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On Wednesday, the Los Alamos Monitor published a story on my resignation from the White Rock Master Plan Implementation Committee. This story did a reasonable job of covering the major points of the disagreement between myself and some members of the county council.
However, I would like to elaborate on a few additional points; give my views on where the master plan goes from here; and, perhaps most important, publicly accept the olive branch that has been extended to me by Councilor Ron Selvage.
As your story stated, the bids for the White Rock Visitors Center came in considerably over what was originally budgeted. I think this came as a shock to everyone concerned. When our committee was told the results of the bidding for the construction contract, it got awfully quiet around our table for a few minutes.
The reasons why the bid was so much higher than expected will no doubt be thoroughly dissected over the coming weeks, as they should be.
The major disagreement between myself and some of the members of council was over whether the WRMPIC and county staff had deliberately underestimated the cost of the project when we submitted the original budget estimate, or had deliberately increased the scope of the project during its design phase, with the intention of coming back to council for a budget increase when the bids came back higher than original budget estimate.
I believe that we did no such thing, and that the project that went out for bid was substantially identical in scope with the project described in the original capital improvements application on which the budget allocation was based. It is true that county staff failed to include the gross receipts tax in this budget estimate, amounting to about an 6 percent error in the estimate, but I am satisfied that this was a human error rather than a deliberate omission.
I also believe that Councilor Selvage is as interested in making the best future for White Rock as our committee is, and that his conclusion that the project scope got out of hand was reached in good faith from his reading of the relevant documents.
Though I thought the original CIP application clearly laid out the scope of the project, it is possible there was some genuine ambiguity in the additional supporting documents describing the project. After I tendered my resignation, Councilor Selvage made an effort to engage with me on these issues, and I appreciate his willingness to do so and am satisfied with his own good faith.
Where to go from here? The original placeholder estimate for implementing the White Rock Master Plan, approved by council in June 2008, was $20 million. However, the costs of the N.M. 4 improvements came out to just over $6.7 million while the cost of the Visitors Center is going to be just over $3.3 million. That leaves less than $10 million for the White Rock Civic Complex, which in many respects is the most important of these three elements of the Master Plan.
I won’t venture to guess what its final costs will turn out to be, but based on recent painful experience, a cost of just $10 million seems too optimistic.
While I am disappointed that the original estimate of $20 million is not likely to hold up, I believe that implementing the White Rock Master Plan is still the right thing to do. Both the existing branch library and the existing senior center in White Rock are operating in old buildings and at full capacity, and they lack the facilities for expansions to their programs that the community would clearly welcome.
In particular, I have been told that the White Rock branch library has reached the point where there is no room to add new books to their collection without discarding a like number of older books. More to the point, relocating the library and senior center close to the new White Rock town center at Sherwood Boulevard and N.M. 4 is a key recommendation in the master plan.
My resignation letter protested the claim that the WRMPIC had acted in bad faith, but I also mentioned my long tenure as chair (three years now) as an additional reason for resigning. I fear that, having already twice gone to council for budget increases for elements of the master plan, I may lack the credibility with council necessary to successfully approach them again with an estimate for the civic complex. I also believe that the WRMPIC will benefit from some fresh perspectives among its members and fresh leadership from its new chair.
Finally, I fear that the role of WRMPIC as an advisory body to council will suffer if the WRMPIC comes to be seen as a lobbying group, so resigning from the WRMPIC will in some respects leave me freer to advocate for the master plan.
Finally, I’m no politician, and I rather hope the next time the public sees my name in the paper will be in my obituary!
Kent G. Budge
Former WRMPIC chair