Points to consider with Ordinance 555

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By The Staff

On Tuesday, County Council will conduct a hearing on proposed Ordinance 555.  

This Ordinance would require a vote on an addition to the County Charter in a special election to take place in September.  

That, in addition to the Charter, Section 705, would require that any Capital Improvement Project (CIP) costing $1million or more would  be put to the voters in an annual election at a set time each year.  

The projects would have to have reached 60 percent design, with a set maximum cost, no changes allowed to Project Requirements if approved.

Petitioners ask, “Do you want to be able to vote on major projects?”  Citizens say “Of course.”

But think a minute about what you are asking for:

• 60 percent design is not finished design. Unless the project requirements are very general, this means no changes to the design as it proceeds to 100 percent, in case 60 percent has overlooked an important item or the Construction Manager at Risk (if engaged at Phase 4A of the CIP process) finds a way to improve performance of some functional items at less cost.

• It means canceling the project in case the cost of concrete or steel, etc., goes up, putting total cost beyond the set maximum estimated cost, while waiting for the election more than three months after the 60 percent design has been presented – unless the estimated cost has been set high enough to accommodate all possible changes (not likely!).

• If several projects are to be developed for the election, it will be “hurry-up-and-wait” for the staff, then all the Request for Proposals (RFP’s) at once for the approved projects after the vote. Delays are thereby built in.

• No projects can be design-build, which is often a more efficient and time saving way to contract. If the design contractor is not the winning respondent to the construction RFP, there are often arguments for changes the construction contractor feels are needed to the design contractor’s design, leading to further delays.

• For any one project, the staff would have spent many hours and up to 10 percent of the estimated cost of the project, knowing all this will be wasted if the project is not approved.  What about spending our taxes this way?

• The CIP Oversight Committee and the council will have had up to five public meetings evaluating the proposal, meetings at which suggestions from the public are welcome –  suggestions made at times when they can be evaluated and incorporated. If you think of an improvement a month before the election or after the vote, too bad!

• If the public cannot find a way to attend the meetings or read the proposals on the Web sites, will they actually read the 60 percent design summary well enough to make an educated vote?

• Is the low turnout for special elections, especially if for only one project, a good indication of the general public’s wishes?  

Now, if one were to pay attention to a project of interest from the beginning and take advantage of the CIP public meeting process, there would be a much more public-friendly process than an up-and-down take-it-or-leave-it vote, with much less delay in actually moving the desired projects forward.   

Moral of the story – pay attention from the beginning and you can be heard.  Read the CIP process, pages 270-273 in the 2011-2012 Budget Book, or on the web – www.losalamosnm.us, then “Los Alamos County Projects,” then the highlighted link “Capital Improvement Program-2010.”  

Perhaps more advertising of the CIP Oversight Committee meetings is needed. And for the council meetings, please read the council agendas under County Council on the easily accessible part of the county Web site.