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Community office gives an update

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LANL > Some Coalition members ask for return of funding mandate

By Arin McKenna

On Friday, the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities heard on update on the Los Alamos National Security (LANS) Community Commitment Plan (CCP) from Community Programs Office Deputy Director Carole Rutten.
Rutten’s presentation highlighted last year’s accomplishments.
Funding STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs is a major priority for CCP funding.
Last year, 60 STEM programs received $74 million, impacting more than 4,000 students and 341 teachers. Those programs were either coordinated by LANL or sponsored through other partners.
Two of the most successful programs were RoboRAVE, a robotics competition in its second year, and the Math and Science Academy.
This year’s RoboRAVE competition drew 1,480 students competing in 85 teams. Only 35 teams competed the first year.
The Math and Science Academy — a three-year program that helps teachers better understand and deliver math and science to their students−has graduated 1,440 participants.
The CCP also offers regional business support. In 2014, program results included:

• Assisting 713 companies and entrepreneurs.
• 735 jobs were created or sustained.
• $23.4 million was generated in salaries.
• $106.1 million in new financing.
•Providing four business resource trainings.

Also in 2014, the Venture Acceleration Fund invested $416,000 in 10 New Mexico Businesses and the Native American Venture Acceleration provided $150,000 to 12 companies in six pueblos.
The Community Programs Office also coordinates several programs focused on employee giving.
Last year 17.5 percent of LANL employees participated, pledging a record $2.17 million.
Volunteer hours also totaled 332,000 from 2,900 employees and retirees. LANS donated more than $170,000 to 225 nonprofits on behalf of those volunteers, based on the number of hours contributed to each organization.
The Los Alamos Employees Scholarship Fund raised $327,000, providing 73 northern New Mexico students with $419,500 in scholarships. This year’s recipients will be announced shortly.
Employees also donated 877 backpacks with school supplies and 234 shoe gift certificates to northern New Mexico students.
A community food drive provided 37,288 meals and the holiday gift drive collected 1,095 gifts for children and seniors.
According to LANS, it has committed to $2.5 million in funding for CCP in 2015.
Historically, that figure has been roughly $3 million, but the amount was reduced due to significantly lower fees paid to the partnership (composed of Bechtel National, University of California, the Babcock and Wilcox Company and URS Corporation) due to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant incident. Fees typically average $40−$60 million a year. Last year those totaled only $6 million.
Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales and Andrew Gonzales, Councilor for the Town of Taos, asked how funding for CCP was determined.
Government Affairs Office Director Patrick Woehrle explained that the process.
“When the federal government decides what we’ve earned in a given year, what our profit is for the corporation, that gets transferred to the board,” Woehrle said. “The board evaluates all their needs and determines their level of commitment.”
Funding for the CCP was a federal requirement until two years ago. Now that funding is entirely at the discretion of the LANS Board of Governors on a year-to-year basis. Woehrle noted that the board does take input from New Mexico’s congressional delegation and the Regional Coalition into consideration.
“So I guess without a federal mandate that they have to give back to the communities, this fund is at risk every year,” Andrew Gonzales said.
Gonzales argued that the Regional Coalition helps LANL achieve adequate funding by making the case for how that funding helps local communities, and that giving back to those communities should be mandated rather than optional.
“I’m saying $2.5 million on a $1.98 billion dollar operating budget is peanuts,” Gonzales said. “What I’m looking for is to really set something in stone, that doesn’t make this basically, ‘if we want to fund it we’ll fund it, if our profits are good enough.’ Because our kids are the ones that suffer. Backpacks are great, school supplies are great, but I’m talking about moving it to the next level. I’m appreciative of the employees that have given out of their own pockets to fund some of these programs. I just think there has to be more of a contribution from the profit in the contract.”
Gonzales acknowledged that programs such as the Venture Acceleration Fund are making a difference.
Rutten pointed out that the LANS money was intended to be seed money, with a goal of self-sustainability for all the programs. Rutten noted that she herself is on the sustainability committee for the Acceleration program and that it was on its way to achieving that.
“I’m totally committed to the Accelerate program,” Rutten said. “I’ve seen it work, I’ve seen it change lives and I’ve seen it open up opportunities for people. So we are right there in the trenches with them.”
Española Mayor Alice Lucero said that the board’s decision to fund community programs at $2.5 million despite a dramatic drop in revenues was “remarkable.”
“But if next year, it goes back to those high levels, maybe increase it somehow,” Lucero said. “We have so many needs, and $3 million does seem a little insignificant. However, it does go a long way.”
Jemez Pueblo Governor Joshua Madalena also noted how the Pueblo had directly benefited from CCP programs, but wanted to see more opportunities provided to local communities, such as programs that help youth to succeed at completing both primary and secondary education.
Rio Arriba County Commissioner Barney Trujillo agreed that local communities need more funding, but thanked Rutten for programs such as one that helps communities hire economic development directors, which he said “made a bit of difference” for Rio Arriba.
“I thank you for your efforts you’re putting forward in Rio Arriba County,” Trujillo said. “It’s instrumental in moving things forward with kids and businesses. It’s making a tremendous difference.”
Rutten’s presentation is available in the April 10 agenda packet at regionalcoalition.org.