Letter To The Editor: Los Alamos County Is Unique – Not Comparable To Taos Or Roswell

By Concerned County Employee (not in management),
and long-term Los Alamos County Citizen

As a county employee, I am unwilling to identify myself on this topic, however, I feel compelled to write this letter, because I feel John Arrowsmith’s Feb. 1 letter made some points that require context.

First, I have not checked, nor do I dispute any facts, which Arrowsmith cited in his letter, namely that the cost for Los Alamos County’s administrative services in 2015 was $10.9 million, while Taos was $2.2 million and Carlsbad was $6.2 million. I also want to acknowledge that John did say, “there may be very good reasons for Los Alamos’ high relative costs.”

I do, however, question the validity of Arrowsmith’s comparison. Los Alamos County is unique in New Mexico, and beyond in a few ways. First, we are a combined city/county government. This brings with it overhead costs that other counties or municipalities don’t carry, and it provides efficiencies that they can’t realize. Comparing Los Alamos County Government to another city or to another county is simply not a valid comparison.

Los Alamos County offers a variety of services, which other local governments don’t offer. It can be argued that maybe these services should be downgraded, however, repeatedly, voters have supported a continuation of services at current levels. This includes a unified utilities service for gas, water, electricity, and sewer; solid waste collection and management; recreation services, including an Olympic sized swimming pool, numerous athletic fields, trails and bike paths, picnic areas, etc.; a well staffed police force and jail facility, which keeps crime low; a well staffed and equipped fire department; a well staffed and equipped snow removal team; etc.

All of these staff and services are supported by Los Alamos’ finance, purchasing, information and technology, and human resources divisions. This is not the case in other localities, where utilities services are provided through a third party, where snow removal isn’t as well staffed or managed as in Los Alamos, where crime isn’t as low as it is in Los Alamos.

Additionally, in an effort to create further efficiency, Los Alamos’ budgets for training, enterprise software, and other county-wide services are all recorded in our administrative services department, so while it is true that our administrative services looks comparatively large on paper, it isn’t valid to compare that budget to other local governments, who likely don’t offer the same quantity and quality of services that Los Alamos County does, and who don’t lump all county-wide internal support into one department’s budget, but rather let each division account for it’s own share of those administrative costs.