O’Leary: Time For A Recreation Bond In Los Alamos

Editor’s note: Discussion on whether to hold a recreation bond election in November 2016 is on this evening’s County Council agenda. Following is a column by County Councilor Susan O’Leary on this issue published in the September edition of the Los Alamos Daily Post.
Los Alamos County Councilor

As an opening position, I’ll start by saying that Los Alamos is a very nice place to live with tremendous potential to become an absolutely fantastic place to live. Given citizen engagement and our region’s physical and historical attributes, Los Alamos can and should surpass neighboring communities like Taos and the ski towns in Colorado in terms of recreation and downtown amenities.

We’re on the cusp of seizing opportunities to make this happen; and it’s reasonable to think we’re going to have to spend some money in a prudent and targeted way to achieve a noticeable improvement in how nice the community is.

The Los Alamos County Council is in the process of developing a 2017 Capital Improvement Plan. As part of the process the Council is evaluating existing facility, infrastructure, and quality of life needs and opportunities; and is weighing those needs and opportunities against the $14 million or so we have in cash on hand.

Based on what I learned while campaigning for the Council and on what I’ve learned serving as a Council member, the most consistent and reasonable complaints I’ve heard involve the inadequacy of our recreational facilities and the many blighted areas in our community. At least addressing the first point, there are a number of recreational proposals under consideration in our Capital Improvement Plan. 

I’m interested in taking a proactive approach to this opportunity, and based on public comments, it seems that many other citizens and several other members of the Council may be interested in leveraging the opportunity to address our recreation needs in a way that also raises our community’s standing as a fantastic place to live.

Prior to Thursday’s Council Work session on the Capital Improvement Plan, I developed a Project Recommendation for a new multi-sport, multi-purpose Recreation Center, (click here to see proposal), that I’ve already shared with many people in our community. 

My suggestion called for a leisure pool, indoor basketball and soccer courts, and a modern ice rink – things that would supplement existing community-based offerings from the YMCA and others.  I also called for the County to look closely at how other local governments have partnered with community-based groups to successfully complete and operate similar projects; and I provided several specific examples of successes of this kind in other communities.

My proposal involved using some of the Capital Improvement funding that’s currently available to conduct a needs assessment and facility design for a Rec Facility, going to the voters in the November 2016 election for a bond approval to move forward on this ambitious project.

After Thursday’s public hearing on the issue, I’m even more excited and even more strongly committed to going bigger and broader on this idea. I favor expanding the bond issue to cover recreational improvements including novice and intermediate mountain bike trails, upgrades to our softball fields, completion of irrigation improvements at the golf course, and a tennis facility with at least some year-round courts. 

In my original proposal, I talked about the tight linkages between improving our recreation program and the County’s strategic goals. I believe this initiative will help Lab recruiting and retention; it will support our community’s children, families, and senior citizens; and it will support our tourism development efforts as we move toward becoming the Durango of the Jemez Mountains. If we’re smart, and we also use the construction of these new facilities to renew blighted areas, this initiative can also have a dramatic impact on the appearance and vitality of our town; on property values across the board; and on our broader strategic and development goals as a community.

One of the most frequent complaints I hear as a Council Member is that other communities in our region have fabulous recreational facilities, while we clearly do not.  Apparently, because of their economic circumstances some of these communities qualify for large recreational grants that are not available to us because we’re an affluent community. To me, that doesn’t mean that our families should go without amenities that poorer communities have; it just means that we need to pay for them, as our community can well afford to do. I’m aware that our community has a long history of getting things for free from the federal government, but I believe this is a situation where we need to step up and fend for ourselves.  

Regarding the specifics, I’m not wedded to any of the details of my proposal or the specifics of other proposals that have been put forward; but I’m completely committed to the concept. I know we have a dedicated band of naysayers in our community who will be forming up to say that our town doesn’t need to be nicer, and doesn’t need more amenities. 

My answer is that it’s not about need, it’s about want; and not just selfish want.  In our family, we’re not skaters or hockey players, and we haven’t really been bitten by the mountain biking bug yet, but we want to see the whole suite of mountain town amenities here; to benefit our friends and neighbors, to build the benefits that come with a tourist destination, to raise our property values, and to tidy up our community.

When the last vote on the leisure pool bond was taken in an off-cycle special election, the naysayers turned out in force and sunk the proposal. This time, I’d like to see the bond vote taken on the same ballot as the 2016 Presidential Election, so we can get the whole community involved in the decision.

Over the coming weeks, I look forward a robust public discussion about this opportunity. I hope to see a broad coalition emerge to develop and support a package of improvements that will deliver a big step forward in recreational amenities and community renewal. I hope to see a civil, respectful debate on this opportunity between those who support these improvements and those who oppose spending to improve the community. I’m sure there will be reasonable, well-intentioned people on both sides of the question and Los Alamos will be very well served by a spirited, respectful public airing of the issues involved.


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