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In a move that reaffirms the Los Alamos County Council’s determination to backstop local schools, the council voted unanimously to approve a request from the Los Alamos Public Schools for financial support to develop its A-15 tract along DP Road.
LAPS requested $51,700 to bring water and electricity to the parcel to make it attractive as lease property or for a land swap. LAPS Assets Manager Joan Ahlers estimates the improvements to the property will yield $5,400 to potentially $35,000 a year in additional revenue for the district.
Leasing is one of the few options schools have for raising income for operational costs and salaries without reducing their share of the state’s funding formula.
Likewise, capital improvements are one of the county’s few means of benefiting the schools without affecting that formula.
The request is in alignment with council’s 2008 resolution to provide financial support for public schools. Deputy County Administrator/Chief Financial Officer Steven Lynne also noted that the county has a placeholder of $1.5 million within the Capital Improvement Project Fund for public schools partnership projects, which will serve as the pool of funds for the grant.
The Department of Energy donated the tract to LAPS as raw land in 2005. LAPS has one existing tenant, Parker Construction, which leases two acres of the 7.5-acre property on a month-to-month basis. Parker Construction is interested in a long-term lease if the improvements are made. Other companies, including a nursery, have expressed interest if the land is developed.
“Our foremost goal of getting the utilities run is to secure that into a long-term revenue stream for the district,” Ahlers said.
A mini-storage company is also interested in a land swap, which would support the county’s downtown improvement plan by moving that business to an industrial area and freeing up downtown real estate for more beneficial uses.
The project costs include $12,000 for electricity, $35,000 for the water line and a $4,700 contingency fund.
The high cost for installing a water line is due to the fact that it must cross Department of Energy land. Ahlers has obtained an easement to run the utilities. The problem is that the trench must cross land designated by the New Mexico Environmental Department as having hazardous waste contamination.
The area has been remediated and given a clean bill of health in four separate tests, but the state has not yet lifted the designation. That means the school must hire a contractor certified to handle hazardous waste, who must follow all procedures for trenching in a hazardous waste area. Those additional steps hike the cost of the project by $30,500.
Council Vice Chair Geoff Rodgers asked if LAPS had considered running other utilities such as gas.
LAPS Chief Financial Officer John Wolfe had noted earlier that the schools have been in discussions with the county for two to three years, and that LAPS had initially explored a larger scope which the Department of Public Utilities said was beyond their capabilities.
Ahlers said that since no utilities easements were put in place as DP Road was developed; running gas lines would involve either obtaining 700-feet of easements over private property or the county running lines a quarter mile down DP Road. Both options are cost prohibitive.
Lynne said that staff has estimated running a full set of utilities down DP Road would be a $2 million to $3 million project.
Councilor Vincent Chiravalle made the motion to approve the request.
“Tonight we have an opportunity to provide some funds that the schools can use to develop properties on DP Road. I think this is not only helpful to the schools in providing funds from this lease property, but it’s also helpful for our county,” Chiravalle said, noting that the possibility of redevelopment along Trinity Drive through the land swap would be a “win/win.”
“This is exactly the type of seed development that can get the schools over the hump so they can use their own resources for financial investment,” Councilor David Izraelevitz said. “I look to this as a model for future cooperation.”
Councilor Mike Wismer was especially pleased that the request aligned closely with the guiding principles laid down in the resolution to support the schools. Those are:
To help the schools increase self sufficiency.
To focus on investments that enhance the public schools’ future operating revenues by increasing the property tax base and/or increasing the public schools lease revenues.
Enable the public schools to generate new lease revenue from existing underutilized assets.
Are mutually beneficial to the county and the public schools.
“We are all pretty excited about helping the schools in one form or fashion, always looking for an opportunity,” Councilor Rick Reiss said.
In other business, council certified that a petition circulated by Sheriff Marco Lucero to amend the county charter received insufficient signatures. The proposed amendment would have allowed sheriff’s officers who successfully completed Law Enforcement Academy training to assume peace-keeping duties.
The petition was issued May 2 and was due Oct. 29. Only 377 of the 1,327 required signatures had been obtained. Lucero was issued supplemental petitions on Nov. 16 to correct the insufficiency, but no additional signatures were obtained by the Nov. 26 deadline.
Council also voted unanimously to approve new artwork for the Animal Shelter.
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