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Letters To The Editor 5-21-17

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Letter to the Editor

By The Staff

'Pay to Play" comes to Los Alamos County

Recently, Los Alamos County Council chose to publish an email of a citizen of Los Alamos in the Los Alamos Daily Post. Instead of attacking the author we should also be asking, “Why did the Council release this private email for publication?”  What did our County Council have to gain from releasing this email?   

Does this mean that all citizens should fear that their personal correspondence to the council, may also be published? Apparently so! Many county residents have chosen to remain silent in their opposition to the Rec Bond Vote, for fear of retaliation. It seems as though fear and intimidation are campaign tactics not only approved, but also implemented by members of our own County Council. When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny – Thomas Jefferson.  

Concerning the Rec Bond...

Not only am I concerned about the enormous cost of these projects, potential cost overruns, and jeopardizing future Capital projects, I am also concerned when County Councilors serve special interests over the public interest. In this case, elected officials are using public funds to lobby for these interests, then use public debt to finance them.

In the recent Lunch with a Leader, hosted by the Los Alamos League of Women Voters, Councilor James Chrobocinski identified himself as the President of Los Alamos Little League, a 501(c)3 charitable organization. Councilor James Chrobocinski is also the President of the Political Action Committee that he and Councilor Susan O’Leary founded called Los Alamos Futures. The Los Alamos Futures Political Action Committee has received a $500 donation from each of four charitable organizations, Los Alamos Little League, Los Alamos Hockey Association, Los Alamos Youth Soccer League, and the Los Alamos Golf Association.

Finally, our county has $13.4 million in Capital Improvement funds that is more than enough to fund 2 of the 5 projects bundled in this Recreation Bond. The two projects include the long overdue improvements to the Golf Course and Softball Fields with a total proposed budget of $5,566,000.

This would leave a balance of approximately $7,834,000 in the Capital Improvements Funds. At this Lunch with a Leader event, I asked for an explanation for why these funds were being held hostage. Why not fund the projects that we can pay for outright, without the Rec Bond?  
Councilors Susan O’Leary and James Chrobocinski avoided answering this question directly.

Instead, Councilor James Chrobocinski explained how he was embarrassed for his 10-year-old son who had not learned to swim because Los Alamos did not have a facility like the proposed multi-generational pool. I am sorry Councilor Chrobocinski, your son not knowing how to swim is your failure as a man and a father, not the failure of Los Alamos County. Just so we are clear, it is not the job of the taxpayer to shoulder additional tax burden to provide a facility, like the multi-generational pool, especially when there are so many pools in this town, public and private. If your child has not learned skill that you want him to learn, I recommend that you take some time off from manipulating and intimidating the good people of Los Alamos and spend some time with your family. I think we will all be much better off that way!

After the conclusion of the Lunch with a Leader meeting, former Los Alamos County Councilor Kristen Henderson told me that the Council deliberately bundled all of these projects together to force all of the individual special interest groups to vote for every project. In short, if they wanted their project funded with the money that the County Council had, they would have to vote for this $20 million General Obligation Bond to build Councilor’s Susan O’Leary’s and James Chrobocinski’s and former Councilor Kristen Henderson’s $720,000 Splash Pad, $8,684,000 Multi-Generational Pool, and $18,430,000 Recreation Center.

Even Henderson knew that this scheme might backfire, because in December, she made a substitute motion to include only the multigenerational pool and the recreation center.  “I’m just concerned that the bond won’t pass and we’ll get none of these things.”

The County Council is holding this money hostage, and Councilor Susan O’Leary and Councilor James Chrobocinski have accepted $2,000 in donations from four charitable organizations within our county to fund a campaign for the Rec Bond, while promising funding for projects that will benefit most of these charities. Why not fund these projects with the $13,400,000 of capital improvement funds...because Councilors O’Leary and Chrobocinski wouldn’t have the $2,000 in “donations” to run their Pro Rec Bond Campaign! There’s absolutely no reason why the Council cannot vote to use CIP funds for recreation. I informed former Councilor Henderson that I thought the tactics of council were underhanded and manipulative, and that the electorate deserved better than this.

