people).
Local resident Vernon Kerr was the person who suggested the project and also the first one to purchase a vault, Burgess said.
The Los Alamos Police Department achieved international accreditation in 2018, making Los Alamos the only community in the state to have both a fire and police department that are internationally accredited.
Burgess pointed to the collaboration with Los Alamos Public Schools to renovate the Duane Smith Auditorium as another success of 2018. Another was the successful updating of the County’s financial software, which rolled out smoothly in July.
Burgess said he is looking forward to an end to the uncertainty around LANL’s gross receipts tax so new projects can be considered. He concluded his talk saying, “Service is our number one priority … my door is always open to you.”