Los Alamos County 2019 Year In Review

The setting sun casts a pastel hue to the clouds floating above the Municipal Building in downtown Los Alamos. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Los Alamos Daily Post

All in all 2019 was a productive year for Los Alamos County government. The County made advances in economic development, welcomed new faces into different leadership positions and set into motion several capital improvement projects for recreation.

Here are a few of the highlights:

2019 Welcomes In New Members To Los Alamos County Council

With the results of the November 2018 election finalized; James Robinson, Sara Scott, David Izraelevitz and Randall Ryti each earned a seat on the County Council and started their terms in January.

During the new council’s meeting Jan. 10, Scott was elected chair and Councilor Pete Sheehey vice chair. https://www.ladailypost.com/content/sara-scott-pete-sheehey-elected-council-leaders

Additionally, Barranca Elementary School teacher Katrina Martin was elected Jan. 29 to serve the remainder of Christine Chandler’s term. Chandler left the council following her election to serve as New Mexico Dist. 43 representative.  https://www.ladailypost.com/content/council-appoints-katrina-schmidt-fill-open-seat

Council Breaks Cycle Of Approving Flat Budgets

After several fiscal years of having to make tough decisions regarding Los Alamos County’s budget due to uncertainties with Los Alamos National Laboratory’s gross receipts tax, the County Council was able to break that cycle April 23. https://www.ladailypost.com/content/county-council-approves-1993-million-budget

The assurance that this revenue will be paid allowed the Council to not only approve every department’s budget but also most of their requested budget options. The council unanimously voted to approve the $199,328,646 budget.

The relief came when 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.

The assurance that this revenue will be paid to the County allowed the Council to not only approve every department’s budget but also most of their requested budget options.

Plus, it allowed to the Council to replenish funding in several areas:

  • Adding $300,000 to the $615,000 asked for by the County Manager’s Office for the Progress through Partnering program, funds which are utilized to benefit regional economic development initiatives.
  • Funding $1.5 million for local economic development programs and land/housing purchases.
  • Increasing the money the County provides to Los Alamos Public Schools for its capital improvement projects from $500,000 to $1 million. This will be an annual expenditure.

The council also approved a slate of capital improvement projects:

  • $5,120,000 for road reconstruction projects, which includes $3.75 million for Diamond Drive;
  • $5.85 million for a multigenerational pool and other recreational projects including the splash pad, improvements to the golf course and ice rink are in the final budget; and
  • Council also funded $200,000 for a design plan for improvements to Deacon Street. The project is scheduled for 2021.

Council Approves Land Grant For TNJLA LLC To Build Extended Stay Hotel And Conference Center

In a 5-2 vote, Los Alamos County Council approved Oct. 15 an ordinance adopting an economic development project for public support, which is a grant of 6 parcels of land totaling approximately 2.6 acres on 20th Street, to TNJLA LLC. The grant, valued at $1,825,000 and includes the value of the SmartHouse land, which appraised as vacant is $1,400,000. TNJLA LLC plans to build an 86-room extended-stay hotel on the land as well as a conference center that will accommodate between 250-300 people. https://www.ladailypost.com/content/council-approves-ordinance-grant-20th-street-parcels-new-hotel-conference-center-tnjla

The land grant was a controversial issue with many in the community pointing out the pros and cons.

During a regular council meeting Oct. 1, Councilor Randall Ryti said, “This project has a lot of pros and a lot of cons to it. The one thing that most concerns me is the unquantified detriment to the local businesses.”

He pointed out that a study commissioned in 2017 regarding the need for hotels in Los Alamos County predicted that there would be a decrease in occupancy for hotels.

Council Chair Sara Scott said she felt the land grant will be a benefit. She explained the County would grant the land because, “When the County relayed the long-standing interest in a conference center … the developer worked with the franchiser to obtain a waiver to allow the construction of a collocated conference center, developed a Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) proposal to help support the inclusion of a conference center in the project, and submitted it for review…”

She added that the expected return on the County’s investment would be about $3.5  million in taxes (this is the local portion of taxes only and estimated using comparison to similar businesses in the County), a conference center in the downtown area, and the operation and maintenance of the conference center.

County Welcomes New Faces In Department Leadership

Los Alamos County witnesses a few changes in its leadership during 2019. Department of Public Utilities Manager Tim Glasco officially retired July 12 and former Public Works Department Director Philo Shelton assumed management of the utilities department June 30. https://www.ladailypost.com/content/philo-shelton-begins-work-new-dpu-manager  Meanwhile, former County employee Anne Laurent returned to Los Alamos to be the Public Works director. https://www.ladailypost.com/content/new-los-alamos-county-public-works-director-anne-laurent-calls-return-homecoming

Shelton served as Public Works Director for seven years but he has had experience in public utilities. Previously he ran water and wastewater utilities in Steamboat Springs, Colo., for about five years. Before that, Shelton said he worked in Black Hawk, Colo., running its water system.

Additionally, Shelton said he earned a civil engineering degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, which focused on water treatment.

“I’ve always been interested in water,” Shelton said. “So, it was a great opportunity to get back to the water business.”

Laurent officially stepped into the Public Works Director position Nov. 4, but she isn’t really a newcomer. Previously, Laurent worked for seven years as one of the County administrators. She was the Community Economic director as well as Capital Projects and Facilities director. She left to work as the Community Development director in Park City, Utah for four years.

Laurent said she was interested in returning to Los Alamos because “I wanted to make a difference.”

Recreation Capital Improvement Projects Get Kicked Off

Design plans for the new splash pad and kiddie pool were unveiled to the community this year along with the plans for improving the ice rink and golf course. https://www.ladailypost.com/content/parks-and-recreation-board-updated-cips

These recreational capital improvement projects (CIP) had a roller coaster start. It began with a contentious bond election, which ultimately failed to pass, then council approved CIP funds for these recreation projects but work was halted on them due to budget concerns.

Now, actual construction on many of these projects are expected to begin this year.

Ice Rink
The configuration was developed for the ice rink’s locker rooms as well as the restrooms. Additionally, a building profile for the rink’s exterior was created along with structural provisions to accommodate a future potential observation deck—a request made at a public meeting.

The Planning and Zoning Commission approved a site plan amendment for the new, expanded locker room facility. The square footage will increase from 700 square feet to 2,300 square feet.

Golf Course

The improvements planned for the golf course include the irrigation system. There will be about 1,440 sprinklers in the entire system. The entire turf edge will be surrounded by park service sprinklers, which allows the water to be targeted solely on the grass and not areas that don’t need water. 

Additionally, the control system will be computerized. This computer will be able to interact with sensors, which monitor temperature, humidity, wind and solar radiation. As a result, the control system will be able to accurately calculate how much water is needed and self-adjust to provide the correct amount.

Kiddie/Multigenerational Pool
The kiddie pool will be a new addition to the Larry R. Walkup Aquatic Center.

The project will feature the following:

  • 2,000 square foot zero-entry pool with spray features, lazy river and an area for swim lessons;
  • 19-foot tower slide;
  • Three family changing rooms; and
  • Pool support such as mechanical, chemical storage and electrical rooms.

Splash Pad
The splash pad also is taking shape. It will be located near Pinon Park in White Rock.

The size of the pad will be 1,270 square feet. The project will offer a mix a science and nature themed water features. It will also operate on a flow-through water system.

Besides the water feature there will be some seating such as a wall made from refurbished concrete of the old shuffleboard pads. Plus, large umbrellas will be used to give shade.