James Whitehead
Los Alamos

 

Clarification of the Rec Bond Funding Options

Dear Editor,
I attended Tuesday’s “Lunch With A Leader” at the Mesa Library in which the proponents and opponents of the $20 million Recreation Bond (deadline to vote: May 23) presented their arguments for and against and answered questions. My thanks to Karyl Ann Armbruster and the League of Women’s Voters for arranging this opportunity to hear from both sides.

Both sides seemed to agree that the improvements and new recreational facilities proposed would benefit many children and adults in the community. 

Several of the proponents emphasized how important the Rec Center, ball fields and recreational pool would be for children in the community.

I heard three arguments against the bond issue. The primary one, and most obvious is the cost, and if people are not willing to increase their property taxes to fund the bond, for whatever reason, then they should vote against the bond issue. However, aside from cost, opponents raised two other issues:

1) Why have the proponents not included a “private-public partnership” as part of the Rec Bond process, and

2) Why has no one made any “fundraising” efforts to reduce the cost to the taxpayers?
In order to get some background on these issues I spoke with both Linda Daly, CEO of the YMCA, and Heather McClenahan, Executive Director of the Los Alamos Historical Society (LAHS). Both provided me with relevant information, but neither expressed any opinion on the Rec Bond.
Regarding the idea of a “private-public partnership,” clearly this model is already in place for the Teen Center where the YMCA operates the facilities under contract from the county. Similarly, PEEC operates the Nature Center and LAHS operates the Los Alamos History Museum (LAHM) on behalf of the county.

The county has had discussions with the YMCA about how this would happen and they submitted an RFI, but I doubt that the county is in a position to set up a contract with the YMCA as part of the Rec Bond. If the Rec Bond is passed, then I assume an RFP would be issued by the county allowing ALL those interested to submit a proposal to operate the Rec Center. It is probably not appropriate (or legal) to single out the YMCA in the bonding document.

However, some of the language used in talking about a “private-public partnership” makes it sound like the private partner would be contributing dollars toward the construction and or dollars toward the operation of the Rec Center. This is not the case. There might be savings associated with using a private contractor to operate the facility, but the YMCA is NOT in a position to contribute dollars toward building or operating the facility.

They have enough on their plate running the Y and paying off the mortgage on their current facility, which is in excess of a million dollars.

Fundraising also sounds like a logical approach to reducing the cost to the taxpayer. However, Los Alamos does not have a history of raising the kind of money needed for a broad community project such as the Rec Center. The YMCA has run capital campaigns to support construction and expansion of the YMCA building, but the dollar amount raised fell far short of the total need.

Hence the need for $1 million plus mortgage.

The other major fundraising organization in town, excluding churches and organizations focused on a specific membership group, is the Los Alamos Historical Society. The LAHS has raised more than four million dollars towards the renovation and operation of the LAHM and the other buildings connected to the museum. However, about 20 percent of these funds have come from outside Los Alamos, which is not likely to be a source of funding for the Rec Center or the other recreational projects, and another 30 percent is in the form of estate gifts, which will not be available for years. That approach works for the Museum, but it would not work, e.g., for building the Rec Center or fixing the golf course. In addition, it took roughly 3.5 years to raise these funds.

So the bottom line is, if you want these five recreational projects to go forward in the near future to be available for you, your children, your grandchildren and your parents, the only likely path of success is to vote for the Rec Bond. 

Voting against the bond will leave us with the $13.6 million in CIP funds, which could be used for recreational projects, but then we will be back in the mosh pit with every group in Los Alamos competing against every other group for the recreation project of their choice, and we are most likely to wind up with nothing.

Ed Birnbaum
Los Alamos

 

LA Clean up Day another huge success

Dear Editor,
Environmental Services would like to thank all of the volunteers who participated in the 14th annual Clean Up Los Alamos Day on  May 13.

It was a great success again this year with 339 participants collecting trash and brush around the Los Alamos and White Rock area. The county collected approximately 10.5 tons of solid waste and 156 residents utilized the Eco Station and Overlook Convenience Center Saturday for free disposal.

The event wrapped up with an appreciation luncheon hosted at Ashley Pond, with hamburgers and hot dogs provided by David’s Dogs. Environmental Services staff would like to thank LANB, Coca-Cola, and Los Alamos County who sponsored the event.

Agelica Gurule
Environmental Services Manager
Los Alamos County