$20M for White Rock?

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By Marganne Glasser

Chief Financial Officer Steven Lynne came to the Los Alamos County Council meeting Monday with a request to spend $1 million over two years on design work for the White Rock Economic Development plan, and left with a directive to find $20 million to fund construction as soon as possible.

Councilor Ken Milder said that if only design work were funded, it would signal that the county was not serious and might not get many bids.

Dennis Erickson of the White Rock Economic Development Steering Committee initially requested $3.5-$4.5 million from council to start the project with infrastructure improvements on N.M. 4, Sherwood Boulevard and gateway arches.

Councilor Fran Berting proposed the motion for a long-term allocation of $20 million over 10 years.

“We need to indicate that we seriously intend to go beyond conceptual design, that this is definitely going to proceed,” she said. “We would be seriously remiss if we did not indicate to White Rock that we intend to do it, and follow through.”

“I don’t think pulling numbers out of the air is going to help us,” said Councilor Mike Wheeler.

“We have a new process, I think we should follow that process,” said Councilor Nona Bowman. “I like having the design and a cost estimate we can rely on.”

“A conceptual design of exactly what?” asked Council Vice chair Robert Gibson. ”A single project, or a series of projects?”

Earlier in the meeting, speaking on the subject of downtown parking, Lynne reminded the council that allocating funds before the design process was complete “hasn’t served us well in terms of managing staff, council or public expectations.”

He reminded the council that there are $35 million of unprogrammed funds over 10 years. “Twenty million dollars would use up most of that and not leave much flexibility for other needs,” said Lynne.

Council Chair Jim Hall said there was a disconnect in the budgeting process between the long term financial planning and the CIP budget. He said that there had been “precious little investment” in White Rock, and that White Rock plan needs private capital.

“Unless we lay out that we’re going to put in the long range plan some money for White Rock, it is not going to happen,”  Wheeler said.

“The budget is a logistical suggestion,” Lynne said, “It is a very complex balancing of the size of a project, the complexity of financing, and the size, variety, needs and desires of the citizens.”

Lynne said the county budget strives for fiscally feasible and manageable plans. “There’s not $20 million available in 2010,” continued Lynne. “In 10 years, it is not fiscally possible to do everything on the list, nor do we have the staff capacity.”

“We have to find that money,” said Berting.

“We’re going to be forced to do some prioritizing, which is what we’re here for,” said Gibson.

Berting’s motion for $20 million over 10 years passed 4-to-2 with Gibson and Milder opposed. West was present earlier by phone, but absent at the time of the vote.

“I just can’t support pulling out these numbers and using them for a strategic plan when it’s not clear whether we’ve considered other strategic goals that might take priority,” said Gibson.

“We at least have a strategic directive,” said Hall.

In other business, the council turned down a request for $9.7 million for demolition of the Trinity Site until the 60-percent design phase is achieved.

The judicial/police/jail complex budget of $20.2 million was increased by $8.3 million.

The council declined to add $7 million to the Municipal Building project until after site selection and design changes are approved.

Council approved $1.1 million for the Central Avenue Streetscape/ Pedestrian Crossing project.

The council added $10 million to the long-range potential projects list to replace Fire Station 4 on Diamond Drive. County Administrator Max Baker said that structural problems would require replacing the station within 10 years.

“This is an unrealistic agenda,” said Gibson of the planned spending.

“We’ve committed to spending a lot more money than we have,” said Berting.

Councilors deferred discussion of the CIP process, designed to “establish a predictable and systematic process for the proposal, review, budgeting and approval of all new CIP projects.”

The council resumes its regular business at 7 p.m. today at the Community Building.