O’Leary: Time For $30 Million In Recreation Development

Los Alamos County Council Vice Chair Susan O’Leary during an interview at the Los Alamos Daily Post. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com


By Susan O’Leary, Vice Chair
Los Alamos County Council

Over the past several weeks, the County Council advertised and held seven listening sessions to hear from the community about ideas for Capital Improvement Project spending. 

The sessions were very well attended, and we heard ideas from citizens ranging from elementary school students to seniors. Most what we heard was passion; passion for our community and for the activities and organizations that make it a special place to live.

While I appreciate that it was mostly the advocates for specific projects that came out, the response was still widespread and resounding in favor of taking some big steps to enhance our community’s recreational profile. 

Now the Council is moving to the next phase in which we’ll come to a position on how much we should spend and what we should spend it on. To try to get a sense of where the Council should settle on this question, I asked County staff for a list of all the Capital Investment Projects going back as far as they could easily retrieve the data. (See chart at bottom of story

The data shows that since 2005, when the tax revenue from the Lab started to grow, the County has spent $206 million on Capital Improvement Projects. I did a simple exercise of dividing the projects into four categories:

  • Public Infrastructure (roads, sidewalks);
  • County Government Self-Spending (Municipal building, Fire Stations, Justice Center, IT);
  • Quality of Life (Library, parks, Ashley Pond, public art); and
  • Recreation (trails, stable improvements, skate park, Sullivan field). The only item I split on my list was the Golf Course Clubhouse, which I split between Recreation and Quality of Life because so many non-golfers love and use the facility. 

For the period from 2005 – 2015, this is what the data looks like:

Public Infrastructure



County’s Gov. Infrastructure

$  68,747,940


Quality of Life

$  12,345,692



$    6,870,578





Doing that simple exercise was a big eye opener for me. What the numbers say to me is that the County has paid strong attention to providing the community with improved basic infrastructure; to promoting economic development with infrastructure upgrades; and has been on a pretty strong push to upgrade the facilities the County uses to run its own operations. However,quality of life and recreation amenities, things that matter a lot to the typical family, have been quite thin beneficiaries of this spending. 

Now, I understand that infrastructure needs sometimes have to be addressed in a cyclical fashion to deal with pressing priorities. And, I’ll accept that the County’s own buildings and our roads needed some attention over the past decade. But having gone through the recent public hearings and looking at the data, I’ve come to the firm position that we’ve had a pretty good run of spending on roads and on the County government’s needs; now is the time in the cycle to make a big investment in recreation.   

I kept careful notes throughout the public hearings, and my running list is that we can achieve a tremendous array of improvements with the resources available to us. By my count, we can build the long overdue leisure pool, a major modern skate and hockey facility, multi-purpose indoor gymnasiums, upgrades to our ball fields, an expansion of our tennis facilities, strategic access improvements to our outstanding mountain biking trail system, splash pads, and of course the badly needed irrigation and turf enhancement to our golf course. 

With $14 million in cash in the Capital Improvement Project fund and $28 million available to us in bond funding, I’m proposing that we draw $30 million in some combination from those two sources to rapidly transform our community into the high altitude recreation destination it can be; while at the same time providing our citizens with dramatically improved recreational opportunities and serving our most important economic stakeholder by supporting Lab recruiting and retention. 

Let me be clear, by using bond funding on even a portion of this proposal, we’d be purposefully bringing this whole proposal to an up or down vote by all county voters. I’m convinced of the value of this project; and having the voters decide an issue this big at the ballot box is exactly the right way to go. Let’s let the voters decide whether they want to spend $15-$20 more a month in property taxes to have modern, multi-sport recreation facilities.

It’s also time to think of recreation as Economic Development. There’s a major flow of tourists through Santa Fe and Taos now. Our three National Parks can help us tap into that flow to support our hotels, restaurants, and retail; but a major investment in recreational facilities can further leverage that draw, bringing more skiers, bikers, hikers, and especially tournament athletes of all ages. 

Recreational projects that serve our community have taken a back seat for too long, and now is the time to act. By settling on a $30 million top-line number for these projects at our March 1 meeting, the Council will be starting a process of review and analysis to look at things like firm costs and associated operating cost. Those are questions to be addressed and issues to be faced; not reasons to stop the analysis before we have started. 

I confess; the community’s enthusiasm for these projects is contagious, and I’m fully committed to moving forward and doing as many of these projects as quickly as we can. Please join me in urging the other Council members to step forward and grasp this big opportunity.