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Councilors air views on financial plan

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By Katy Korkos

A discussion of the long-range financial plan for Los Alamos County at Tuesday’s county council meeting was nearly overshadowed by council’s decision to replace the Municipal Building.  Nevertheless, that discussion was continued Thursday when County Forum host Allison Majure, a public information officer with the Department of Public Utilities, interviewed councilors Robert Gibson and Jim West on the topic on PAC 8.The 10-year plan, presented by the county’s Chief Financial Officer Steven Lynne to council Tuesday, is based on conservative budget projections that show the gross receipts tax revenue from Los Alamos National Laboratory declining by 10 percent over the 10-year period.Gibson, who serves as vice chair on the council, and West, who presided over council in 2007, presented two views of the plan from the perspective of elected officials to the public on Thursday.Majure questioned both councilors regarding their vision for the county in 2018.“In 10 years, I’d like us to have all of the projects finished. It’s not unrealistic to have them all done,” West said. “I hope for gross receipts tax revenues to stay about where they are now, and I hope for increases as the mission changes at the laboratory. We do have to be prudent, but I think we’ll have a prettier community, with a greater availability of goods and services.”Gibson had a different take.“I would like us to be a community that is recognized throughout the world for the largely technical work that we do,” Gibson said, “and the biggest change I see is that more of that work would be done in the private sector. I don’t disagree with Jim on getting a number of projects done, but the problem now is a large portion of the community was taken over from the AEC. We’re grappling with some issues now that we’re really not used to dealing with.”Gibson added, “We have an excellent financial officer in Steve Lynne, but as I said at the meeting, I have to take a different position on the question of ‘Can we afford it?’” Gibson said that his figures show that rather than a $30 million general fund balance in 2018, there might be a $30 million deficit if the county lowers property taxes and funds additional large capital projects.“We (county government) benefited from the gross receipts taxes paid by the lab but the schools did not,” he said. “The schools are working on their capital improvement program now, and they have the same problem we have of aging infrastructure. The only way the schools can raise money is through property taxes, and a small amount of money from the state is available only after they have bonded to capacity.”He said the payment the schools get in lieu of taxes to the schools is negligible. “So we’re looking at a reduction of the property taxes coming in to the county,” Gibson said, “to make it possible for the taxes property owners pay to remain flat while the schools raise theirs. Plus, there are a number of projects that don’t have a dollar amount attached to them yet– a parking structure, wideband communications infrastructure, a civic center or performing arts space, and improvements to the DP Road intersection.”West took a more optimistic view of the school district’s financial future. “The Boyer Company is going to spend about $200 million, and that will raise the property value in the county substantially,” he said. “The schools’ bonding ability is going to go up quite a bit. And looking long-range, as new development takes place – for example on A-19 in White Rock – that will also generate property tax.”The County Forum interview will be re-aired on PAC-8 several times throughout the month, and will be available at www.losalamos.com/  pac8.