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The council made the right decision, given the current financial crisis, not to raise our sewer rates at this time. Salary raises are delayed, property taxes are higher, and many empty homes are waiting for better times. Our utilities, however, face a predicament. The White Rock sewage plant needs replacement. The utilities customer base is small and is unlikely to expand soon, and, in addition, we are using less water because of already high prices. Under these circumstances sewer rates must eventually rise.
It was commented at the council meeting on June 9 that the county’s general fund has over $30,000,000.00, more than enough for new sewage treatment plant. The Utilities and the county council are operating within the framework of our existing charter, which appropriately says that our utilities are separate in budget from our county. In other words, money from the county’s general fund cannot be transferred directly to the utilities. We have a dilemma of funds that needs a solution.
A nonprofit citizen group, the Los Alamos Governmental Review Initiative which formed last August, has been studying the framework of our county government as a means for addressing such issues. The Charter of the Incorporated County of Los Alamos turned 40 this past January. The writers of the Charter worked in a cold-war era Los Alamos that had a growing population and a true housing shortage. Today we appreciate the history and work that made a successful community and the process that allowed for a charter form of government. We must also appreciate that our charter allows for change when we understand a need for it. Might the council be able to set up an endowment fund for utilities, for example, if there were provisions made for it in the Charter?
We hope that the Council will look at the framework of our government and the historical discussions and debates held at its inception to find solutions to such issues. Our organization is seeking a more participatory local government with improved checks and balances. We believe that through the efforts of citizens and government working together, our community can support an excellent infrastructure and quality of life for all. Los Alamos has innumerable cultural, educational, social and recreational opportunities, but we still need more citizen participation in the home rule of our unique city/county to protect and increase these advantages.