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In December, supporters of the Teen Center made a passionate appeal to the Los Alamos County council for additional funding in order to increase staffing, restore programming and to replace and maintain equipment.
Council voted unanimously to restore funding to the original contractual levels of $194,155, which will allow the center to maintain two staff on duty at all times and reinstate arts and music production programming that was cut due to the decreased budget.
The funding reduction was part of a county-wide effort to reduce the budget by 10 percent in response to decreasing Gross Receipts Tax revenues.
In its first two years of operation, the Teen Center’s actual costs came in well below the contractual allowance, averaging $168,689 for operating costs in its first year and $164,025 for both operations and equipment in its second year.
The county proposed a budget of $170,000 for the third year. Teen Center staff estimated they would need $181,165 in order to operate without reducing hours of operation, due to a three percent salary increase for staff and other factors. The county agreed to $180,000, and a contract amendment was signed.
Some incidents last fall, such as teens coming to the center on drugs (not buying, selling or using at the center), caused staff to reevaluate only having one person on duty at times, which not only affected staff’s ability to respond to emergencies but violated the YMCA’s Child Protection Policies that require a minimum of two staff on duty at all times.
With the additional funding, staff hours will increase from 89 hours a week to 159.5. Without that, the center would have had to reduce hours of operation. Most at-risk youth seek staff assistance during the non-peak hours which would have been cut.
Teen Center Program Director Sylvan Argo presented another reason for additional staffing.
“I never see anybody as just being a warm body at the teen center. I see our staff as engaging. I see our staff as talking with a teen if they need to talk,” Argo said.
“Staff has actually had teens come to them and disclose abusive situations that they have not talked about for 10 years, and my staff are the first people they go to.
“So we need staff that can be on the ground engaging with the teens there and making sure that the rest of the behavior in the center is appropriate.”
The teen center also requested $10,776 for equipment replacement and maintenance. The plan had been to postpone equipment investments until the move into the new Teen Center, but delays in moving to a new facility are prompting earlier action.
However, funding for equipment would have exceeded the terms of the original contract, which Assistant County Attorney Dan Gonzales said would violate the procurement code.
“The procurement code requires that all solicitations be fair, be competitive and be an equal playing field,” Gonzales said.
“By adding compensation in excess of what they proposed and what we agreed upon, that could be deemed a surprise to any other competing vendor, even though they did not propose on this contract. We cannot presume that another vendor would not have proposed had they known that we were going to change the rules midstream.”
Councilor Pete Sheehey suggested that perhaps the county could purchase equipment in advance of the move into the new teen center, as part of the Capital Improvements Projects budget, provided all equipment would be transferred to the new space.
“I do have some heartburn over that. It feels to me like it doesn’t quite pass the smell test, and it’s an end run to improve this contract,” Gonzales said.
“If the Family YMCA believes that they need to increase staff in order to meet the contractual requirements, that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that. But to sweeten the deal outside the contract, I still think is problematic from a procurement process.
Sheehey did add an amendment to the motion directing staff to look into funding for immediate purchase of capital items that would be transferred to the future teen center, provided it is deemed legal.
The award of the contract for the design of the new Teen Center comes before council Feb. 4, with an anticipated move in date of summer 2015.
Several people took issue with a comment by resident Eric Fairfield suggesting that the teen center should not receive more money because “the current teen center mostly has teens from out of the county.”
“The out-of-district kids are allowed to come to school up here, and they’re our kids,” said Municipal Judge Alan Kirk, who also chairs the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board.
“They’re here usually until five o’clock when their parents get off work. So what do they do from until five? They used to hang out at the library. We ended up putting a police officer’s desk in the library because of the number of kids that hung out after school who were running up and down through the halls.
“You could say you’re moving problems, but you’re putting them in a safe and good environment.”
Councilor Kristin Henderson said that the most moving thing she heard were from teen Melanie Borup, who called the center “my Teen Center.” Borup collected 310 signatures on a petition in support of the teen center.
“This is a facility that is so important, and it’s working,” Henderson said.
“I can’t help but feel if we don’t do this we’re being pennywise and pound foolish with the major amount of money that we’re putting into the Teen Center,” Councilor Steve Girrens said.
“We’ve got to be more careful about this in the future, especially when we’re dealing with our most valuable investments into our assets.”
Council also approved rezoning of 2.1 acres of land on the southeast corner of NM4 and Rover Blvd. from P-L (Public Lands) and C-2 (Commercial) to DT-NCO (Downtown Neighborhood Center). The hope is that the rezoning will make the parcel more viable for development.
An update on the county’s Capital Improvement Projects was postponed to a later date.
Council tabled discussion on the Community Broadband Network after nearly two hours of discussion. For more on that story, read Thursday’s Los Alamos Monitor.