Recreation Projects & Bond Election Update: Where We’ve Been & Where We’re Going

 
By Susan O’Leary
Vice Chair, County Council

At its Dec. 20 meeting, the Los Alamos County Council will vote on a list of recreation projects to include in a prospective bond election that is targeted for May, 2017.

The projects involve a combination of improvements to existing facilities and new facilities. They include a Recreation Center with gymnasium space; an indoor 6-month-a-year ice sheet for hockey and skating; a leisure multi-generational pool; a splash pad; enhancements to the golf course; additional tennis courts; upgrades to ball fields; and improvements to our existing outdoor ice rink. Detailed information on the projects can be found at: https://losalamosbondprojects2017.com/.

This election will give Los Alamos the opportunity to decide, through a mail-in vote, whether to authorize funding for these investments in recreation infrastructure through an increase in property taxes. This is the first of a series of articles I’ll share over the coming weeks to highlight information about the process, the recreation projects, and the funding sources. As a caveat, I’m speaking only as an individual County Councilor and not on behalf of the entire County Council.

This process began in October, 2015 when the County Council held a Town Hall Forum to hear from citizens about your preferences for future investment options for the County’s capital improvement funds. The County has about $14 million in capital improvement funds earmarked and available for investment in major facilities to broadly benefit our community. This is the same funding source that paid for past county investments like the new Municipal Building, the Pajarito Cliffs county building, cleanup of the Trinity Site where the new Smith’s Marketplace is located, utilities for the new housing development at A-19 in White Rock, the Teen Center and the new White Rock Senior Center and Library.

At its October 2015 meeting, the County Council heard strong endorsement for projects that both improve existing recreation facilities and address significant gaps in our portfolio of recreation facilities. The citizen turnout was tremendous, and to follow up the County Council held seven additional Town Hall Meetings in January and February, 2016 to develop and review options. These meetings were all well attended by citizens.

At the end of this process, on March, 1, 2016, the County Council identified 11 prospective recreation projects for funding consideration, with funding to come from a combination of available capital improvement funds and a target $20 million in bond proceeds to be raised if approved by the voters. The County Council also approved consideration for several non-recreation economic development initiatives.

However, there are so many worthy recreation projects with significant public support that the County Council decided to give the community the option of funding a number of these projects through a relatively modest increase in property taxes.

If Los Alamos County voters approve of this approach, combining capital improvements funding with bond proceeds, we can have these recreation improvements available for use within a few years, rather than taking decades to fund projects sequentially. Many of us also believe that this kind of infusion of recreation amenities supports other County goals like supporting the Laboratory’s recruitment and retention by making Los Alamos an even better place to live.

In the spring, to move this process forward, the County Manager hired a consulting firm that specializes in recreation facilities to develop cost estimates for each of the 11 projects. The process of producing cost estimates generated clearer scope for the individual projects. A number of public-input town hall sessions, user group meetings,and public County Council meetings were held over the summer and fallto gather more feedback on the refined projects.

At its Nov. 29, 2016 meeting, the County Council received the most current cost estimates for the projects, for a list that has now been culled down to eight individual projects. The County Council selected a site on DP Road for a potential recreation center with two gymnasiums for activities like basketball, volleyball, pickle ball, indoor soccer, and classrooms for activities like martial arts and yoga.

The site also would have room for a potential indoor ice rink that would provide reliable ice during six months out of the year to support hockey and figure skating, with the space configured for roller derby, roller hockey and other gymnasium activities during the non-ice months. This site was selected because of its convenience for both White Rock and Town Site residents; and because of the ancillary benefits to the local business community from bringing more people into the downtown area.

On Dec. 20, the County Council will make final decisions about the projects that will be included in the bond election. That meeting will bring this phase of the process to a close and move us to the next phase of preparing for the bond election. Once there is a final project list, we can focus on communicating with you all to share how each of the projects will benefit the community.

Then, it will be up to Los Alamos County voters to decidehow to move forward by either approving or rejecting the bond to raise funding for these projects.

We’ve been through a long, open and deliberative process to develop the options in front of us now. The County staff, the representatives from community recreation organizations, and other community members have made a major investment of their time and guidance to ensure that we all appropriately understand the benefits and costs of each project.

In my next article, I’ll talk more about why recreation upgrades are the right choice for today.

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