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Faced with an estimated $9.5 million shortfall in projected revenues for FY2013 and with further budget contractions anticipated for upcoming years, the Los Alamos County Council voted to defer as much as $12.5 million in capital improvement project spending for up to four years.
The decision was made during mid-year budget hearings. On Tuesday, council makes the tough choices about which projects to put on hold.
The hearing takes place at 7 p.m. in council chambers. The format calls for staff presentations followed by councilor clarifying questions, with public comment after that. Each individual will have up to three minutes to address council.
Council will then review the input and vote to adopt the revised list of projects.
The projects that may be affected were all approved in 2012. They are Ashley Pond Park Improvements, Teen Center, Nature Center, Eastern Area Sound Wall, Golf Course Improvements, White Rock Civic Center, Canyon Rim Trail and Ice Rink Improvements.
Council’s decision on Tuesday is simply to prioritize when projects move forward. Projects will not be revisited for a reduction/change in scope of work.
All the projects align with one or more of council’s strategic goals and improve the quality of life for Los Alamos residents. All have supporters within the community. Weighing those elements may be like pitting apples against oranges.
County staff has compiled a list of more specific criteria that may help council arrive at a decision. The criteria includes project cost, impacts of deferral (i.e. increased construction costs, programmatic needs), project schedule, whether health and safety or compliance issues are at stake and projected operational expenses. Residents can view the criteria in the agenda documentation on the county website.
An examination of the chart reveals just how difficult council’s decision may be. Councilors must weigh variables such as the relatively low cost of a new nature center ($4,420,000) versus the $11,359,224 price tag for golf course improvements, already scheduled to be phased in over four years.
The nature center will serve the county as well as visitors. It also provides educational programming. The golf course serves a relatively small population of golfers and visitors, but the improvements address some serious safety issues. The cost of deferring that project is also estimated to be $200,000, versus $88,400 if the nature center is deferred.
Improvements to Ashley Pond Park ($2,351,472) and the ice rink ($1,522,000) also address safety issues.
The water quality of Ashley Pond is a health and safety concern, and the design also brings the park into ADA compliance through improvements to walkways and sidewalks.
The ice rink serves a relatively small population of skaters, hockey players, Bear Camp and some visitors, but the improvements are also needed to bring the facility into Title IX compliance. The project is currently in the FY2014 budget.
The price tag for deferring either of those projects is moderate: $47,000 for Ashley Pond Park and $30,400 for the ice rink.
The project with the highest price tag for deferred costs other than the golf course is the White Rock Civic Center. Staff estimates that deferring the $8.6 million project will cost the county $172,000. The project includes a new library and renovations to the Youth Activity Center and Senior Center, and helps serve both educational needs and essential routine services and supporting infrastructure.
Council must also weigh how much operating costs for each of these projects will increase budgetary needs in upcoming years. The White Rock Civic Center will add as much as $180,000 a year, the golf course and nature center are each estimated to cost $140,000. Ashley Pond Park will cost just $60,000 to maintain.
The teen center would have the highest operating costs, at $190,000, but the cost of the project itself is $4,150,000. The center offers routine services to teens and their families and provides a safe environment for youth.
The two projects with the lowest price tag are the Eastern Area sound wall and an extension to the Canyon Rim Trail. The sound wall is a $655,000 project with estimated operating costs of $5,000. It addresses a sound nuisance for residents of that area. The trail extension is budgeted at $500,000 with $20,000 of operational costs. The project is currently in the FY2014 budget.
Council also will weigh public input. At the time the staff report was published, 120 residents had sent emails. Of those, 41 supported the nature center, 25 backed the teen center and Ashley Pond Park had 21 supporters. Ten wrote in support of the golf course and nine were behind the White Rock Civic Center. The ice rink received three emails, the Canyon Rim Trail had two and the Eastern Area sound wall received one.
All eight project teams were asked to submit written comments to the council in advance of the Feb. 19 meeting, stating the reasons they believe their project should proceed this year.
Council is also encouraging citizens to email their comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.