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The pace was swift and the atmosphere cordial at the candidate forum co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women Wednesday evening.
Community members filled the chairs and lined the walls of Fuller Lodge to hear the five candidates vying for three county council seats express their positions on a multitude of issues during the two-hour event.
“With three minutes and a microphone in my hand I’m used to a cloudy night club and not used to seeing people sober,” said Democrat Manuel Baca. He’s running to represent everyone, he said, regardless of age, ethnicity, or social status.
Republican Sharon Stover briefed the audience on her background growing up in her family’s restaurant in Pojaque, working for the county, serving on county council prior to the Cerro Grande Fire and co-founding community organizations. “Since leaving the council to spend time with my family, I’ve not quit accomplishing for the community I’ve grown to love,” she said.
Republican Vincent Chiravalle moved to Los Alamos in 2003. He is treasurer of the local Republican Party and president of his homeowners association. “Los Alamos is a special place and I want to keep it that way,” he said.
Democrat Ken Milder seeks to continue work identified when he was elected to council four years ago, he said, including the White Rock Economic Development Plan. “I’d like to stay on council to see that plan implemented,” he said. “I love this town and I love the public service.”
Michael Wismer served on council during the four years ending in 2006. He is the only independent candidate in the race. “Most of the decisions you make on council are made individually and aren’t tied to a specific party,” he said.
Wismer responded to the evening’s first question, which related to Capital Improvement Projects (CIP), given the current economic crisis and the impact it may have on Los Alamos National Laboratory and its Gross Receipts Tax contributions to the county.
The total expenditures for the FY09 adopted budget are $184.3 million while the total revenues are projected to be $176.5 million, Wismer said. “This delta clearly indicates future councils must prioritize and scrutinize projects,” he said, adding that critical infrastructure-related projects should take priority followed by economic development.
The county received $20 million in GRT from the laboratory in 2007, and Milder said that county council expects that LANL will find ways to decrease its GRT contributions in the future and is re-investing now in economic development.
We can no longer count on the lab to be the big money maker for Los Alamos,
Baca said. "We need to increase our own economic growth and the way to do that is by increasing our retail and keep our money from going to Santa Fe.”
Chiravalle believes the county can fix its aging infrastructure while living within its means, he said. His top priority would be repairing the electrical wiring throughout the county. He also said the county spent an inordinate amount of money on the Hill in recent years. “I would like to see $3 million in the budget for 2010 to start the White Rock Economic Development Plan.”
Stover explained that there are currently more than 30 projects in the county’s CIP. “As funding fluctuates, the county will have to look at its projects and we’ll have to adjust our priorities,” she said.
In what role the county can play in promoting education and helping the schools with financial needs? Milder said the schools do not benefit from the GRT. At the initiative of council, he said, they formed a joint committee to assess the needs of the schools. “But we can’t just write a blank check – there are state laws to be considered,” he said.
Regarding Trinity Site and what to do if the Boyer Company pulls out - most councilors remained positive saying they have faith that the developer will see the project through to completion.
Chiravalle indicated a better deal could be made with Boyer to have them pay towards clearing the land.
The candidates agreed that the bypass road project should be dropped and the money allocated before it’s spent elsewhere. “I want to put this nicely – we got hosed – we got taken by DOE on that project,” Stover said. “I don’t know how many political chits were used, there are sealed documents...”
She and Baca spoke of at times having to knock on guard shack windows to wake up or get the attention of guards.
“I think the bypass road is a phenomenal waste of money,” Baca said. “As Sharon said, ‘sometimes you have to knock on the window to get their attention’...tell them, OK turn off the DVD or put the Playboy down,” Baca said.
Chiravalle would not support the bypass to begin with, he said, and would not support any budget overage, “We have to hold the line on budgets...I would have the budget for the Municipal Building stay at $15 million.”
All the candidates advocate green building. Milder indicated the county now has a minimum Silver LEED requirement for all new structures measuring more than 4,000 square feet.
Additional answers to questions posed to the candidates regarding issues facing the community can be found on the League’s website at www.lwvlosalamos.org. KRSN broadcast the forum, which can be seen in its entirety on PAC-8 through election day on Nov. 4.
At the start of Wednesday’s forum, unopposed candidates were invited to make short statements introducing themselves to the audience. Republican Jeannette Wallace is running for re-election in District 43 to the New Mexico House of Representatives.
Democrat Mary Pat Kraemer is seeking re-election as Los Alamos County Clerk. Democrat Angela Spence Pacheco is the presumptive district attorney.
Running against Republican Jerome Block for a seat on the Public Regulation Commission, Democrat Rick Lass introduced himself. Block did not attend the forum.
The three senators representing various portions of Los Alamos County, Carlos Cisneros - District 6, Phil Griego - District 39, and Richard Martinez - District 5, also did not attend.
2008 Voters Guide
The League of Women Voters of New Mexico and/or the League of Women Voters of Los Alamos sent questionnaires to candidates for the 2008 General Election who are running in contested races, or running for retention as judges. Candidates in uncontested races were not surveyed, but the names and parties of all candidates who will appear on the ballot are listed in the Voters Guide.
The Voter’s guide will be inserted in the Sunday edition of the Monitor. To access the on-line version go to www.lwvlosalamos.org.